My doctor's scheduler called several weeks ago and said it was time for my annual physical.
"Are you talking a whole-nine-yards physical?" I asked.
"Actually, ten yards," she responded.
A day or so later my dentist's scheduler called to say it was time for an annual check- up on my teeth.
I know I'm supposed to be thankful for both of these examinations, but the truth is that I'm not … until they're over. Why?
Well, how about the loss-of-dignity issue when they put you in that paper gown? Then there's that moment of realization when you know that they know you haven't kept all the promises you made during last year's examination (dropping a few pounds and flossing every day). Finally, and more seriously, there's always the chance that you'll hear bad news: a needed surgical procedure or a root canal.
Still, a wise person heeds the scheduler's summons and shows up at the appointed hour.
As I left the doctor's office the other day, I wondered if there was an equivalent of a physical for one's interior life. If people need physicals, don't they also need spirituals?
I saw Psalm 139 in a new light: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me." The writer of these words seems to be inviting a spiritual. There is abundant, if not infinite, space in the spiritual dimension of one's life. Who, but God, could ever know everything in that space?
I have become increasingly aware of the enormous amount of activity inside of me that I neither understand nor fully control. Impressions, attitudes, urges, motives, and initiatives bubble up and out of that darkened space, and not all of it is noble. It's similar to all the physical activity deep inside my body that I don't know much about either. It just happens with or without my conscious consent.
Jeremiah seems to be thinking similar thoughts when he writes those oft-quoted words: "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?"
Only God can fully search the space called the "heart" and provide a remedy that leads to integrity and reliability.
When the Quaker writer, Thomas Kelly, mused upon the mysteries of one's spiritual space, he concluded: "Each of us tends to be not a single self, but a whole committee of selves. And each of these selves is a rank individualist, not cooperative, but shouting out his vote for himself when voting time comes. And even when a consensus is taken, the disgruntled minority agitates on the streets of the soul."
I have lived the life of a so-called leader, one of those blessed to be in front of a group of people and tasked with pointing the way in which everyone should go. In that role I have experienced joy and heartache, achievement and failure. I have learned many lessons along the way. Among the most important of them: make sure you get periodic "spirituals."
Admittedly this is a latter-life conviction because, when I was young and self-confident, I was quite sure I could be my own examiner. Then one day I came to appreciate the line that comes out of the medical profession, "The doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient."
Or as Dorotheos of Gaza said, "I know of no falling away of a monk which did not come from his reliance on his own sentiments. Nothing is more pitiful, nothing more disastrous than to be one's own [spiritual] director."
This idea of having a spiritual is no novel idea, of course. The prophets conducted more than a few of them with the kings of Israel. Think of Samuel with Saul, Nathan with David, and Isaiah with Hezekiah. The kings were in denial; the prophets were there to conduct the examinations.