In this month’s issue of JAMA (Journal of American Medical Association) a new study was published that finds that those who attend more than one religious service each week had a 33 percent lower risk of premature death than those who do not. Four Harvard University researchers analyzed 16 years of data (1996-2012) collected from 75,534 women of whom 1,700 were Jews.
I am neither a researcher nor a statistician, but I should like to offer three reasons that support such findings. Whether we are prepared to admit it or not, humans crave structure in their lives. There is nothing worse than Christians lounging around the house on a Sunday morning and Jews lounging around the house on a Saturday morning trying to figure what to do next. As the 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer stated: the two foes of human happiness are pain and boredom. Church going Christians with their Sunday dinner have something to look forward to and know what to expect each weekend, as do the Shul going Jews who attend services each Shabbat. Can the same be said for the Christian who rarely, if ever attends Church as well as the Jew who rarely, if ever goes to Shul? Isn’t the level of boredom for one who attends church or synagogue significantly less than coreligionists who lounge around the house aimlessly and maybe even listlessly?
Close to 55 years ago, Carol King and her husband wrote the hit song, “Up on the Roof” which was recorded by the Drifters. Although I never met Ms. King, I can’t help but feel that given the change in society during this last half century, it may very well be that it is the sanctuary in a house of worship and not the sanctuary of the roof that affords serenity to those caught up in the frenetic pace of this so rapidly changing society in which we live. Now more than ever, the term sanctuary takes on a deeper and more poignant meaning. Although understandably I am not acquainted with a church service, I would like to believe that Christian parishioners can look forward to certain prayers along with accompanying tunes that will always be there for them, just as Shma, Aleinu and Adon Olam along with their ever so recognizable melodies to list but a few, will always be there for us. As such, churches and synagogues serve as comfort zones. Comfort zones might very well do for blood pressure what Atenolol, Lisinopril et al do, but without introducing chemicals into the body.
Unlike so many other religious leaders, I believe that prayer is a two-way street. Unlike so many other religious leaders, I believe that just as we pray to G-d, G-d prays to us. Provided there is perseverance and earnestness on our parts, through ongoing synagogue or church attendance, most, if not all will come to the realization that we actually do have something to say to G-d. And once that realization has been met, we will be better attuned to being aware of G-d’s prayer to us. Who knows? This might very well be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. And beautiful friendships are worth living for, because they give life meaning.
With the billions spent by the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society to encourage Americans to live longer, perhaps it’s time that the clergy of this country put in their two cents as well.
*Yiddish for: Long, may you live!