Rector's Letter - February 2001

"I used to live in Yorkshire," I say.
"How wonderful!" people reply, as their mind is transported to the countryside of James Herriot, the Bronte sisters and Last of the Summer Wine.
Unfortunately, the mining towns of industrial West Yorkshire were less than picturesque. As I recall, the view from my bedroom window was closer to the opening credits of Coronation Street than Heartbeat!

Our recent snows reminded me of one day that was different though. I drew back the Vicarage curtains. Overnight, soot-blackened red-brick terraces had become as pretty as alpine cottages, each stunted bare Lime a Christmas tree.

As the children, with whoops of joy, wrestled themselves into their wellingtons, I tuned-in to the Today programme for a weather forecast. As the first coffee of the day gently stirred my neurones into life, one report caught my attention: Researchers had studied the effect religious faith has on a patient diagnosed as terminally or severely ill. Early results suggested that those with strong religious faith got ill quicker and died sooner!

Pardon? I was baffled. I sat back in the kitchen chair, decided I needed an extra spoonful of sugar, and imagined a Billy Graham rally: "I want you to get up out of your seats, come on down, receive Jesus… get ill quicker and die sooner!" Perhaps we would have to start putting government health warnings on the side of the Church: "Warning! Christianity can severely damage your health!"

The Today programme's analysis jolted me back from my daydream. The answer was very simple. People with strong religious faith just aren't as afraid to die, and so don't feel the need to fight the progression of their illness in quite the same way.

Here are two groups of people, getting up each day, opening the curtains and, in a way, looking out the same window. They share the same view, the same prospects, the same fate. Some can only see the bleakness. For others the scene is transformed.

Eventually, most of us will have to face days like this, looking out onto a very dark and dismal scene. When that happens, please remember: There's more than one way of looking at the view outside your window. Faith can transform even the bleakest landscape


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