A recent article in a respected medical journal proclaimed that one of the most significant developments of modern health care is “preventive medicine.”
That claim has some merit, but all that modern health care has done, with the help of technological advances, is to sophisticate preventive medicine. There is nothing new about the concept.
Throughout history, all societies have realized that it is much easier to prevent a disaster than to clean up after one. The simple act of hand-washing introduced in 1847 markedly reduced the maternity death rates from infection. It does, however, seem a shame that it took about 3,000 years for those 19th century physicians to realize the benefits of hand-washing recorded in Leviticus 15:1-7.
Americans spend a lot of time and money on preventive health care, from brushing our teeth with plaque-preventing tooth paste to getting mammograms and cardiac scans.
Most politicians place preventive health care as a major plank in their platforms. When Hilary Clinton ran for president in 2008, a primary element of her health care plan was to “focus on prevention: wellness not sickness.” As a physician and priest, Clinton’s words resonated with me as a message for health care and as a mission for the church.
The church spends a lot of its time dealing with “spiritual sickness,” better known as sin. I submit that the church could take a page from Clinton and practice preventive spiritual medicine.
Just as there are numerous preventive health care measures we take at different times in our lives (from well-baby checkups to colonoscopies), there are preventive spiritual care measures that will be more appropriate at one time than another. I’m not going to offer an exhaustive list of preventive spiritual health care practices or habits, but here are a few that people of faith have found helpful in boosting their spiritual health. All are from Jesus.
PRAYER: A time to be quiet and be in relationship with God – a time to reflect on our own life and our life with God. As a fringe benefit, studies have shown that people who pray regularly are, in general, healthier than those who don’t.
REGULAR BIBLE READING AND STUDY: The Bible is the story about God. Somewhere along the way we misguided humans turned things around and thought the Bible was about us. Because the Bible is about God, it has its own logic, paradox and vocabulary. With study, we realize that God’s way is the only way to abundant life and health.
SERVING OTHERS: Reorienting our compasses from ourselves to others keeps us on the right spiritual tract. Jesus is the quintessential example of service. Unconditional acts of kindness change us and the world.
It is important to keep in mind that preventive spiritual health care practices are not ends unto themselves. The end is full relationship with God in Christ. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “I have come that they may have life and have it more abundantly.”
THE REV. JOE BOWDEN IS AN ASSISTING PRIEST AT CHURCH OF THE HOLY COMFORTER, AN EPISCOPAL CHURCH IN MARTINEZ.