Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Meditate to Defeat Holiday Stress; Neptune Beach Center Is among Those Offering Spiritual Meditation

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Meditate to Defeat Holiday Stress; Neptune Beach Center Is among Those Offering Spiritual Meditation

Article excerpt

Byline: JEFF BRUMLEY

They sat, a dozen or so of them, in complete silence - cell phones muted, hands resting softly on laps, eyes closed.

Outside this house-turned-meditation center, Neptune Beach was abuzz with passing cars, the occasional airplane, a person's voice. Inside, stillness reigned as participants focused on opening heart, mind and spirit to the divine.

As usual, the daily noontime session at Christian Meditation Center snatched Tom Morrell out of the rat race and put him in a serene frame of mind.

"Right now, I'm feeling rejuvenated and more peaceful as I go back into the rest of my day," the 48-year-old Catholic from St. Augustine said.

Religious leaders and health-care professionals recommend more people follow Morrell's example in finding a spiritual solution to the stresses of daily life - especially during the hectic holiday season. Recent studies suggest that people who are religiously observant benefit from reduced levels of anxiety, depression and hypertension.

"Yes, it helps you deal with stress better," said Carl Kyle, a pastoral counselor and chaplain who manages spiritual care at Community Hospice of Northeast Florida.

"There's a sense that no matter what comes, everything is going to be OK. It's not a matter of denial, but of hope and optimism."

The Christmas season often brings families an unwanted gift: more stress. And this year, the recession's lingering effects only make matters worse.

"It's already a stressful time of the year, but people's financial struggles just add to it," said the Rev. Nicholas Louh, pastor of St. John the Divine Greek Orthodox Church in Jacksonville.

That's why he suggests people boost their prayer lives this time of year.

Prayer establishes direct contact with the divine that can sustain a person through whatever the day brings. Sharing one's problems with God and praying for personal and communal peace help focus a believer on the spiritual dimension of the holidays, he said.

"Just like our body needs refueling with rest when we go to bed, so also does our soul need to be refueled, and that's through prayer."

SCRIPTURE 'AN INSPIRATION'

The Christmas season is also a good time to begin a daily practice of reading Scripture or Bible-based devotionals, said the Rev. Milton Dykes, senior pastor at Southside Assembly of God in Jacksonville.

Dykes recommends a daily devotional reader - which are made for men, women, couples, teens, people in grief and in other stages of life - or going directly to the Bible for daily readings.

There's something about the written word that "can help bring you out of your own little internal world" that gets even smaller during the holidays, Dykes said.

"Christmas for a lot of people is extremely hard because they're alone through death or neglect," Dykes said. …

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