I recently returned from a trip to New York City, where I was able to attend a concert at Carnegie Hall by the Honors Performance Series. Two Kodiak High School students, ChellaRae Nugent and Timothy Bohac, were selected to perform in the High School Honors Concert Choir. I was greatly moved by the songs, the singers and conductors, and I felt I was changed by witnessing the beauty and talent on display. My favorite song, “Even When He Is Silent,” had simple and memorable lyrics with stunning harmonies. “I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining. I believe in love, even when I feel it not. I believe in God, even when he is silent.”
I was also able to attend a Broadway show titled “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.” While the title is somewhat enigmatic, the message of the play refreshed my soul. In summary, forgiveness and compassion lead to new life and hope, while unforgiveness and pride lead to despair, isolation and misery.
Finally, I was able to visit the Frick Collection and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Seeing great paintings and sculptures helped me to appreciate and to celebrate beauty and divinely inspired talent. Wisdom and enduring truth were evident in the works, as the art from hundreds of years ago was just as moving and relevant today as when it was created. Eating in New York was also a highlight, and the beauty of a great meal with great friends is something I will always treasure.
These experiences highlighted to me the importance of good spiritual health. Most people think of physical health as a great concern, and indeed it is very important. So often, however, the essential is invisible to the eyes. Without spiritual health, we lose the joy and purpose in life that we so desperately need.
Prayer and meditation have been studied extensively, and have definite health benefits. Physiologically, prayer and meditation reduce heart rate, change brain neurotransmitter levels, decrease oxidizing free radicals, and boost the immune response. Prayer also facilitates our ability to forgive and love others. Psychological studies have shown at least five benefits of prayer: improving self-control, decreasing aggression, helping with forgiveness, improving trust, and offsetting the negative health effects of stress.
Prayer can change family dynamics. When families pray together, they develop trusting relationships. Our focus in prayer is on something outside of us, which makes us less selfish and prideful as we seek help and wisdom from God.
Practically, I think the best way to start praying is to read the Psalms, a collection of prayers and songs in the Bible. The ancient texts are full of emotion and realism, but also address God as one who is always listening and who understands our sorrows as humans, even when we feel he is being silent. God is the author of all compassion, and regularly receiving God’s compassion is the first step we can take to show compassion to others.
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3: 12-14).
Janet Abadir is a board certified general surgeon practicing at the Specialty Clinic at Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center.