July 5 2020

‘All right, me duck?’

When we first moved to Sileby we learned a new expression, which was, “Are you all right, me duck?”

This greeting, this new concern over our health was very welcome and appreciated, of course.

Thirty years on, and everyone everywhere is acutely interested in the state of our health, yours and mine.

Every letter, email and text expresses it. Conversations about something other than infection are at a minimum. And our news is dominated by covid in the way Brexit used to dominate it.

The Labour Health Secretary, Aneurin Bevan, established the NHS in 1948, and of course today [5July 2020] we mark 72 years since its founding. This evening I believe we will be on our doorsteps again to applaud, and we are asked to put a light in a window to commemorate those who have died in the pandemic. Nationally buildings and monuments will be illuminated in blue as a tribute to the organisation.

Health and spirituality are almost synonymous in most religious communities. Having tired of ending my messages with “I hope you are keeping well,” I now prefer “I trust you are in good spirits.” It means virtually the same thing, and is a bit more cheerful.

The food we eat, the quality of our sleep, and our exercise, are all recognised now as being closely linked to our mental health, and therefore our spiritual well-being.

Those of us who suffer under the effects of lockdown are, I guess, in the majority. A minority of individuals used to retreats and periods of contemplative meditation are possibly coping better. One anxiety sufferer from Northern Ireland has interestingly written of her own experience.

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[from the BBC News-feed:] Seaneen Molloy’s panic attacks stopped when the coronavirus pandemic started.

“…I felt least afraid when it all began.

Some people were plunged into a state of anxiety and panic, but not me. I have an anxiety disorder, and was in a constant state of panic anyway, always fearing death. But for once, I wasn’t alone, and the national crisis was oddly comforting.

The panic attacks that had plagued me every single night for years stopped abruptly when Boris Johnson announced lockdown on 23 March.

It was strange to feel liberated, while the rest of the world freaked out. I felt like the calmest person in the room.

I wasn’t alone. University College London reported in the early weeks of lockdown that despite an initial decline in happiness, wellbeing had actually risen and anxiety levels had fallen for people with and without mental health disorders.

Life got slower, quieter and smaller. There was no rushing around for school runs, crushed commutes, trips out we didn’t really want….”

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Now, I’m not for a minute suggesting the world was better in lockdown, but I think there may be one or two things we can learn from the experience. One at least of them is that we ought to take better care of ourselves.

Some time ago the church used to advocate the mortification of the flesh. People used to sadly expose themselves to maltreatment and germs in the mistaken belief that it would enhance their spirituality.

Where on earth did they get hold of that idea ?

The ministry of Jesus was involved with the ministry of healing. It was understood that good health was part of his redemptive scheme.

The Jewish population of his day may well have associated ill-health with sinfulness or behaviour which needed reform. Part of Jesus’ revolution in religious ideas was to teach, and above all to demonstrate, that spiritual health was not to be achieved by punishing yourself.

For Jesus true health was not possible without the appropriate spiritual outlook, and he closely associated his mission and himself with that. In the gospel according to Luke he greets Zacchaeus by saying, “This day is health come to thy house.”

“Peace,” on the lips of Jesus (as when he used to say “peace be with you” or “go in peace”) was the equivalent of being whole, and being in harmony with the nature of the divine.

In a time of pandemic everyone remains alert for news of a medical breakthrough, a treatment to save the lives of those unwell as a result of infection, and perhaps especially for a vaccine which might make it possible to live with the presence of covid in much the same way as we inoculate ourselves against influenza every autumn.

Wait and hope. What else can we do ? Measures involving social distancing, wearing masks, isolating and shielding have all been in place for months now. And until the recent setback here in Leicester we seemed to be making some real progress. Generally speaking, transmission rates are lower, and the number of those dying is still falling.

If it is not a mistake to suggest that health and spirituality are almost synonymous; and if, in the life and teaching of Jesus, we can see an example of health and well-being we can follow; then might not the cultivation of our spiritual nature be another thing we can do, perhaps as important as social distancing and shielding?

In that spirit shall we pray?

From  Orders of Worship  (1932):

Almighty God, whose beloved Son Jesus Christ went about doing good, and healing all manner of sickness, and all manner of disease among the people; continue, we beseech thee, this his gracious work among us, especially in the hospitals and infirmaries here and in every land.

Cheer, heal, and sanctify the sick; grant to the physicians, surgeons, and nurses, wisdom and skill, sympathy and patience; and assist with thy blessing all who are seeking to prevent suffering, and to forward thy purposes of love. Amen.

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