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We continue our series this week on ten benefits of faith to our mental health.

A ninth resource that comes from Christian faith is the practise of prayer, ritual and rites of passage. Viewing the experience of life as a pilgrimage, along that journey there are key moments that need to be marked and celebrated. This need is acknowledged by other faith traditions such as Judaism and Islam and indeed by many cultures whether they include a faith dimension or not. The prayer and sacramental life of the Church is rich in marking the passage of time, the rhythms of life and the transition from one state of life to another. These include birth (baptism), moving into adulthood (Confirmation), marriage and death (funeral rites). A wide tapestry of prayers, rites and rituals mark whatever transition is being undergone by individuals and communities. These are generally viewed as positive and even necessary expressions to the lived realities we experience. These can be moments that are therapeutic, healing and have a positive impact on our mental health and well-being.

As evidence for this, in a major study of American women, it was discovered that Catholic women aged 30 to 55 who participate in Eucharist at least weekly are up to 20 times less likely to commit suicide than women who never attend religious services (‘Association Between Religious Service Attendance and Lower Suicide Rates Among US Women’, Journal of the American Medical Association, Aug 1, 2016, 73(8), 845-851). In relation to prayer, there is proof that contemplative or meditative practises have wide ranging health benefits that combat depression and anxiety. When we pray we give expression to gratitude which mitigates against self-pity, narcissistic tendencies and pride. Prayer is about communication with an accessible God who assures us we are not alone. So, for example, the psalms offer a vocabulary and grammar to give voice to emotional sorrow and pain: ‘My heart pounds within me death’s terrors fall upon me. Fear and trembling overwhelm me; shuddering sweeps over me’ (Ps. 55); ‘I am withered, dried up like grass, too wasted to eat my food’ (Ps. 102). With Job many can cry: ‘I will not restrain my mouth …I will complain in the bitterness of my soul’ (Job. 7:11). But having grappled with despair, in God’s Word we also discover hope – ‘For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for peace and not disaster, to give you a future and a hope’ (Jer. 29:11). In the end sorrow and pain will be overcome (Cf. Is. 35:10; 51:11).


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