I just finished a great book that I would like to share. The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila is a wonderful Christian spiritual classic. I have found it extremely useful to arriving upon metaphors for envisioning encounters with God and the divine. I strongly recommend it to those whose faith needs a boost. The main metaphor employed in the book is that the soul of a person is a crystal castle that embarks upon an encounter with the Spirit of God. Seven tiers are present in the castle, each representing a different “level” of encounter. Water is also used in different clever ways to describe how God comes to us. I strongly recommended this book. Here is the full text on the web. Some of the metaphors have and will end up being primers for blog posts. For example, this passage:
“Sometimes a spiritual voice can be nothing but the figment of a feeble imagination or an artifact of mental imbalance. In my opinion we shouldn’t pay too much attention to these delusional manifestations, even if the people reporting them claim to be understanding everything they’re hearing. But neither should we upset them by telling them that their spiritual voices come from the spirit of evil. We should listen to them as we would listen to sick people: with compassion. You might tactfully advise them not to cling to these experiences but to let them go, reminding them that spiritual voices have little to do with serving God. Mention that the spirit of evil has deceived many souls in this way but reassure them that you are not implying that they themselves are suffering from such deception. This counsel should be offered gently, so as not to aggravate the imbalance. If we suggest that the person is crazy, she will just grow more agitated, insisting that she hears what she hears and knows what she knows. That’s how convinced she is herself.”
St. Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle
Prayer and bipolar disorder is a balance. I would love a miracle and be “cured,” so I pray for a miracle. However, as a scientist, I know that miracles are astronomically rare if not nonexistent. This raises a question, are miracles possible? Christianity would say yes, naturalism would say no. So, each day I plod on taking my medicine (lithium and Zyprexa) as directed by my doctors. Perhaps all I can do is pray a prayer of thanksgiving that I have wonderful health care at Princeton Seminary. I am thankful for the medicines, thankful for doctors, and thankful for an articulate mind that can communicate what I feel to friends, family, and doctors. I wonder though, is bipolar disorder a “spiritual gift” that enables me to possess a more acute sense of “spiritual listening.”? Is bipolar disorder just a modern medical way of describing a spiritually sensitive person? According to St. Teresa of Avila in the passage above, perhaps in some cases when the insights from God match other revelations such as Biblical revelation. In other cases, if one accepts the use of spiritual language, the insights might come from other spiritual places.
Are people who claim to hear voices from God or other spiritual beings delusional and suffering from mental illness? Perhaps but according to recent research, what some claim as a sixth sense of spiritual listening may have a reality larger than the individual. This research shows that individuals can be “trained” to hear the voice of God by utilize their imaginations to touch the divine. Therefore, in the very least the spiritual sense has a social reality. For example, the church environment may condition a person to be able to “hear God’s voice.” Whether or not there is in fact a God is a different question. What really matters is the subjective experience of God for which no rational argument can prove or disprove. I wonder what applications this research has for the treatment of bipolar disorder? For example, can an atheist reap the same psychological benefits from prayer as a theist if he/she understands what makes a theist derive solace from prayer to God. If this proves to be true prayer could be a general method for treatment.
Today, I would like to learn a little bit about the “spiritual exercises” of St. Ignatius as a structure for meditation. Does anyone have any experience with them? I hypothesize that this structure may have some good health benefits. As a complement to traditional treatments, perhaps Ignatian practice may offer a treatment for bipolar disorder? More generally, it would be a good practice for my soul bringing it into closer union with God. I could imagine prayerful meditation could be done while moving, perhaps while biking for an hour or two. It would be cool to see if exercise and meditation could be merged.
If I wrote it, would you buy a book on the neurochemistry and religion of my experiences with bipolar disorder? Perhaps this is how I can finance my theological education. What would you like to read about in such a book?
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