Tag Archives: Wendell Berry

An Apple a Day Revisited

It was a completely unexpected outcome.  Researchers expected that patients would be more content.  They thought they might sleep better.  But nobody expected that redesigning a hospital room would cause people to ask for less pain medication.

The story was in the New York Times last week (In Redesigned Room, Hospital Patients May Feel Better Already – NYTimes.com).  University Medical Center of Princeton NJ needed a new hospital, and decided to try to design a new hospital room from the ground up.  After extensive interviews with patients, nursing staff and many others, the new room was created, tested and eventually incorporated in the new building.  People love it, staff love it: All the rooms are single patient, have large windows looking out, a couch for visitors, even (why didn’t they think of this a century ago???) a continuous handrail from bed to toilet.

The unsurprising surprise was that people in these new rooms get better faster:

But the real eye-opener was this: Patients also asked for 30 percent less pain medication. Reduced pain has a cascade effect, hastening recovery and rehabilitation, leading to shorter stays and diminishing not just costs but also the chances for accidents and infections.

There are probably many reasons for this result.  One is certainly the window.

This  will not surprise anyone who has read  Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv.  Louv’s thesis, backed up by extensive research that he cites throughout, is that we human beings are hard-wired to live in the natural world.  We are happier and healthier when we’re outside in God’s creation, but even when we can’t be outside in creation, we are better if we can just see it.

That’s not a surprise, is it?  I took some effort in my own book, When Heaven and Nature Sing, to show that our uniqueness as human beings comes in part from our special hybrid nature.  We are created by God to live in two worlds at the same time.  We’re spirit creatures (“a little lower than the heavenly beings”, Psalm 8:5) who live in the physical world.

We are not spirit beings who inhabit bodies. Nor are we bodies that have attained self-awareness as an extension of our brain’s organic cognitive functions. We are a spiritual/physical unity, ‘incarnate creatures’ (Tolkien’s term) or perhaps better, ‘embodied selves’. [When Heaven and Nature Sing (Kindle Locations 1109-1111)]

Hence the “apple a day” proverb of our title.  Our ancestors knew what we are fast forgetting.  Simple things from the world of nature – an apple a day – lead inevitably to health, to happiness, to rest.

The other important feature in the hospital room might well be the couch.  An accommodation for visitors and family members, with the expectation that they might even want to spend the night.  What a revolutionary idea.

I wonder if that fact that we need to invent things like couches in hospital rooms is simply an indication of how far we’ve moved from where we ought to be.  Wendell Berry has an entire essay on the topic of health that is worth your time to click over and read.  Here’s a taste of how he ties God, love, community and health into one impossible-to-untangle package:

I take literally the statement in the Gospel of John that God loves the world. I believe that the world was created and approved by love, that it subsists, coheres, and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love. I believe that divine love, incarnate and indwelling in the world. summons the world always toward wholeness, which ultimately is reconciliation and atonement with God.

I believe that health is wholeness. For many years I have returned again and again to the work of the English agriculturist Sir Albert Howard, who said, in The Soil and Health, that “the whole problem of health in soil, plant, animal, and man [is] one great subject.”

…I believe that the community-in the fullest sense: a place and all its creatures-is the smallest unit of health and that to speak of the health of an isolated individual is a contradiction in terms. [Berry, Health is Membership, 1994]

The significance of all of this should be obvious.  One of the reasons we have an “environmental crisis” is because we have deceived ourselves into thinking that we’re not like the other creatures.  That somehow, with our great intellects and amazing creative abilities we can transcend our creatureliness.  That we don’t need apples and that we can heal ourselves with machines and with chemicals.


We can’t.

We don’t have feet of clay – we have feet of flesh and bone.  We need to eat, we need to sleep, we need to be out in God’s world.  We need the joys and the frustrations of family and friends and community.  And when we’re sick we need that more than ever!

That’s why people who can be in a carefully designed hospital room and look out at God’s sky, God’s trees and God’s birds, holding the hand of someone they love need 30% less pain medication.

Now if we could get those patients to spend time outside in creation before their hospital visit, maybe we would have 30% less people going to the hospital in the first place.

That might be worth a try!

So next time you find yourself headed for the hospital, just say, “I’ll take a room with a window, please.”

Earth Week 2012 – Two Perspectives

Yesterday was Earth Day, this week is Earth Week.  Many of my creation care friends are in Washington DC right now involved in a number of large scale events that we all hope will have great impact on the environmental and creation care conversation going on in the US in general and within the evangelical community in particular.  I’m not in Washington; I’ve just returned from the bustling metropolis of Arcadia, Florida – where a different kind of and altogether remarkable creation care event took place this weekend.  Let me tell you about it… Continue reading

The Creation Care Movement is Alive and Well!

Photo courtesy Flickr CC License

The evangelical creation care movement, though almost invisible to many, has been around for quite a few years.  One of its most visible historical markers is probably the founding of Au Sable Institute in 1979, thirty-three years ago now – but well before that date there were many individuals and a few small organizations seeking to promote what was then called ‘Christian environmental stewardship.’  There are many more of us now, and there is a lot of good work going on, but we still fly below the radar in most cases.

So it was enlightening and important that many of the current key players in this movement were on the phone together last week to share what we’re all doing, and perhaps more to the point, what God is doing to continue to foster and strengthen this movement.

Here’s a brief summary with bullet points of the highlights.  [If you’d like to hear a recording of the phone call yourself, just call  (507) 726-4220 and choose to listen to recording #1.]  Continue reading

Warm Hearts and Cool Heads:Thoughts on Economics and the Environment

Yellowstone Park - Madison RiverA couple of weeks ago I attended a conference in Bozeman, Montana.  The announced topic was ‘Human and Environmental Health: Social Justice Implications: A Program for Religious Leaders and others…’  The setting was magnificent:  A century old railroad inn an hour’s drive from the western entrance to Yellowstone Park, surrounded by the mountain ranges for which Bozeman is famous.  But what made this conference unique was the oxymoronic nature of the sponsors.  FREE (The Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment) is a conservative institution dedicated to the application of what they would consider ‘sound economic principles’ to environmental problems.  I call them my ‘libertarian economist environmentalist friends’, and while I happily retain my own convictions, I found much that was profitable in this conference.

New Friends

As with any gathering of people around a common concern, the most profitable and enjoyable aspect of this conference was the people.  There were just 25 of us including presenters, and we represented a wide range of intellectual and religious  and career backgrounds.  A number of mainline protestants (Methodist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian and so on), a couple of Catholics, one Orthodox priest, two Rabbis (including one who survived the Holocaust as a teenager), and yes, four or five evangelicals. Someone commented than an afternoon hike could have been a joke:  “A priest, a rabbi and a minister went up a mountain…” Continue reading

Easter People – in a Good Friday World?

courtesy Thomas Schneider

This is the message we have just sent from Care of Creation to our friends and partners around the world. It’s topic is appropriate to Our Father’s World friends and readers, I think. May you have a truly blessed and deeply meaningful Holy Weekend whereever you are!

“Easter People in a Good Friday world.”

This phrase grabbed the attention of a few people earlier this week – in part, I suppose, because it was heard on NPR. Host Michele Norris was interviewing writer Ann Lamott about Easter. Citing the tension she feels between the world as it should be and the world as it is, Lamott quoted another author, Barbara Johnson: “We are Easter people living in a Good Friday world.”

Of course, most of the people around us are actually Good Friday people living in a Good Friday world. Continue reading

Old Literature: Jayber Crow on Preaching and Preachers

Via Flickr-click for source image

["Old Literature" is an occasional series of posts on works from the past (and in some cases, the not-so-long-ago-past) that still speak today.  Here are some of the earlier posts.]

Wendell Berry maybe best known for his essays on agrarian (hence environmental and ecological) topics; his greatest work, to my mind, is in his novels, all of which take place in and around and concern the “membership” of Port William, a small river town in Kentucky.  My wife Susanna and I recently finished reading (aloud, of course!) Hannah Coulter, and we are now halfway through Jayber Crow.  Yes, I know we’re working backwards – that’s how life is sometimes.  Anyway – last night’s selection caught my attention and seems worth sharing.  Enjoy the selections – but better, get out and read the book!

Jayber, whose religion is real and deep and passionate and mostly of the unorganized variety, is the town’s barber – and gravedigger – and permanent bachelor – and, in this chapter, has just become the Port William’s church janitor.  Jayber’s  observations on the nature of the preaching (and preachers) in this rural church are important, and reflect Berry’s perception of a fundamental flaw in the Christian faith as practiced at that time and in that place: Continue reading