I think my first reference of Christianity as it relates to health was the ‘sick-and-shut-in’ list. This list, in the Protestant denomination I was raised in, was a list of people who were know to have some sort of reason, likely medical for which they could not attend regular church services. Most of the times these individuals would be elderly members of the congregation, at the time their names were published in the weekly pamphlet handed out at service, would be residing in a hospital room or skilled nursing facility ( nursing home) bed. Room numbers and occasionally diagnoses would be shared with members. Communion would be brought to the member by deacons/deaconess and members would be encourage to visit, and at the very least pray for that member.
Pray for what exactly though? As an adult, I have adopted some of what I like to call a few ‘cover all’ prayers to use when I really don’t know what to pray for in a situation, when I don’t know how someone going through something should be behaving :
“Fix it Jesus.”
“Whatever blessing they are in the need of , I ask you see fit to give it to them”
“Let your will be done, and help them see things the way You see things. Give them the Peace That Surpasses All Understanding”
You get the idea, and while generic, they are sincere.
In regards to a individual’s state of health and faith , my view is somewhat ambivalent. I believe how we take care of ourselves across the lifespan greatly impacts the health challenges we face throughout. I also believe that we were born to die, and that this principle is both Biblical and scientific.
I believe anti-depressants in addition to therapy, prayer, meditation and other practices can be beneficial to someone would is struggling with a depressive disease process. No, anti-depressants aren’t for everyone, but where did the knowledge of chemical imbalances and subsequent pharmacological therapeutic remedies come from? God.
I don’t personally walk around speaking of ‘demonic spirits’ that have attacked me or a loved one . I do however talk about prolonged stress and anxiety that can lead to depression. I think some people may name these things ‘demon’. They may also name certain addictions ‘demons’.
During acute illness, my clinical brain separates the state of a human into two categories: improving or not improving. Whether or not you are improving , in my opinion, has something to do with the care you’re receiving, something to do with the level ownership of the situation the acutely ill is taking, and something to do with the will of God for your life.
What I would like to see is more practical incorporation of disease prevention and health promotion in faith-based communities/churches. I’ve seen churches start football and cheerleading leagues for children, which is a great way to keep them active. Dance ministry is also a way to support active members of faith-based communities off all ages. Seminars and workshops on end-of-life issues is something neat I’ve also seen.
What I have not seen a lot of in faith-based communities in terms of disease prevention and health promotion , are nutritional education and support. Food donations? Yes. Serving of meals to members and community ? Yes. Donation of specifically nutritionally balanced food? Meh. Serving of nutritionally balanced meals after church? Meh.
We are very good at praying with families and supporting them through the really tough times of acute illness and illness-related deaths, and I believe over the years have made good strides in becoming involved with disease prevention and health promotion. We also know well, that ‘breaking bread’ and eating together as members of a faith is a great bonding experience. What could, if anything , could the Christian faith and it’s members do better about nutrition?