“My heart is sick, withered like grass, and I have lost my appetite.” – Psalm 102:4
The term, “wither” or “withered” is used figuratively here to express a moral and spiritual deficiency that affects the heart, causing it to wither and decay from spiritual malnutrition.
Similarities of Physical and Spiritual Malnutrition
I recently underwent a gastronomy to have a feeding tube inserted into my stomach. Through three disciplined feedings each day of formula to reverse the effects of malnutrition on my body, I would expect a restoration of weight and loss of healing function due to the lack of nutrients – now being replaced.
In like manner, the spiritual heart can also suffer from malnourishment, causing it to eventually wither and dry up, if we fail to replace the nutrients necessary for a healthy heart. This is what I believe C.S. Lewis meant when he said, “…a passion for which has for years been wrapped round the whole of the heart will dry up and wither.”
So what are some essential nutrients for a healthy spiritual heart?
First, would be to set aside prayer times throughout the day that are framed by silence and solitude – meaning no distractions. Remember that prayer is not only speaking to God, but also involves listening to God as well. This is where silence and solitude come into play.
Second, think of the Bible as not just a bunch of scripture that tell you how you should live your life, but rather as a love letter from God himself. If we believe that all scripture is God breathed, this is not a difficult concept to embrace.
Contemplative reading of Bible passages is also an avenue by which to hear God’s voice, and should also be framed by silence and solitude. Contemplative reading recognizes that the words we read have multiple layers, not always distinguishable from the first reading, so we return to a familiar text expecting that something new can be revealed to us. This is where we get personal about what the text means for us. Benedictines refer to this type of reading as Lectio Divina, it’s purpose being, to put us into contact with God by being aware of God’s presence in what we read, or as some have put it: reading God.
Finally, cultivating an awareness of God’s presence in the ordinary as well as the majestic. He is the creator of everything after all.
A Lesson From Mary and Martha
As I recalled the account of Mary and Martha, found in Luke 10:38-42, the distinction between what was good for the health of a spiritual heart and what was not, was encapsulated in one word: closeness.
As you may recall, Martha invited Jesus into her house, where she and her sister, Mary lived. As Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to his teaching, Martha was busy with, and distracted by, all the serving duties. Jesus said in Matthew 4:4 that, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Mary understood. Martha did not.
Becoming exasperated by Mary’s perceived sloughfulness, Martha went to Jesus and asked him if he didn’t care that she was doing all the work, to which Jesus replied:
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many [temporal] things, but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the best part; it will not be taken away from her.”