My dear friends,
I'm sick of health. Or rather, I'm sick of the contemporary obsession with health and the assumptions that surround it. This obsession is revealed in the proliferation of so-called fitness clubs and the never ending and uniformly worthless stream of books, videos, magazine articles and television programmes alerting us to some health "risk" or inviting us to share in some wonder-working scheme that is guaranteed to make us healthier.
The bookshelves at W H Smith's groan under the weight of diets. Guernsey is full of places where you can spend hours (and quite a lot of money) running or rowing on the spot. In the old days people dug in the garden and did the housework. Now they pay others to do this, or rely increasingly on sophisticated labour-saving technology. In order to pay the gardeners and cleaners they work harder than ever, usually at a desk or screen, and the labour-saving machines ensure that even fewer calories are burnt up. Then they worry that they do not feel healthy. Instead of sacking the gardener and getting out the spade, they get out the purse or wallet and go to the fitness club. It's merely a lifestyle preference.
Some of you will cast a critical eye at my ample girth and purse your lips. "You're one to talk", you will say. And, yes, you're right. A definite resolution to eat less and do more physical work would certainly do me no harm, and Lent would seem like a good time to make it.
But I still think that there's something deeply unhealthy about the contemporary attitude to health. It's based on deep-seated and often unacknowledged fears - fear of not being beautiful, attractive or popular; fear of growing old; fear of dying. People yearn and strive after physical health in order to keep these fears at bay. Even when they adopt a more holistic approach and acknowledge that there's a spiritual dimension to health, they still often assume that it's something that they have to construct or achieve for themselves.
Another word for health is wholeness. A basic Christian insight is that human beings will never be whole without God. However much they worry and however hard they try they will never be healthy if they neglect their relationship with him. In addition, wholeness is something they can never achieve by their own efforts because one of the factors that prevents them from doing this is sin, and in the face of sin they are helpless. They cannot do anything about it. To overcome this barrier to perfect wholeness, they need help from outside, help from beyond themselves. They need a health-restorer, a health-giver. In short, they need a Saviour.
Of course you and I know that we have precisely a person of this kind. We have someone who can deal with the effects of sin in our lives and who can show us the way to perfect wholeness. We don't need to discover or achieve it for ourselves. He, Jesus, has achieved this for us, and we have access to it by putting our faith in him.
Lent is a time to be health-conscious. Not in the modern, fretful, neurotic, self-obsessed way, but in a proper Christian sense. Lent is a time to be conscious of where our true health and wellbeing lies, a time to remind ourselves of the factors that threaten our health (which may well include overindulgence, inappropriate eating habits and lack of exercise, but also extend to our moral behaviour). Lent is most of all a time to pay attention to the one, true, guaranteed health-giver. How is your relationship with him? Are you meeting him often enough in prayer and the sacrament of the eucharist?
Are you listening to him in the word of Scripture? Are you trying to meet his needs in the poor, hungry and lonely? If not, why not? Don't neglect your health. Take this Lent seriously.
With all good wishes,
Your friend and Rector