The spiritual Airman

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- I'm just returned from a 6-month deployment to Camp Patriot, Kuwait. The camp is situated where the desert meets the sea. I developed a habit, each evening, of walking or running on a two-mile pier that juts out into the Persian Gulf. Very early on, it became apparent that I was having a spiritual experience each night. There was something about the end of the long pier, the waves crashing against the walls, and the warm winds beating my face that helped me to hear the voice of God. Some of my better sermons came to me on that pier!

Whether home or deployed, we don't normally think of ourselves as spiritual beings. We don't affix a label to our spirituality. We're just ordinary creatures, doing our jobs, taking care of our families, serving God and country.

We may not think of ourselves as spiritual, but we are. The ancient Greeks frequently debated whether we are primarily bodies that have a spirit somewhere buried within us; or spirits who are housed in a body. Either way our spiritual well-being is vitally important.

The problem with trying to talk about spiritual wellness is that the spirit isn't as tangible to us as the body. Or, isn't it? Perhaps we place so much value on what we can see and touch that we miss the more important things that what we can feel and sense. We need to talk about such things. We need to create a language that will help us to express those deep things we experience, those precious moments when the divine touches the mundane.

Traditionally, organized religion has given us that language; but organized religion is not popular nowadays. Self-help books are more popular these days than houses of worship. Non-traditional religions are growing by leaps and bounds. And that's ok. If they make us more aware of our spirituality and help us to become better human beings, then they are a welcome.

However books and religions alone cannot make us spiritually healthy. Spiritual health is a personal and individual task. As with the physical dimension of wellness, we each must work on our own spiritual development. We must take the initiative to search for God. The first step toward doing this is to recognize that we need him. A person who's physically fit, emotionally stable, and psychologically normal, is still incomplete if that person has no sense of the spiritual dimension.

Let me use an example. Deployed chaplains often advise Airmen to take care of themselves in the deployed location. This chaplain didn't practice what he preached. I kept so busy leading multiple worship services and doing "chaplainy" things that I neglected to take care of myself physically. There I was, in average 120-degree heat, rarely making it to the gym, and wondering why my energy level was low and I was getting sick. But with encouragement from my wingmen, I turned that situation around, started hitting the gym each day, and consequently feel better than I've felt in years. Not only that, an unexpected result was a heightened spiritual awareness: I'm closer to God than I've ever been.

For me, the physical helped the spiritual. But I suspect for many, the spiritual can help the physical. Try it. Find some small way to improve your relationship with God. There are many ways to do so. You could register for Chaplain Haltom's "True-Target E-Devotional." You could get one of those spiritually-uplifting calendars with an inspiring thought for each day of the year. Buy a good book. Ask someone you admire how they keep themselves spiritually fit. Find a house of worship where you can exercise your faith with kindred spirits. Hopefully at least one of these suggestions can motivate you to improve.

Finally don't forget that spiritual things are not separate from physical things. In fact, all four dimensions of wellness are interrelated. If you work on your spiritual vision, you'll soon be able to see God's hand at work in the world and in your life. There are, no doubt, places around your home, or indeed in your heart, where you can see the spiritual transcending the everyday. I went out to the end of a pier to meet God. Now that I'm home I "lift up my eyes" to the Wasatch Mountain range, knowing that "my help cometh from the Lord (Psalm 121)." I suggest you do the same.