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It is the Mobius strip of faith: God is most present to us when we are most present for ourselves. Easier said than done. Most of us can scarcely afford to be present: We are too hard at work doing, our every waking moment a list to be dutifully checked off. The only time our souls get taken out of mothballs is for a few flickering seconds a week, perhaps during church services, perhaps in a moment of astonishment at what spring has wrought, perhaps in a loving embrace.

The medical community has voiced alarm at the amount of time most of us sit during the day. Sitting raised blood pressure, they warn. Desk workers suffer heart attacks at a higher rate than active workers. So goes it with our souls. Used infrequently, they wither. It is only in their regular exercise that we find peace.

How does one exercise one’s soul? Through the act of being present. Present to the world around us, to our bodies, to other people, to God. In other words: Wake up, you sleepyheads! Rub your eyes! Get out of bed! All this stuff that’s happening around you is just that — stuff. The focus you bring to it, now that’s living.

Imagine taking one day during which you are forced to provide an intention for your every action. The results would either stultify or stun you. Yes, a lot of what we do is born of practicality: earning a living, eating, drinking, sleeping when tired. It is easy to begin to believe that all of that stuff is a life. It isn’t. Life boils down to the moments that you decide to see, to experience, to be here now. And when you show up, surprise! You’ll find God was waiting for you all along.

Today, I’d like you to ask yourselves the following questions (based on a TED talk by Hank Green): Who am I? What do I do? Who do I do it for? Who benefits from what I do? Don’t like the answers? Change them.

Dare to awaken to even a portion of your own life. You will find yourself there; but what’s more, you’ll find God.

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Eight years ago, a mystery disease caused me to drop weight rapidly. Trip after trip to the doctor, test after test, revealed nothing. I got down to 116 pounds on a six-foot-tall frame, a weight I hadn’t been since my wedding day. (And yes, I was too thin then.) But what surprised me most about this period were the reactions of those around me. “You look so good!” everyone said. “You look healthy!” Only my wise sister-in-law refused to be fooled. “You’re too thin,” she told me, and those words made me want to cry. She saw me. She saw how sick I was, how worried. It felt redemptive.

When the body is sick, the soul often follows. After all, if you hate your body, how can your soul be at peace? It is the rare saint indeed whose soul flourishes at the expense of her body — like St. Rose of Lima who disfigured her face with lye so as to be unattractive to anyone but God. Or St. Alphonsa, who stepped into a fire so as to ruin her feet…and her chances at marriage.

But most of us aren’t Rose or Alphonsa. If our body is hurting, mentally or physically, it can be hard for our souls to be well. The opposite is true, too. A soul in unrest can be mirrored in the frailties of our bodies. Body and soul are connected.

My friend Robyn suffered in silence from bulimia for almost 20 years before she sought help. Then, and only then, was her soul able to heal. Today she writes uplifting, nurturing prose for others who might be trapped in the same condition. Her soul has healed as her body has healed, and now she passes on healing to others.

That brings me to today’s salient message: If you are hurting, body or soul, reach out to someone. Don’t hide in silence. Don’t be ashamed. And even if no one in your life hears you, God always will. Don’t give up — even if your physical condition cannot be improved, at least you have an outlet, a listening ear who cares. Even that — just that — can work miracles in soul-health.

As for me, whatever it was that was troubling me eight years ago quit troubling me. I’m now overweight, and just as unhappy with my body as ever. I know this weighs (no pun intended) on my soul. So I am focusing my light within. Hopefully, as my soul strengthens, my body will, too…or at least I won’t mind so much if it doesn’t.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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