Tag Archives: health

May 11: The Best Medicine? ask the Irish Chaplaincy.

Another posting from Eddie at the Irish Chaplaincy.


Eddie Gilmore

Eddie Gilmore

When coming away from my regular visit to one of our Irish Chaplaincy Seniors I was reflecting on how uplifted I felt and how it had to do, in part, by how much we had laughed during the visit. This particular lady is only in her 70s but has fairly advanced dementia, and her sister moved over from Ireland to stay in the one-bedroom flat as a live-in carer. It’s a challenging situation but we always regale one another with funny stories, and we hoot with laughter.

I’ve been enjoying a book by James Martin, the American Jesuit, called ‘Between Heaven and Mirth’ with the sub-title ‘Why joy, humour and laughter are at the heart of the spiritual life’. He speaks of the importance of humour, especially in religious settings, which can easily become terribly serious and joyless. I imagine, sadly, that there are many people who might consider laughter to be incompatible with church or religion. And I was interested to see in a recent survey in the Church of England that people didn’t want their priests to be cracking lots of jokes in their sermons! It’s true that humour doesn’t really come across in the gospels. I fear this is a case of jokes getting lost in translation (besides the notion that religion is a ‘serious business’) because I like to think that the stories of Jesus were filled with humour and hilarity, and that he liked nothing better than to have a good laugh with some of the dodgy characters he hung out with.

I still remember the words of my dear friend Tony (and the jokes he told) in his best man speech at my wedding. He reminded us that the words ‘humour’, ‘humility’ and ‘human’ all come from the Latin word ‘humus’ which means earth and ground, so that when we laugh we are connected in a particular way with the ground we walk upon and with those we walk with. It could be said indeed that a sure sign of a growing connection and intimacy with another person is the ability to laugh together. Physiologically, as well, it’s healthy for us to laugh. A good, hearty laugh can relieve physical tension and stress and leave the muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes. It boosts the immune system, decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, therefore improving resistance to disease. It also reduces blood pressure and releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. Laughter is almost as good for the body as going to the gym! And it doesn’t cost a penny in membership! I remember at one time somebody in the NHS having the idea to send comedians into hospitals to help patients to laugh but sadly it doesn’t seem to have caught on.

And talking of funny people, I was tickled to hear what happened when John Cleese met the Dalai Lama. They didn’t say a word to one another but simply broke into spontaneous and prolonged laughter! James Martin tells us in his book that the Trappist monk and prolific spiritual writer Thomas Merton could be identified by visitors to his monastery in Kentucky (at a time, in the 1960s, when there were 200 monks there) because he was the one who was always laughing. And one of the many nice stories in the book concerns Mother Theresa from the time when John Paul II was pope and creating loads of new saints. A young sister asked what she would have to do in her life to achieve sainthood. Mother Theresa replied “die now; this pope’s canonising everyone”!

This season of Lent is perhaps not readily associated with fun and frivolity. Yet, in the scripture readings from Ash Wednesday at the beginning of Lent we have Jesus warning us (Matthew 6) not to look miserable when we fast; and we are reminded of the words from Isaiah 58 of the kind of fast that is pleasing to God:

“Let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke;

Share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor”

And I would add, try and have a bit of a laugh with people as well. It’s one of the things that most profoundly binds us together in our common humanity.

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February 3. From the Franciscans of Zimbabwe IV: The gift of Water, 1.

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 This celebration of water, slightly abridged, is by Sister Theodora Mercy Kaviza OFS. It is far too easy, for those of us with clean, safe, running water to take it for granted. Sister Theodora Mercy reminds us that it is both gift and necessity. The second half follows tomorrow.

In our bodies, from the rebuilding of our muscles to blood circulation to boosting digestion, one main component is needed, and this is water. We use water to bathe, and for cleansing and purification, because it keeps sickness and bad moods at bay, and rejuvenates the body.

However when we look around and see how we have abused the water sources of the world it is easy to realize that we have totally forgotten how important water is to our very existence. From prehistoric times humans thought that the benefits of water were divine gifts or even that the water itself was a divinity: lakes, rivers, springs and glaciers became places of veneration.

Birds, reptiles and amphibians are born from eggs which are mainly full of water. Mammals too, before they are born, swim in their mother’s womb in a liquid composed principally of water. In the Canticle of the Sun, St. Francis of Assisi praises God for water: “Praised be Thou, O Lord, for sister water, who is very useful, humble, precious, and chaste”.

In Africa, a hot and mainly arid continent, the great rivers Nile, Congo, Niger, Zambezi and the Lakes Chad, Victoria and Rudolf, have always been life-giving. The ancient Egyptians believed their country was “a gift of the Nile” and they venerated the river as a deity.

In the creation story of the Jewish Torah and Christian Bible, God’s spirit first moved “over the face of the waters” and God said “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures” (Genesis 1:2, 20). In Islam, water is the origin of all life on Earth and the Qur’an says water is the substance from which God created the human being (25:54).

The Indians take the Ganges River to be both a symbol of life and a place where one can wash away spiritual impurities, thereby drawing closer to the sacred source of life. In a similar way, ancient Jewish tradition calls people on special occasions to cleanse their bodies spiritually by immersion in a ‘mikveh’ bath. For Muslims, ablution with water, is an obligatory preparation for daily prayer.

Image from St Aloysius’ Somers Town, London. MMB

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7 January: Creationism or a Theology of Creation?

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If the word Creationism had not been grabbed by those who hold a literal understanding of Old Testament texts,  it would fit a theology that sees us as creatures of God, but also stewards of creation, working to nurture and repair his work. That’s what I would call creationism. Creation in the here and now, not thousands (or even millions) of years ago, is our calling.

Oh well, no point bleating  about names! Time for a New Year’s resolution: boringly, it’s back to public health, planting trees, picking litter, making our corner of the world a little grander: and praising the Creator of it all. Laudato si! (And look out for tomorrow’s post.)

The USPG people (United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) are building a theology of  creation worldwide. Here is another of their prayers.

Creating God, you have invited us to be co-creators with you and to care for your Creation. We repent of our neglect and ask that you help us to be responsible stewards of Creation and to work together for the preservation of the world.

Amen to that: Laudato Si! 

More prayers from USPG at http://www.uspg.org.uk/pray

 

World Youth Day Pilgrims, Tatra mountains, MMB.

 

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November 13. Remembrance and beyond

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During the Second World War in Britain, while men were fighting and the war effort seemed to be paramount in people’s minds, in the background other politicians and civil servants were drawing up plans for important areas such as housing, health and education. This time it would be a ‘land fit for heroes’. In the event, prefabricated houses and schools were erected with a speed and in numbers never again seen and the National Health Service came into being.

A better housed, better educated and generally healthier population was the result. But planning can only go so far, as the Times Literary Supplement columnist Charles Morgan pointed out.

In all the plans that are made for the life we are to lead, how seldom is there evidence of any wish that life shall be enjoyed: that it shall be safe – yes; that it shall be instructed, equalised, rubbed smooth, supplied with dustless corners and chromium-plated taps; but that there shall be grace or charm or quiet or gaiety or sweetness or light in it, there is among the sterner planners neither hope nor desire. Utility and sameness are their guiding stars … Their ideal is to make of the art of life what a timetable is to a poem.1

He wrote, of course, from a position of privilege, and exaggerates in his last two sentences to make a polemical point. Certainly I have visited prefabs that have lasted nearly three times their planned lifespan, are light and airy, and well loved by those who have made their homes therein. And G.K. Chesterton considered timetables poetic; especially when they work! And what joy, post-war, when such things could be more or less relied on again!

MMB

Portsmouth, largely rebuilt after World War II

1Charles Morgan, Reflections in a Mirror, London, MacMillan, 1944, p.93.

 

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October 29: Shoulder to shoulder

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Natasha Devon MBE is a writer on mental health issues.

I rather liked this tip for teachers:

“Practise shoulder to  shoulder communication

“Some people find eye contact too intense. If there is someone who you suspect is struggling with their mental health, but who finds it difficult to open up, try asking them to help you with carrying text books or clearing out a cupboard. They may begin to confide in you when the pressure of eye contact is removed.” *

Of course, it need not be a mental health issue, just a problem or traumatic event that someone might need to resolve.

I am reminded of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, walking shoulder to shoulder with the Answer to their problems and trauma. Their eyes were opened when he broke bread while sharing a meal with them. (Luke 24:13-35)

The meal table can be, should be, a place of peace where our eyes can be opened to each other. But physically walking alongside someone, even for a few steps, can be a moment of solidarity. Let’s be aware of opportunities as they come our way.

  • Report magazine, September 2018 p21.

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October 7. In the park: what would you do?

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This story turned out not to be about a beggar, but I have since seen the same woman walking by, talking to herself, but always wearing clean clothes. The last in this short season.

It was high summer, and what T and I saw lying on the grass was not a broken branch but a woman, who we thought might have been broken. More than once I have seen drunk and incapable people lying next to the cycle path. There was cause for concern.

T and I were indeed concerned but hesitated to approach the woman. She was warm and in a safe place after all. I said I would see if she was still there when I walked the dogs, Ajax and Alfie.

She was still there, but before we had done our round of the park, the Cathedral bell, Great Dunstan, announced five o’clock. The lady sat up, gathered her belongings and walked away.

T laughed when I told her the next day. It’s good when your fears are shown to be groundless. And no need to see the lady home, which would have been a challenge with two chihuahuas!

Thanks to NAIB for the photograph.

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23 June: What became of …

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Simon had been a pupil at a school where I had once taught: that’s how we got talking about the disaffected lads I had worked with. Not that sunny Simon, whom I knew before I began teaching, ever had an ounce of disaffection in him in all those forty years.

But Luke did. He was ever ready to pick a fight with another child, then try to pin the blame on them when they gave him as much of a pasting as they could before they were stopped. One day he ran away on an outing to London, but was hiding in full view of the railway station cameras, so was soon rounded up.

‘Do you know what happened to these boys?’ asked Mary.

‘Luke’, I said, hesitating; ‘Luke met a teaching colleague years later, when he was a mental health nurse.

‘And then there was Peter, who broke my ribs, aged 11. He was found to have a severe wheat intolerance and was a changed boy when he cut it out of his diet. He completed secondary school at least.

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‘I was called over to a bench on a major railway station by a young man who introduced himself as Alan West – formerly known by two completely different names. “And this is Jill, we’re getting married soon. But I’m not telling my family. Jill’s my family now – and her family accept me.”‘

prison wall

While it’s good to share these positive stories, not all were doing so well when last I heard. Tony, son of a London prostitute, was moved very much against his will and our advice, from a foster family of a different complexion to one that nearer matched his own. He was soon in a secure unit, not allowed out of the new ‘home’ he was assigned by the court. An abuse victim who came to us at 12 was incarcerated at 18 for abusing other children. A lad who won my heart was murdered by his stepfather.

Please pray for them all; may the Good Shepherd seek each one out and bring him home.

We meet another prisoner tomorrow.

MMB

 

 

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17 March. SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT: CLEAN WATER AND SANITATION

aberdaron jug

Saint Patrick, whose feast falls today, left a few holy wells around Ireland, and so would surely approve of this article from USPG’s Praying with the World Church. Surely every well is a Holy Well? R.S. Thomas, sometime vicar of Aberdaron, would say so.

Myanmar: Article by San Lin, a development officer with the
Church of the Province of Myanmar.
For many years, the people of Wa Me Klar village, high in the
mountains, had to climb for three hours to reach the nearest
stream that provided clean drinking water. Often this was a job
for women and children, who would struggle to carry the heavy
buckets. But now the villagers’ lives have been transformed
because water pipes have been installed by the Church of
Myanmar. No-one has to climb and fetch water because water
comes to the village.
‘Now we can take a bath in our houses,’ a 60-year old
woman tells me. The village chief says: ‘I can grow vegetables
and raise goats inside my compound. Thank you very much!’
For decades, this village, in Hpa’an Diocese, was targeted by
the military. In the mid-70s, most of the houses were burned
and the people fled. But since peace negotiations in 2005, the
people have been returning home.
There are 30 households, with around 100 residents. Before
the water programme there were many cases of diarrhoea and
other illnesses. But now the people understand about sanitation.
When the church arrived in the village, they showed the
people how to lay pipes and build cisterns, and they worked
hard together to achieve their goal.

Water Jug from Aberdaron Anglican Church (Church in Wales)

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22 January: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Bishop Stuart and Bishop Michaud.

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A story for Christian Unity Week from Uganda.

During the 1930s the Canadian Edouard Michaud was the Catholic Bishop (or Vicar Apostolic) of Uganda. When Cyril Stuart was appointed as the Anglican Bishop of Uganda in 1932, Michaud called on him at the earliest opportunity. And they promised to work together and communicate with each other whenever events seemed likely to cause division.

All through the time both worked in Uganda there were on-going discussions between the churches and the British Protectorate Government about education. Most schools were provided by one or other church, so it was important for distrust and suspicion to be replaced by friendly rivalry. That took time. Health services too were run by the churches: try looking up Dr Albert Cook and Mother Kevin Kearney to learn about an Anglican and a Catholic pioneer.

Bishop Stuart’s account of their meeting does not go into details, but he says that when Michaud gave him his blessing, he was delighted.

Although Stuart in his turn greeted every in-coming Catholic bishop, including the first African bishop from South of the Sahara, Joseph Kiwanuka, he never plucked up courage to offer them his blessing.

A shame.

So let’s smile gratefully at this image of Pope Francis receiving the blessing of Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, and thank God that we are nudging closer – or being nudged closer – to each other.

Ut unum sint: may they all be one!

MMB

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January 11: Temperance V: The Gift of Shame

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The virtue of temperance does not require the stoic abstention from all physical pleasures. Temperance is the virtue by which we are strengthened in the ability to decide how much is good for us, and to follow through on that decision on the level of behaviour. What helps us in our decision?

St. Thomas teaches that the spontaneous reaction of shame that surfaces when we have over-indulged in the physical pleasures is both healthy and helpful to us. At first this might be hard to believe: shame is such a miserable, intensely uncomfortable feeling. We don’t like it, and often try to suppress it, or to defend against it by laughing it off and telling ourselves not to be so morbid. Yet, it is better for us to face our feeling of shame. It is a useful reaction whereby we recoil psychologically from the disgrace that comes from intemperance.

Excesses on the level of our physical appetites give us a feeling shame that is usually more intense than the shame we feel over our other moral failings and sins. St Thomas explains that this is because our bodily appetites are what we share with animals, and when we over-indulge them we feel deep down that we have lost something of our innate dignity as human beings.

aquinas-carlo_crivelli_007JohannesPaul2-portrait

Shame, again, surfaces spontaneously. In the masterful book Love and Responsibility, written by Karol Wojtyla*1 in the 1960s, the phenomenon of shame is one of the topics he studies in depth. Here is a brief passage from his book:

Shame is a tendency, uniquely characteristic of the human person, to conceal sexual values sufficiently to prevent them from obscuring the value of the person as such. The purposes of this tendency is self-defence of the person, which does not wish to be an object to be used by another… but does wish to be an object of love (Chapter III).

Perhaps this requires some unpacking. First Wojtyla affirms that shame is part of our in-built moral equipment, as it were – uniquely characteristic of the human person. As such, it is a gift, and it has an importance and a purpose in our spiritual and human lives. Then, he speaks of ‘sexual values.’ Again, an important notion. We see here that he is not trying to say that our sexuality is bad. Then why does he talk about ‘concealing’ this value? Simply because this value has a tendency to loom larger than it should, so much so that it can ‘obscure the value of the person.’ There is a hierarchy of values here, he is saying: the person is of greater value than sexual values. Through shame we actually protect ourselves as persons, so that we do not become an object of “use”. According to Wojtyla, then, shame is not the result of prudish conditioning by repressive religious teachings, or over-strict authority figures. It is inherent in our nature, and surfaces spontaneously with a message for us. That message is that we are created to be loved and to give love in a manner that always affirms the unique beauty and dignity of the person – both our own person and that of the beloved.

This beautiful insight by Karol Wojtyla shows us something that helps us to moderate our physical appetites, by reminding us that we were created to love and be loved. This is the fulfilment we crave most deeply. But we must love and be loved rightly, with great respect for ourselves as persons and for the unique personhood of our loved one.

1 Karol Wojtyla was elected pope in 1978, and was known as Pope John Paul II. His papacy lasted until his death, twenty-five years later.

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