So I am driving up the inter-state locked in to XMSirius listening to the reality-TV wave of news. I could not help but wondering about the impact on so many people, the challenges that we face as individuals and a society. The psycho-spiritual effect on so many seems to be profound. As you listen to the pundits, we are offered a wide variety of solutions and answers. One of the obvious untapped resources, however, may very well be a reaffirmation of the role of and power of faith, religion and the social connections that these supply.
In a July 27 blog on Mosaic, Aaron Kheriatry wrote a piece titled “Losing Their Religion, Americans Are Dying of Despair”. Kheriaty cites a recent study from Princeton that looked at the rise on recent years of drug, alcohol and suicide. “Now we have a sizable body of medical research which suggests that prayer, religious faith, participation in a religious community, and practices like cultivating gratitude, forgiveness, and other virtues can reduce the risk of depression, lower the risk of suicide, diminish drug use and aid in recovery.” The current dis-eases of psychic isolation and loneliness can be countered by being with people in a community, a community of shared values, rituals and practices. “Furthermore”, the article notes, “religious faith can instill a sense of meaning and purpose that transcends present exigencies; this helps people not only survive periods of intense anguish, but even to find meaning in suffering”.
On the heels of this blog from July 27 came the monthly newsletter on Religion , Spirituality and Health from Duke University’s Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health.(August 2017. Vol.7. Issue 2) There as the lead article, was a report on an article published in the Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences by Tyler VanderWeele of Harvard. The article looked at issues that contribute to human flourishing. Again in this article we see the importance of religious involvement. In promoting “human flourishing”, VanderWeele “puts religious involvement squarely on the map as a determinant of a much broader definition of “health” than has been previously conceptualized by the scientific community.” See that! To be healthy means to be part of and involved with a religious community.
For some, these studies may be seen as “common sense”. However, think about a broader implication for our community. So many of our people still carry with them a pediatric theology. Maybe, as study after study is showing, we need to affirm a desire to create more avenues for our people to come together in community to explore real issues of our lives; issues that we confront as a result of this longevity revolution; issues that many of us live with every day. How does our tradition speak to these new life stages? How can community be present and part of our lives? What changes in communal structures need to be created so as to insure that fewer and fewer of our people live in isolation and are alone?
Maybe, as part of this elder revolution that we and others have spoken of, we need to focus on a reaffirmation of faith, a mature faith that speaks to mature people in confidence and honesty rather than myth and miracle.
Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min