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A Spiritual Pulse Check

Each year I have what my doctor calls a “well physical.” He uses a well-established process to assess my health. It begins with labs – including a number of tests run on my blood. Then, the physical exam proceeds from checking my pulse and blood pressure through a wide range of other tests and checks. The process concludes with an extended conversation of my health practices and a discussion of any health decisions I need to consider.

When it comes to assessing my spiritual health, the process is far less clear; and the results are much more subtle. Over the years, my intentional efforts to grow in faith have led me to identify four dynamics that I think are at the heart of a vital spirituality: solitude, intimacy, outreach to those in need, and solidarity with the human family. I consider them to be part of what I call a spiritual pulse check. Here is a brief description of each.


Jesus is the model for solitude. “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” (Mark 1:35) The Gospels portray the central role of prayerful solitude in Jesus’ life and ministry. In the midst of an intense ministry, he seeks out opportunities for solitude and prayer: “After he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray.” (Matt. 14:23) On the eve of his passion and death, prayer is at the heart of his acceptance and surrender. (Luke 22:39-46) Jesus’ spirituality is rooted in prayerful solitude. It is a vital expression of his life with God and a source of spiritual nourishment for his life and ministry.

Solitude is rooted in daily disciplines that take us deeper into our life with God. These include prayer, contemplation, reading the scriptures, and spiritual reading. These disciplines open us to God’s presence – helping us recognize that presence within ourselves and in all that surrounds us. Such disciplines help us keep our egos in check and cultivate a spirit of surrender to the divine will: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” Prayerful solitude is a wellspring that nourishes and sustains our life in God, giving us the staying power to live out our call and commitment.

Martin Luther captured the essential role of prayerful solitude in nurturing Christian discipleship: “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” Solitude and prayer are the breath that animates our life in God. 


Discipleship is an intentional commitment to live in an intimate relationship with God and one another. As disciples, we are drawn ever deeper into that intimacy. It transforms our understanding of God, the way we see ourselves, and our relationship with others.

Not surprisingly, my childhood images of God were parental. At times, I saw God as a loving father, but I also viewed God as a critical parent: stern, judgmental, and even condemning. Over time, those childhood images of God gave way to seeing Jesus as a merciful redeemer and appreciating God as Trinity – a dynamic love relationship. God’s nature is a gracious outpouring of mercy, forgiveness, and love. The ancient Greek fathers used the image of a circle dance of love to capture the relational nature of a Trinitarian God. A waterwheel is another image that attempts to describe God as an unending flow of love. Such images help express that love is at the heart of the divine relationship. They draw us toward a more intimate relationship with God.

As our understanding of God evolves, so does our self-understanding and our relationship with others. We are invited to claim our identity as sons and daughters of God, join the circle dance of love, and live in the intimacy of that relationship. We begin to move beyond any notion of earning or deserving that relationship. No one is worthy of it. When we accept that relationship as an amazing and undeserved gift, it urges us to live with gratitude and generosity.

Outreach to Those in Need

When John’s disciples ask Jesus if he is the Messiah, he responds: “Go and tell John what you see and hear: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” (Matt. 11:4-5) Jesus’ ministry of healing and reconciliation reveals his identity in God. His life and ministry demonstrate an essential dynamic of spiritual maturity – the outpouring of love to those in need.

Those of us who have received the gift of healing and reconciliation are called to extend that gift to others. We join the flow of the waterwheel of unending love. We are called to extend the Trinity’s circle dance of love to others. As disciples, we are called to reach out to those in need. Sharing the energy of healing and reconciliation multiplies it. Hoarding that gift weakens and diminishes it. 

Jesus’ ministry of healing and reconciliation builds on the wisdom and tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures. It calls us to care for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger – the definitive examples of those who are poor and most vulnerable. Nowhere is this call more strongly emphasized than in Jesus’ description of the ultimate judgment. The litmus test of authentic discipleship is: “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25: 40) The Risen Christ identifies so intimately with the poor and the vulnerable that the way we respond to them is the way we respond to him.

Solidarity with the Human Family

Spiritual maturity leads to a radically expansive view of God’s presence and redemptive action. It urges us beyond the narrow view that God’s healing and reconciling power is limited to the chosen – however we might define what chosen means. 

When the centurion begs Jesus to heal his servant, Jesus offers to come and heal him. The centurion responds: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed.” Jesus marvels at the man’s faith. “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I will tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 8:10-11) Jesus clearly proclaims that God’s healing and redemptive action extends beyond the people of Israel. His kingdom vision is far more expansive.

Paul also embodies this expansive view of solidarity. His ministry to the gentiles exemplifies it, and his understanding of being “in Christ” is radically inclusive. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28)

Authentic spirituality continually breaks down barriers, eliminates divisions, and expands our horizon. It urges us to grasp that in Christ, there is no “other.” We are all sons and daughters of the one God, and we are called to live in solidarity with the entire human family.


The dynamics of solitude, intimacy, outreach, and solidarity provide us with a pulse check of our spiritual health and vitality. They also provide a helpful guide for our lifelong spiritual journey. They urge us to commit ourselves to praying more deeply, loving more fully, reaching out more generously, and relating more expansively. They call us to abandon the narrow categories that divide and separate. They invite us to embrace our authentic identity as sons and daughters of a God whose healing and redemptive power extends to all without boundaries and limits.

Questions to Ponder

Here are some questions to help you reflect on the spiritual pulse check:

  • What is your experience of solitude – both in the ways you embrace it and in the ways that you avoid it?
  • What is the quality of your intimacy with God and with others – particularly those closest to you?
  • In what ways are you reaching out to those in need? What other opportunities do you have to do so?
  • How does “solidarity with the human family” invite you to embrace a more expansive vision of and connection with the entire human family?
  • How might the four dynamics of the spiritual pulse check outlined above help guide you on the spiritual journey? 


  1. Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (New Kensington, Pennsylvania, Whitaker House, 2016), p. 27.