Knitting

There are some nuns in Good Counsel Hill, Mankato, Minnesota who seem to have gained the edge over the rest of mankind in mental and physical health. The Convent of the School Sisters of Notre Dame is being studied with a pioneering brain-science experiment by David Snowdon of Sanders-Brown Centre on Ageing, and the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

The study is being conducted of its 75 -107 year-old residents, and is a collaboration of its 678 Catholic sisters recruited in 1991 to study mental health and ageing in general. Their miraculous longevity – they boast seven centurions and many others well on their way – is attributed to their impeccable lifestyle. “They don’t drink or smoke they live quietly in community, they are spiritual and calm and eat healthily and in moderation.”

Some of the sisters have suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, but many have avoided any kind of dementia and senility. A strange occurrence is that one sister who lived until she was 104, in a post-mortem showed no signs of excessive ageing in her brain, whereas other sisters who showed no outward signs of senility were discovered to have brains apparently ravaged by dementia!

A common denominator amongst them was they each had the right amount of the vitamin folate, early verbal ability and positive emotions which showed in essays they wrote in their twenties when they took their vows. They engaged in several activities such as crosswords, knitting and exercising holding to the adage “use it or lose it.” Their spirituality was also a contributing factor. As one nun said: “Think no evil, do not evil, hear no evil, and you will never write a best-selling novel!”

There are several recommended ways of improving your brain-power as you age. It is said that:”you are what you eat” and your brain is the greediest organ of your body, with some specific dietary requirements. The first essential is eating breakfast, for the brain is best fuelled by a steady supply of glucose. That does not mean eating sugary cereals like kids do, for they apparently perform at the level of a 70-year old, it seems that beans on toast is a far better meal, for they have proved that a high-fibre diet improves cognition. The Bible says: “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” (Ps 34:8).The best diet?

It is also suggested that music may tune up your thinking, but you cannot just crank up the volume and expect to be a genius. Frances Rauscher of the University in Wisconsin has proved that for rats, at least, a Mozart piano sonata seems to stimulate activity in three genes involved in nerve-cell signalling to the brain. Researchers think that music makes you feel better, more relaxed and stimulated all at the same time. They also found that six-year old children who were taught music for two years, as opposed to drama, scored up to 3 points more in their IQ test. Keep singing the hymns! “They lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the LORD, saying: “For He is good, for His mercy endures forever.” (2 Chr 5:13-14).

The brain’s short-term information storage system is the workbench for the solving of mental problems. It is called the working memory (WM) and the amount of information it can hold relates to general intelligence. If this WM is trained they have found that in children their IQ can leap as much as 8 percent. It is thought therefore that memory training can unlock brain power. The Bible says “Thy word have I hidden (memorised) in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11).

Lastly, sleep on it. “If you have been awake for 21 hours straight, your abilities are equivalent to someone who is legally drunk.” Also, two or three late nights and early mornings do the same. More or adequate sleep periods enable people to concentrate better and respond to mental stimuli. “Attention is the base of a mental pyramid” says Sean Drummond from the University of San Diego. Professor Biggs of Cambridge says that no one can study (undisrupted attention) realistically for more than 20 minutes at a time. Whilst we sleep the mind goes into problem-solving mode.

There’s a thought of resting that sleep implies and the Bibles again comes to our aid: “Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him; do not fret . . . ” (Ps 37:7). If we feed and simulate the brain and keep active, cut out smoking and drinking, and, who knows, by taking up knitting we could live for ever.

Keeping the distance

A farmer has fallen foul of the local authority, and has felt the full weight of government bureaucracy. An inspector from Berkshire County Council identified the lack of width on a public pathway because barley had been allowed to grow on a part of the path that crosses his land.

The inspector told the farmer to spray this area to ensure that the following year the path was the right width. The pathway has been on the farmer’s land for generations, and apparently this is the first time in 83 years he or his forefathers have been reprimanded. With local government resources stretched to breaking point, one would have thought that something more urgent would have been their priority, but 10cm is 10cm and the law is the law and you can’t buck that!

Similarly, but different, a pilot was disciplined for flying too low. Whilst he was in his Phantom jet over a Scottish town he breached the low-level flying regulations. He lost 18 months seniority for flying about 145 metres over Broughty Ferry. He was 460 metres too low – just a tad more than 10 cm!

Flt Lt Contradi, the pilot, was convicted under section 51 and 52 of the Air Force Act 1955 for illegal low flying and causing annoyance to the public. The navigator, Flt Lt Wells, was found guilty of breaching section 69 of the Act, which relates to good conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline, by failing to warn the pilot that he was flying too low.

The pilot was convicted soon after the event, the farmer’s field could have been infringing the law for years, but no one noticed. That’s the trouble with sin, (that is what breaking the law is), some sins are obvious and some unobserved. It depends on who knows the law, who catches up with the culprit and the date the law was enacted, since some laws can be challenged because they are out of date. Others are dateless, as a Mr. Massued Cohen recently found out.

Israel’s rabbinical authorities refused to marry him and his
partner because of a sin allegedly committed by the woman’s ancestors about 2500 years ago. The reason given was that the Haddad Family (woman’s name) who emigrated from Tunisia might have been descended from a Tunisian Jew expelled from the priestly cast in 580 BC for marrying a divorced woman against the religious law.

The unfortunate offender of antiquity is said to have been a priest who fled to Djerba, in Tunisia, after the destruction of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. To this day Cohens, or members of the traditional priestly clan, are subject to much more rigorous laws of ritual purity.

The Bible says, “be sure your sin will find you out,” (Numbers 32:23) and it eventually will, if not in this life then in the hereafter. A little girl had a rag doll that was stuffed with straw, and she lost it. It fell into a ditch, was covered with soil, and that was the end of that! Next spring the straw sprouted and there, in the hedgerow, was the shape of a doll growing through the soil. Whatever we sow we reap.

The continuous TV documentary of the current Iraqi war showed a prison, where thousands of people were tortured and killed. The American soldiers were thumbing through the records, which they found, with photographs of the alleged offenders. The local inhabitants, now free from oppression, gave a running commentary of what had gone on, as they had been incarcerated themselves, and could speak from experience.

God has got his records, and He misses nothing. There is a vast difference between 10 cm and 145 metres but sin is sin, whatever the infringement, but small or large, He will, one day, rule in equity and justice. Today, as perhaps in every age, people excuse the 4 cm and highlight the 145 metres, and this is mankind’s attempt at self-justification.

Twaddle

Harold Macmillan when opening a lecture course in 1941, recalled the philosopher J. A. Smith thus: “Nothing that you will learn in the course of your studies will be of the slightest possible use to you in after life – save only this – that if you work hard and diligently you should be able to detect when a man is talking rot, and that, in my view, is the main, if not the sole purpose of education.” Talking rot is a British colloquial comment; it means to talk nonsense, rubbish or twaddle or to prattle on with pointless talk. Jesus never talked rot, of that be assured. He spoke eternal and immortal words that changed lives. His words were few but meant something that were and are vital to living.

I once worked for a Cambridge professor who said “Every word a jewel and every sentence a coronet!” In other words superfluity is out. Synthesize down, get rid of abundance, and keep your sentences short – clarity, simplicity and brevity are the constant watchwords underlining all you say and write; difficult to do, for we tend to over emphasise for clarity and finish clouding the issue. Apparently he wrote one of the most difficult-to-assess doctorates in the university – “The structural strength of coral reefs,” so reduced that every sentence meant something.

Listening to countless politicians we get the impression they are talking rot. Many seem divorced of intelligence and unable to cope with present day stress and pressure. Incisive action that builds confidence and resolves issues is missing. No one stands head above another in ability, and sameness pervades; they are creatures of opportunity jumping whichever way the wind blows. Strength and purpose is lacking, and the country goes from crisis to crisis in a welter of prattle or rot. ‘God help us’ is the prayer on our lips and motive in our hearts, for if He doesn’t there does not seem anybody about who can. “The AA had this motto “we know a man who can,” so do we, and His name is Jesus.

Someone said that the mark of intelligence is simplicity, Jesus exhibited that characteristic. Parables were a constant expression of His teaching. “All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them,” [Matt 13:34]. He also said: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” [Mark 13:31]. His words were simple but, at times devastating. The number of great speeches in history is very few, and we as preachers are noted by what our
congregations cannot remember! If we bundled up all the words spoken and written in this decade and then discarded them, who would notice?

Jesus told the Pharisees they were, in effect, talking rot. He didn’t use nice language. “But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to be baptized, he denounced them. ‘You sons of snakes!’ he warned. ‘Who said that you could escape the coming wrath of God? Before being baptized, prove that you have turned from sin by doing worthy deeds” [Matt 3:7, 8]. Their testimony was twaddle. Boasting about being Jews but Jesus said God could turn inanimate stones into bread, or the countless children of Abraham!

The interesting thing about Pentecost was that 3,000 people thought that Peter, the disciple who spoke rot at the fireside, was talking with such life-changing power that a multitude were turned from death to life, and it was written into the annals of the church, never to be forgotten. The key thing about this keynote speech was the accompanying power of the Holy Spirit. He can turn simple ordinary words into barbs that pierce the strongest armour of indifference. The history of the Pentecostal Church is that artisans can be clothed with a supernatural power that changes rot into a raging fire of conviction. The gentiles begged the early disciples to preach to them [Acts 13:42].

Going back into the Old Testament it is said of Moses: “And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds.” [Acts 7:22], that was before the fire burned by the wayside and a tree changed his life, and the power from on high deposited an anointing that saved two million people. Although slow of speech God presided over his words and undergirded them so that Moses’ hesitant delivery resulted in the miraculous.

We are warned thus: “Let no one deceive you with empty words. . .” [Eph 5:6]. Rotten words from people who are no better; those who postulate philosophies that deride God’s laws and taunt His kingdom. Their underlying intelligence subverts morality, and calls black white. Rot indeed!