When I was a kid my friends and I would sometimes, in the middle of a conversation, go very still and say, with great solemnity: “I’m serious as a heart attack about that.” Whatever “that” was, the statement was highly ironic, given that we were all of nine years old and had no concept of anything beyond our own blazing good health, let alone mortality. Yet, ten years later, both my grandparents would die of heart attacks within several months of each other; a decade later, my father, who’d always been an avid runner and hiker, would have emergency open-heart surgery at age 64; and a decade after that, a friend at my divinity school wouldn’t show up for class one morning because he had died of a massive heart attack just a few hours before, at the age of 50.
Heart disease is the number-one cause of death in both men and women in the United States — and eventually, it’s hard reality touches us all, too often through the loss of those we love, or of our own health and well-being. Yet, despite the fact that these losses are often preventable, we still tend to treat heart disease as we might have as children — as something not quite real.
But how do we approach the heart — and the care of it — as people of faith?
According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, the word “heart” occurs 826 times in the Bible — which suggests that the heart is a matter of great importance, or should be, to us. Paul Minear, professor of biblical theology at Yale, believes that “in scripture, thinking about God was so closely spliced to thinking about the heart that an understanding of either is quite impossible without an understanding of the other.” But my favorite observation about the link between heart and our faith comes from Cynthia Bourgeault, who describes the heart as the “antenna” that orients us toward “the divine radiance.”
Partners in Health and Wholeness helps people of faith tend to and cherish their hearts. We work alongside congregations to develop ministries around tobacco cessation, healthy eating, and increased physical activity, thereby improving their heart health outcomes. But we don’t stop there, with the health of the physical heart. We also promote spiritual care for the heart, through educating congregations on issues such as mental health, addiction, loneliness, and our bonds to God’s Creation. In other words — our ministry is to ensure that the heart in all its manifestations is strong and able to experience and share in “the divine radiance.” We invite your congregation to become a participant, alongside us, in this joyful collaboration.
For additional resources on heart disease and staying healthy visit https://www.heart.org/.