Live longer? Go to church (or Shul or Mosque Or . . .)

According to an op-ed in The New York Times' Sunday Review today, people who go regularly to church live longer.

It's not just good for your soul.  It's good for your health.

Maybe it's because I go to church every week (and teach Sunday school to rowdy eight-year-olds), but it was exciting to hear that you can add as much as three years to your life, T.M. Luhrmann writes in his op-ed, by attending a religious service often.

No one's quite sure why, Luhrmann reports, and it's quite possible it's the social network, the community, it inspires, and activates.  I'm pretty much a loner but when I had cancer surgery six years ago, it helped me to know that I was being prayed for, by a lot of people, some I didn't even know, and I'm convinced that's one of the things that helped me heal faster.

But it's not just that.  Back when I was newly living with my boyfriend (now my husband), I made a good friend with an adorable toddler nicknamed "Ta - Ta" because his Ghanaian name, Abgesi, was too hard to pronounce.  Every Sunday Ta-Ta ran up to the altar for the children's service and I measured my own aging against his ever-growing body.

When I finally had my son, after years of trying and heartbreak, she, her husband and Agbesi came to the hospital, and she rocked Phillip while singing to him, and he went to sleep in her arms. (I have the most amazing photo of her big dark boy holding white, white Phillip, and it's one of my all-time favorites.)

Sadly, years later, her mother died tragically in Ghana (she was walking on a sidewalk when a taxi jumped the curb), just days before the whole family was to gather for her 80th birthday.  Not too many years later, my friend's husband had a stroke, and remained in a vegetative state for the rest of his short life.  Then my mother died and when I visited her grave, I could not believe it.  Francis was buried right next to her. It gave me chills.

Now Agbesi is several years out of college, with a good job, and Josephine lives near Boston. But we just talked to each other on Easter, and maybe we would have been friends anyway, but church helped form a bond between us that enriched both our lives.

Another op-ed authored by Luhrmann I clipped from the Sunday Times, this one from last week, hit me even harder, "When God is Your Therapist."  I read it twice this week -- once, when gun control failed, and then, after the Boston Marathon bombings. And it reaffirmed my belief that God can't explain why -- or stop -- bad things happening to good people (even though we always look there, and are sometimes, often, enraged), but that He is with us, guiding us through these times.

"Many evangelicals look to the divine for a relationship, not an explanation," writes Luhrmann.   How often I myself have cursed God, asking why I couldn't have a baby, or why I got cancer, or even why I had the tragic childhood that I had, and no longer speak to my siblings.

Often, almost always, there was no answer.  But somehow I got through it, and gently, gently, began to realize that someone or something bigger than me was, indeed, watching over me, and that I would get what I needed, not necessarily what I wanted.  And I did, and it was okay.

Sure, church doesn't answer everything.  Not by a long shot.  Two of the most giving people I know from church just got a serious cancer diagnosis.   Another's child was struck by the disease when she was 15 months, five months older than Phillip.  (Thankfully, she's now 13 and doing well.)

A young woman who became pregnant right after fighting cancer (and is still fighting it) is also a member of our church.  She doesn't whine or feel sorry for herself.  She's living life with her baby and I believe church gives her sustenance.

Will it give any of us, in the end, a longer life?  Who knows. But it can make the life we're living now a little calmer, a little more peaceful, maybe a tiny bit easier.

End of sermon.


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