A progress report from a Diocesan Reader and MindMatters COI Champion
I freely admit that I missed the launch of this mental health promotion initiative in October 2020. At the time, my wife and I were trying to secure an offer on our house in Co. Antrim so that we could move down to the midlands in support of her new job in Dublin. In March 2021 we finally made the move. Relocation between jurisdictions during full COVID lockdown was about as stressful as it gets. But we had both come through past traumatic experiences unscathed and so we didn’t give any more thought to mental health, ours or anyone else’s.
Within a week of the move, we were back on-line and had new phone numbers. So I put in for the transfer of my Readers license from Connor diocese. My new bishop welcomed my application and then suggested that as lockdown had closed everything down, I should consider volunteering to get involved with MindMatters COI. I didn’t want to disappoint her, but I really did not see that I could contribute anything. After all, neither I nor or any of my immediate family had suffered from mental health issues. Furthermore, I was as convinced as anyone that mental health was a difficult subject that should be left to the professionals. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, and all that. Nevertheless, I dutifully signed up for the awareness training.
I am glad that I volunteered as the training has been very good. I can now relate to the four bullet points shown with the logo, particularly the aims of ‘Reducing Stigma’ and ‘Promoting Connections’. I still have a lot to learn about these topics, but don’t we all?
Since my most recent training session, I have given much thought to the fourth bullet point of ‘Mental Health and Faith’. There was a line in the training that suggested that we need to engage in keep-fit exercises for our minds, just as much as for our bodies. Now, I don’t do much in the way of physical exercise. I content myself with eating sensibly and cutting the grass with a walk behind mower. I pride myself that I can still wear the cassock that first fitted me perfectly forty years ago. However, I have to admit that the credit for this has to be put down to an accident of metabolism rather than to my supposed physical prowess. I do not have a daily exercise routine, either for my physical wellbeing or for my mental health, but I have always followed some daily pattern of bible reading and prayer since coming to faith in my ‘teens.
So, what mental wellbeing exercises have I picked up by osmosis, as it were? Before I get into the specifics, I need to set out a disclaimer. I am sharing my recent thoughts, not a developed, comprehensive and peer reviewed theology. I am not offering any quick fix to the issues that any individual may face at this time. I am just sharing a few of the key Bible verses that seem to have worked for me. Dig out your Bible and look up…
- Matthew 22:37. Jesus sums up how the engagement of the mind transforms a dry intellectual understanding of God into a loving and transformative relationship with God. We should not try to hide the contents of our minds either from ourselves or from God. Rather, we should bring things into the open with those we trust and above all with God in prayer.
- Matthew 5:27–30. Jesus spells out in graphic terms the consequences of allowing our minds to linger on sinful aspirations. The whole chapter is packed full of advice offered in the hope that we will enjoy the Kingdom of God by fulfilling the law rather than falling foul of it. Jesus speaks from a point of certainty, knowing that he has faced all the temptations that we face, and that he did so without sin.
- Romans 12:2. St Paul spells out how we can put Jesus’ teaching into practice. Firstly, we are encouraged to stand out from the crowd. We do not have to conform to the various norms of society. We have permission to ignore the adverts and life styles promoted in the media. Secondly, we are not to look for a one-off spiritual experience to fix everything. Rather, we are offered a life-long process of transformation by the renewing of the mind; ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven.
This is a progress report and not a conclusion. If you wish to take issue with anything I have written, any viewpoint that you feel that I represent, or you simply wish to share in my exploration of the Bible, please contact me through the MindMatters COI team. They will ensure that the vulnerabilities of all are protected.
Written by Michael High, Diocesan Reader, Dioceses of Meath and Kildare.
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