National Alliance on Mental Illness
page printed from FaithNet NAMI
Our Extra Dimension and Healing
by Gunnar Christiansen, NAMI Orange County
Published in the FaithNet newsletter, February 2011
We can all access some sense—in ourselves and in the lives of others—that we are more than just a combination of genes responding to our environment. For certain, we are more than the 10 billion nerve cells in our brains and the chemical neurotransmitters that carry the electrical impulses between them. I believe it is fair to consider this extra dimension our spirituality.
This extra dimension is not something that is vague and intangible. Although each of us may define it a little differently, our spirituality is not just something esoteric, theological or philosophical. Our spirituality is a basic part of each of us. I particularly relate to Paul Tillich’s definition of spirituality in which he states, “Our spirituality is the ground of our being."
Just as we can not separate mind and body, I am convinced that we can not separate our spirituality from the rest of us. Body, mind and spirit are all integrated into our being. Together they make up who we are, with spirituality having the special property of opening our hearts to receive the gift of faith. Through our spirituality we have been given the ability to believe in something for which we have no proof. Through our spirituality, we feel connected to God.
Even though we do not currently have a cure for mental illness, I believe this spiritual connection enables us to attain healing. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary states that the words “healing” and “cure” are synonymous, but I believe it is helpful to make a distinction. Whereas being cured is a complete restoration to the normal state, I interpret healing as the attainment of solace and a sense of wholeness.
I am aware that healing, as I have defined it, is not a sudden phenomenon. Instead, it is a process which, particularly with mental illness, is often slow in its development. Questions like “God, why me?” and “Does my illness have meaning?” that may torment us because they are difficult, if not impossible, to answer, are often significant roadblocks.
Job did not find peace of mind until he was able to accept God’s plan for his life, which included suffering. At the conclusion of this provocative book, Job says to God, “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5). Job truly knew God and was able to accept his plan, even though it was beyond his understanding. Job’s feeling of assurance about God’s justice and fairness despite his severe suffering was a spiritual gift, one which is just as available to us today.
I believe that it is fair to say that Job experienced healing. I also believe that through a spiritual gift—the conviction that God loves each of us and is with us even in our most difficult times—those with chronic suffering, including those living with a mental illness, can experience healing.
The role of places of worship must go far beyond just making those affected by a mental illness feel comfortable. It is vitally important that they provide a spiritually nourishing environment. Each of us has the opportunity to be the spiritual catalyst for promoting change within our congregations as well as healing in each other.