Faith Runs in Your Blood
The brain’s stress response system is activated in threatening situations. The immune system responds automatically to pathogens and foreign molecules. These two response systems are the body’s principal means for maintaining an internal steady state called homeostasis. A substantial proportion of human cellular machinery is dedicated to maintaining it. [Esther M. Sternberg & Philip W. Gold, The Mind-Body Interaction in Disease, p. 1].
Homeostasis refers to the maintenance of a state of equilibrium and stability. The word is derived from the Greek, homeo or “same” and stasis or “stable” and literally means “remaining stable or unchanged.” In the human body, this means keeping a constant internal environment, despite fluctuations in our external environment.
For example, the liver, kidneys and brain work together to maintain a delicate harmony vital to our survival by synchronizing internal processes such as blood pressure, body temperature, pH and others. The “normal” ranges of these variables are considered “stable,” but they can easily be disrupted. Our survival depends on our body functioning in an optimal range.
When homeostasis is disturbed or threatened, a repertoire of molecular, cellular and behavioral responses comes into play. These responses attempt to counteract the disturbing forces in order to reestablish a steady state…. We are just beginning to understand the interdependence of the brain and the immune system, how they help to regulate and counterregulate each other and how they themselves can malfunction and produce disease. [Esther M. Sternberg & Philip W. Gold, The Mind-Body Interaction in Disease, p. 1].
Maintenance of this physical and psychological balance depends on internal networks of sensors that detect and correct deviations from the optimal or acceptable ranges. Threats to homeostasis come from external sources (e.g., extreme temperatures) or internal sources (e.g., infection). They can be physical, as in injuries, or psychological, as in emotional distress.
By alleviating stressful feelings and promoting healing ones, spirituality can positively influence immune, cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels), hormonal, and nervous systems … Some researchers suggest that emotions like anger and resentment cause stress hormones to accumulate in the blood, and that forgiveness reduces this build up. [Spirituality, Center for Integrative Medicine. The University of Maryland].
Empowering the Mind with Faith
Spiritual well-being is an essential component of complete health. The enormous power of mental equanimity and spiritual harmony have been proven to generate beneficial healing reactions, particularly when guilt, stress and anxiety are part of the illness.
When we successfully cultivate a higher consciousness through faith, we develop greater physical harmony and mental equanimity. By contrast, the absence of spiritual affirmations makes us feel incomplete, and we become more likely to adopt an unstable lifestyle and suffer social deficiencies.
In the “secret of God’s tabernacle” no enemy can find us, and no troubles can reach us … The “secret of his presence” is a more secure refuge than a thousand Gibraltars. I do not mean that no trials come. They may come in abundance, but they cannot penetrate into the sanctuary of the soul, and we may dwell in perfect peace even in the midst of life’s fiercest storms. [Hannah Whitall Smith, God of All Comfort].
Faith and Homeostasis
Faith can enhance our resolve to overcome personal challenges and can provide courage to face overwhelming obstacles. Without faith, we often flee from imagined dangers and dread shadows of our own imagination.
If religious people have a world view that gives hope and meaning in the face of stress and loss, if they have social support from other members of the religious community, and if they live healthier lifestyles by smoking less, drinking less, and making more conservative, less risky decisions in marriage, the workplace, and recreational activities, there is good reason to expect that they will have better physical health as well. All of these factors influence health in ways that are increasingly being understood through the field of psychosomatic medicine. It should not be surprising, then, that in 2006 more than 70 published research studies examined the relationships between religion, spirituality and health, many finding positive relationships. [Harold G Koenig, Religion, Spirituality and Medicine in Australia].
Should faith and health be connected in the lab? Can the medical profession recognize the benefits of religion and spirituality in clinical settings?
The differences between having very little (or no faith) and being passionately immersed in a religious life are difficult to measure scientifically. How do you administer a dose of spirituality?
However, it is not difficult to understand how joy from faith can relieve a suffering psyche, nor is it implausible that faith alone can bring enough comfort to improve the physical condition of a patient.
In general, religion appears to serve two major functions—it is a system of self-maintenance and a system of self-transcendence. Since both of these functions bear directly on human survival and adaptability, the neuropsychological mechanisms that underlie religions appear to have become thoroughly ingrained in the human gene pool and ultimately human experience. [Eugene G. D’Aquili, Andrew Newberg, The Neuropsychological Basis of Religions, or Why God Won’t Go Away].
Faith in Traditional Healing
A small percentage of scientists, particularly medical doctors, have always maintained a connection between physical health, mental well-being and spiritual affirmations. They have consistently recognized the relationship between health and faith.
Likewise, traditional healers in less industrialized societies continue to combine faith with physical procedures and medicines. Sympathetic healers who have the confidence of their patients provide emotional relief simply through psychological interaction based on faith and trust. When they offer prayers, blessings, or merely touch a patient, a spiritual placebo permeates the patient’s entire emotional system, generating responses not yet satisfactorily explained by science.
Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. [James 5:14-15].
At times, removing from the thought process certain memories, distorted reasoning and faulty logic can bring about healing. By erasing destructive thoughts, we remove some of the sources of tension, stress and anxiety, thereby reducing pain, easing pressure and offering overall relief to the body.
Guard against physical unruliness. Be restrained in body. Abandoning physical wrong doing, lead a life of physical well doing. Guard against mental unruliness. Be restrained in mind. Abandoning mental wrong doing, lead a life of mental well doing. [Dhammapada 18:231-232].
The most effective way to correct the thought process is by immersion in faithful devotions and commitment to performing deeds worthy of merit. This Divine principle that affects our entire physiological network bringing improved health and healing.
It is He who from on high has bestowed inner peace upon the hearts of the believers, so that – seeing that God’s are all the forces of the heavens and the earth, and that God is all-knowing, truly wise – they might grow yet more firm in their faith, [Quran 48:4]