Our Spiritual Immune System
And be constant in praying at the beginning and the end of the day, as well as during the early watches of the night: for, verily, good deeds drive away evil deeds: this is a reminder to all who bear [God] in mind. [Quran 11:113-5].
Is there such a thing as a spiritual immune system, a mechanism within us that protects our soul from sin and temptation?
We know that our biological immune system consists of complex processes that protect us against diseases by identifying and killing infectious organisms, tumor cells and other invaders. This system is made up of special cells, proteins, tissues, and organs that can distinguish between disease-causing substances and healthy cells and tissues.
Likewise, a spiritual immune system exists within us to defend against attacks on our piety and righteousness. This protective mechanism fights off a variety of negative influences and enticements in our environment. We rely on it to maintain our moral and ethical equilibrium and to stay spiritually healthy.
If we do not abide in prayer, we will abide in temptation. Let this be one aspect of our daily intercession: “God, preserve my soul, and keep my heart and all its ways so that I will not be entangled.” When this is true in our lives, a passing temptation will not overcome us. We will remain free while others lie in bondage. [Dr. John Owen, The Temptation of Believers].
In the same way that our biological immune system protects us against illness and decease, our spiritual immune system extends its protection into psychological and emotional dimensions to help us fight against temptations and evil.
All the great temptations appear first in the region of the mind and can be fought and conquered there. We have been given the power to close the door of the mind. We can lose this power through disuse or increase it by use, by the daily discipline of the inner man in things which seem small and by reliance upon the word of the Spirit of truth. It is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure. It is as though He said, ‘Learn to live in your will, not in your feelings.’ [Amy Carmichael, Gold by Moonlight: Sensitive Lessons from a Walk with Pain].
Stress and the Immune System
When we are being entertained by cinema, television or Internet programs, significant emotional prodding occurs throughout the event. These stimuli are comparable to false alarms that call into action internal fire departments throughout the body.
Imagine being frightened, shocked, thrilled and sexually aroused twenty to thirty times in just a few hours of nightly media “entertainment.” Now, add work, family and other social stressors, and we can understand how excessive stimulation can overwhelm our immune system.
Ohio State University researchers found that stress from engaging in a memory task activated the immune system, whereas the stress from passively watching a violent video weakened immunity (as measured by salivary concentration of SIgA, a major immune factor) [Psychophysiology, September-October 2001].
The Immune System of Faith
Our faith helps to sustain a quiet mind and maintaining tranquility during times of great difficulties and stress.
Various studies have shown that meditative rituals decrease anxiety and depression as well as lower blood-lactate levels and blood pressure in the short term. Long-term studies of religious attendance have shown that subjects with high religiosity over a period of time (perhaps even a lifetime) experience better health than those with low religiosity. [Matthew W. Anastasi, and Andrew B. Newberg, M.D., A Preliminary Study of the Acute Effects of Religious Ritual on Anxiety].
Faith is the basis of wisdom. It establishes the boundaries of right conduct, and the foundation of morality. Without faith, even the standards for scientific inquiry fail.
With what shall I come before the Lord? and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you But to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? [Micah 6:6-8].
Religion, Science and Health
Clearly, science and medicine are, today, physically and intellectually dominant, while faith clings precariously to a remnant of its spiritual authority. Nevertheless, in the spheres of health, nutrition and ecological survival, a holistic approach still asserts convincing arguments, defiantly affirming the vital need for our spiritual development.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. [1 Corinthians 12:4-7].
Despite miraculous advancements in science, some still believe that the most critical element in our total well-being remains the healing power of faith.
In his groundbreaking book, The Healing Power of Faith: How Belief and Prayer Can Help You Triumph Over Disease, Harold Koenig, MD, describes research confirming that people who have a strong faith have healthier lifestyles possibly due to religions encouragement of proper and healthy conduct. [See summary of findings, p. 24].
Religious people also cope well with stress, are less likely to be depressed and hospitalized than their non-religious counterparts, have a stronger immune system, and live longer.
My conclusion is that both our research and amazing new scientific technology are continually adding exciting new evidence that our Great Creator God has equipped us with marvelous mechanisms by which, through faith in him, our spiritual beliefs and behaviors can actually help heal us. [Harold G. Koenig, M.D., The Healing Connection, p. 160].
More recently, neuropsychological research has brought much clarity to the relationship between brain function and the various mental states produced by religious and spiritual experiences. These studies include taking brain scans of people in prayer, meditation, rituals, and trance states. [See journal articles by Dr. Andrew Newberg].
The results help us understand how religion affects psychological and physical health, and why people who frequently engage in spiritual exercises experience lower blood pressure, lower heart rates, decreased anxiety, and decreased depression.
If we honestly analyze our thoughts and subject our actions to critical examination, we may be shocked by our hidden hypocrisy and casual corruption. We try to avoid self-examination because it can cause deep pain, even despair. We prefer instead to help others see their faults, offering the advice we ignore for ourselves.
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the [wooden] plank in your own eye? [Matthew 7:3 NIV]
Steps to a Stronger Spiritual Immune System
Here are twelve things we can do to help strengthen our spiritual immune system and bring us closer to God, if He so wills:
- Remember and thank God often;
- Acknowledge sins, feel penance, repent and amend bad habits;
- Pray and meditate regularly, specially during the night;
- Mention God often in conversation, without shame;
- Sing hymns, gospel, sacred music or chant;
- Attend religious services, lectures and visit sacred places;
- Invite others to faith, share your beliefs and your knowledge;
- Give in charity, both money and time;
- Regularly engage in fasting and abstain from personal vices;
- Learn and study sacred texts and memorize verses
- Avoid “sinful” friends and acquaintances;
- Avoid “ungodly” places and pastimes.
At times, we must isolate ourselves to renew our energy and revitalize our spiritual immune system. If we stay in a negative environment long enough, it will begin to gnaw into our faith.
A tested way to revitalize our spiritual immunity is temporarily to quarantine our soul by immersion in prayer and fasting. A fast is a vicarious pilgrimage to our inner temple, a retreat into our subconscious monastery.
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. [Romans 6:12-14 (NIV)].