Church lifts thoughts above worldly matters


POSTED: Saturday, October 31, 2009

Years ago when I was practicing law in Chicago, I had a case with a lawyer I knew from another firm. He called one day to ask if we could get together to talk about it, and I suggested lunch at a popular restaurant among Loop lawyers.

Before getting down to business, he said, “;Wait a minute, before we get started, I want to give you something to read later.”; He handed me a copy of the Journal of the American Medical Association and told me to read a certain article.

I reminded him that I'm a Christian Scientist (he was not) and that I was not particularly interested in medical news, but he said, “;I know. Just read the article. You'll find it interesting.”;

So I read it on the train going home that evening, and it was, indeed, remarkable. I don't remember the title, but it was by a Dr. Rattner who, according to the brief bio, was a longtime AMA member and chief of surgery at Oak Park Hospital.

Dr. Rattner began by saying that the article was not a clinical treatise, but simply his attempt to record a few of his observations as he completed 30 years of medical practice.

His first observation was that every day, about one out of 10 Americans go to some medical practitioner—doctor, clinician, nurse, etc.—with some kind of complaint: an ache here, a pain there. He said it was his opinion that at least half of them had no diagnosable physical problem. Oh, he didn't deny that they hurt, but he maintained that half of them had no physical cause for the hurt. So he would do what so many of his colleagues did in such a case: He would give his patients an aspirin or a placebo of some kind and tell them to call the next day, if necessary. Most did not call.

I was intrigued by his recognition of the mental nature of many apparently physical ailments.

The doctor's second observation was even more interesting. He said that many patients ask him where the healthiest place to live would be. “;Shall I retire and move to the mountains?”; “;Should I live in the desert—Arizona, perhaps?”; “;Is the country healthier than the city?”;

His surprising answer was always, “;The healthiest place to be is in church.”;

Now that certainly caught my attention.

He didn't mean to imply, he said, that there weren't germs in church, or that you might not trip walking down the aisle and twist your ankle. What he meant was this: Church is the healthiest place to be because in church your mind is on something other than yourself. He explained that for one hour a week, your thoughts are focused on something higher, grander, more spiritual than your own physical body with its aches and pains, its needs and demands. In church your thought is on God, or Deity, or Christ, or the Holy Spirit, or Divine Love, on something above the physical, the fleshly, the worldly. “;And that,”; he said emphatically, “;is healthy.”;

I've thought of this wonderful insight many times over the years. It's been a lesson to me that I've carried well beyond our one-hour church service on Sunday morning. I've reasoned, why should that “;healthy”; practice be limited to church on Sundays? Why not focus my thoughts every day, often, on the Great Giver of all good, on God, the Father-Mother of all mankind? Why not turn all my thoughts into prayers? Dr. Rattner was right—it's healthy!

Ralph Burr is a member of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, Honolulu.