In visiting our Mission Statement over the past few weeks, we have given an overview of understanding and recognizing spiritual starvation. A very simple summary would be:
1) Spiritual starvation happens when we are disconnected from others, and ultimately, disconnected from God.
2) Symptoms of spiritual starvation are difficult to detect, but almost always center around self-preservation.
We must also include this stipulation:
3) In order to address and prevent spiritual starvation, people must first understand and recognize the process of spiritual nourishment, beginning with themselves.
The first two principles make up the “what” and the “why” of our Mission. The third is our “who.” As for “when” and “where,” the answer is always: everywhere, right now. In upcoming weeks, we’ll go in greater depth into “how” we propose to address and prevent spiritual starvation by following the way of Saint Thorlak.
It is very tempting to leave things here. These are our most fundamental points. Anything else might expand, expound, explain and adorn them – but, until we commit these points to heart, there is little gained by adding words.
Let us, then, sit with these thoughts and ponder them.
(If that’s not quite a full enough glimpse, here are some questions to help reveal the bigger picture.)
Q: Is it important to know why someone is disconnected from others?
A: Not immediately. We would not ask hungry people how they became so famished before feeding them first… but, after a good meal and a supply of groceries to take home, it would be very helpful to learn about the particular circumstances.
Q: If symptoms are difficult to detect, how do we know who we intend to help?
A: Everyone. The answer is, it does not matter – we help everyone. Anyone who is human qualifies. Spiritual nourishment originates with God and may be accessed at any time without fear of running out. Give nourishment freely and give often.
Q: Why begin with ourselves? Isn’t this contrary to the missionary mindset? Isn’t this like taking a choice portion for ourselves before distributing to the needy?
A: It may seem like we’re encouraging selfishness and greed, but our instruction is similar to the pre-flight safety announcements when traveling by airplane. “If the pressure in the cabin suddenly drops, oxygen masks will deploy automatically for your immediate use. Please secure your own mask first before attempting to help others with theirs.” Why? Because we ourselves need oxygen in order to effectively help someone else. Spiritual nourishment is accomplished through connection. If we are adequately nourished, we not only have an abundance to share with the under-nourished, but we’re also well-versed in, and living, the example they may need to see in order to gain confidence or move toward openness with others.
More importantly, if we are not well spiritually nourished, we ourselves are likely acting more in self-preservation than in openness – and this is contrary to the example we intend to foster.
Q: Why bring other people into it when we could just connect with God, ourselves, directly? What about monks and hermits who live in solitude? Are they also spiritually under-nourished?
A: (… Can we just say, we really like questions like this!) Our answer is twofold. First, we believe people are designed and intended to interact with one another. Christians can find this principle throughout Sacred Scripture (such as Matthew 5:16), but anyone of any belief system can generally agree that our physical and emotional needs are best met through contact with others. This may be less true in adulthood than in early childhood, when our lives depend on care and shelter from others, but it is nearly impossible to exist well in isolation. Second, religious monks and hermits may indeed live in physical isolation, but the focus of their life is connecting to their Source (God) on behalf of themselves and all humanity. Christian monks and hermits particularly spend hours in prayer not just for their own benefit but for raising up the needs of, and calling down heavenly graces upon, all humankind. We have yet to meet monks or hermits whose work is undertaken for their own benefit. We assert that this is an extraordinary, transcendent form of connection with others. Instead of connecting to one person at a time, such mystics open their hearts to all humanity at once.
We leave you with these images to review and reinforce our core understanding of spiritual starvation.
Aren’t we being redundant in driving these points like this?
Perhaps. But we are also using something called best practices for instruction. By using graphics and repetition, and by rephrasing points across multiple contexts (like our Q&A), we maximize the opportunity for this information to stick and make sense. Educators discovered this when tailoring lessons to students with learning disabilities and processing difficulties… but, as it turned out, it helped people of all abilities master concepts better.
That, by itself, is almost like a parable to what we are doing. By taking extra care to reach people who need help in a specific way, we end up finding out how to help… everybody.
Pray: Dear Father in Heaven, help us commit these ideas to our very lives so that we can be better equipped to spiritually nourish the people around us. Send others to nourish us, and help us receive them openly - so that we all continue and perpetuate this work begun in You.
Contemplate: Come up with your own questions about spiritual starvation… and then, using the three points from this week’s post, attempt to answer them. If you get stuck, keep trying – or contact us and we’ll give it a try.
Relate: Connect, connect, connect. Remember everything we have looked at thus far. Don’t just socialize; connect. Don’t avoid the opportunity right in front of you; connect. Connect in the place where you are, with anyone the day provides. You should not have to go far out of your way. Start small and local.
May the power of Divine Love shine in and through my weakness, so that He might be glorified in and through me, and that in my weakness, His power may reach perfection. Through Christ Our Lord, AMEN.
Fr. Mark P. Nolette - Spiritual Director for the Mission of Saint Thorlak