The Dean's Reflection with the Very Rev John Dobson: Long life is a blessing
Celebrating the Queen's 90th birthday: long life and fulfilment
There has been much in the news recently about people who live to a great age.
One centenarian was reported by Radio 4 as claiming that eating two raw eggs per day for most of her life had secured health and length of years.
I was left questioning whether I would be willing to follow this advice if it could guarantee living to a hundred with reasonable health. I wasn’t sure!
I was more encouraged, though, by the recently-published results of an American study suggesting that regular church attendance increases life expectancy.
Researchers in Harvard have been doing a study on nearly 75,000 middle-aged female nurses in the United States over a 20-year period.
Apparently they found that those who went to church more than once per week had a 33 per cent lower risk of dying during the study period.
One of the researchers, Tyler J VanderWeele, was reported by CNN as explaining that the study had not included men, but that other studies had shown that the life-expectancy of men also benefits from regular church attendance, but not to the same extent that is seen with women.
You probably won’t be surprised to learn that if I had to choose between regular church attendance and consuming raw eggs, there would be no dilemma!
At Ripon Cathedral we have been working with the Lord-Lieutenant and his team to prepare for the celebration service to mark the Queen’s official 90th birthday. And there will be much for us to celebrate on the afternoon of June 12 when we consider how much the Queen has done to serve this nation and the Commonwealth over the 63 years of her reign.
There is also much to celebrate when we observe how much she is still able to do, in her very demanding role, at the advanced age of 90.
People are bound to wonder how she does it; what is her secret? Well, I’m sure that I will be just one of thousands of clergy, taking advantage of the Harvard study, now suggesting to members of congregations that perhaps the Queen is showing the benefits of regular church attendance.
The Queen’s Birthday Book, situated at the entrance to the cathedral until the celebration service on June 12, has already been signed by thousands of well-wishers from Ripon and beyond.
The Lord-Lieutenant and I signed it in April at the time of the Queen’s actual birthday, and people have been adding their signatures and messages of congratulation since then.
There are many comments expressing gratitude to the Queen for her inspiring service, and many that celebrate her Christian faith.
This is something that she herself has referred to in a specially-published book entitled The Servant Queen and the King she serves: Celebrating the Queen’s 90th birthday. In the foreword, the Queen reflects on how, in the Christmas broadcast before her coronation, she asked the people of the Commonwealth and Empire to pray for her as she prepared to dedicate herself to their service.
She goes on to write: “As I enter my 91st year, I remain eternally grateful for those prayers, and to God for his steadfast love. I have seen his faithfulness to me, as I have sought to serve.”
A long life has always been regarded as a blessing. In the Old Testament, it was very definitely regarded as a sign of God’s favour, possibly a reward for righteous living.
Methuselah, the oldest person, is reported to have lived for a staggering 969 years. Thankfully, the biblical narrative reveals how God concluded that this was a bit too demanding and reduced it to 120 years.
By the time we reach Psalm 90, a reasonable life-expectancy is regarded to be threescore years and ten (70), and if we have strength we might just enjoy fourscore. There is another verse in that psalm that invites us to pray: “Teach us so to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” A long life is worth celebrating, then; but much more important is how we use the time that we are given.
Great celebrations are taking place in the country and around the world to mark the Queen’s birthday.
In this area many will be sharing in a Big Lunch event. For those who would like to join us at the cathedral service on the afternoon of Sunday, June 12, there will be seats reserved for people without tickets who arrive before 3.10pm.
In all of these celebrations, we are not just rejoicing in the Queen’s advanced age, but also in the wise way she has used her years. By dedicating herself to the service of others, and remaining active, she may just have given us a clue to how to increase our chances of living longer. Perhaps even more convincingly, she may be teaching us something about where a fulfilled life is to be found.