The Spirit of Us
The moment we’ve been waiting for has arrived – the Live Healthy Look Healthy feature In to Out: Holistically Taking Care of Our Bodies. Over the past several weeks we have interviewed a panel of experts in various fields of health and wellness, and I must say that it has been quite a gratifying experience for me. The most beautiful thing about In to Out is the fact that everyone spoke the same underlying theme – optimal health starts from within and works its way out. We hope that you find encouragement, food for thought, or some great tip that you will incorporate into your daily life.
*Our intention, through this series, is to help others to live a whole life in a healthy manner – not to treat any condition.
~Live Healthy. Look Healthy.
Rev. Dr. Lisa Diane Rhodes
At the lovely home of Dr. Rhodes, eating a comforting bowl of delicious, homemade vegetable-chicken soup (recipe to follow), I sat down to a thought-provoking conversation on inner strength and the wellbeing of the human spirit. In day-to-day life, many times we get caught up in the vicissitudes of our daily activities, finding ourselves in a downward spiral of mundaneness. We literally forget to take care of our spirits and our souls. Here, Dr. Rhodes will lay the foundation for more balance through life’s challenges.
Please tell us about yourself. I am Dean of the Chapel at Spelman College. I give leadership to the religious and spiritual life programming for students, the faculty, staff, the alumni, and anyone affiliated with the college. I am also the director of the WISDOM Center, Women in Spiritual Discernment of Ministry, under the auspices of Sisters Chapel. Now in its ninth year, the WISDOM Center has brought to the Spelman community a programmatic and administrative infrastructure for religious and spiritual life programs such as educational forums, international conversations, and other activities that focus on black womanhood, social justice and vocation. In addition, I give leadership to the worship services held in Sisters Chapel. During the academic year we have Sunday worship service where I give pastoral leadership with our Chapel Assistants who serve as liturgical leaders.
Your responsibilities sound broad in the sense that you may touch other faiths besides Christianity. Absolutely.
How do you navigate being a Christian minister, pastor, counselor and respond to the needs of others who may not be Christians? What I have done is made room beside my beliefs to embrace and understand other faith traditions and other ways God speaks to people from their own cultural context and geographical area. I believe there is a God, who is a universal God; a God not just for Christians or Muslims, but a God for ALL religions. The manifestation and practice of faith is very different across faith traditions and cultures. I find that interfaith dialogue and collaboration or cooperation is something that helps our world and our culture to be deeply rich and varied in our understanding of what it means to be human. There are some fundamental principles across faith traditions that are very similar. We have more in common than we do differences. And so as the Dean of the Chapel, the person that gives leadership to religious and spiritual life, I try to embody a way to teach students to be global citizens. To be a global citizen means to be familiar with the culture and religions of the world. There are more religions in the world than Christianity. If students go to predominantly Muslim countries, they will be comfortable sitting beside a Muslim because they were exposed to the fact that there is a need to be conscious about world religions.
How long have you been in the ministry? Since 1987, that’s when I moved to Atlanta to attend Candler School of Theology at Emory University. My first pastorate since my call was at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
In your personal ministry, is there a particular group that resonates with you more? My heart, my mind (with a heartfelt smile)…it’s interesting because it has evolved. When I first entered the ministry, I had a natural affinity for our youth. Then I worked in mental health at Emory University Psychiatric Center and I grew to have a heart for children, the mentally ill and problems that trouble the soul and spirit of our young adults. At this point in my journey, God has given me a heart for women. I believe women are the backbone of the home, the family, community, and the Church. God gives me the passion that drives me to creative ministry and to seek ways of health and wholeness for women.
What do you see as the biggest challenge women are faced with in general? There are so many. Balancing the many roles women are assigned and have inherited by default, is one of the biggest challenges, particularly balancing domestic and professional life, parenting, providing a quality home environment to raise kids and support their spouses, if they have the luxury of a two parent home. Although every woman may not experience this tension to the same degree, all women must learn to balance the gender role expectations of domestic and professional life as well as parenting. Women must learn how to balance these expectations while at the same time find time for self-care; this is a major challenge. In addition, women must make sure they do not suffer from their internal perception of ‘not being good enough’ – a good enough woman, wife, mother, friend or worker. They must in the midst of all this, seek to give voice to their feelings, thoughts, and opinions and fight to not have their personhood and feminine voice silenced. As a result of this sometimes silent struggle with role expectations, interpersonal relationships, and giving voice to selfhood, women deal with issues of depression. I believe depression is a significant weight and outcome of multiple stressors women encounter. Among African-American women, major challenges are also issues of racism and classism.
In all of that, how do you suggest we preserve ourselves spiritually? One of the things I think is critical is for women to utilize support systems, networks and resources that help to affirm and support what it means to be woman. Many churches are providing a space for women to get together, to support one another, and develop networks through women’s ministries and support groups. I think there are issues and conversations that only women can have among women. There are places women can go with women that women can’t go with men. Therefore, I think it would be helpful for women to have within churches or within the community support groups that help to spiritually anchor them in faith at the same time providing a safe space for them to work through personal issues related to what it means to be a woman. That’s one way women can help take care of self—hanging out and spending time with girlfriends, having women’s night out, making sure to take time to work out – not only for stress management, but for health.
I think sometimes we eat ourselves to death, and we stay on the couch as we do it. We take care of everyone else, but we don‘t take care of ourselves. Exercise and eating healthy are practical and simple ways that we can take care of ourselves. I believe women need to be honest with self and do some truth-telling and come to voice with their truth-telling—not suppress their feelings or their voice, but speak, just speak truth. Sometimes we think we need to remain silent in order to keep a man or get a man, or remain silent to be liked, or approved of. But being authentic and allowing our authentic self to speak is clearly one of the ways we can take care of ourselves. This is reminiscent of a spoken word piece one of our students gave during a stop the violence against women showcase at Sisters Chapel, Love Don’t Act Like That, speaks to how we make excuses for relationships, the pain and abuse in relationships whether it’s emotional or physical. We make excuses for people in our lives to hurt us. We say that they love us, but like one of my students said, Love Don’t Act Like That.
Please post your comments – they are welcome!
Part II to follow.