The Bread of Life

“But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” Psalm 81:16.

A little more than 100 years ago, two wealthy British sisters, world travelers and heiresses, came to America, arriving in Washington state, attracted by a fad health cure for various unspecified minor complaints.  They fell into the clutches of a self-proclaimed “fasting specialist,” Dr. Linda Hazzard, which led to death by starvation of one sister and the near escape of the other in an appalling skeletal condition. It seems Dr. Hazzard’s “cure” involved 40 days, or more, of fasting on vegetable juices in order to leach out the poisons in her patients’ systems.  As a lucrative side business, the doctor also confiscated jewelry, cash, and estates as her patients became weak and delirious in her sanatorium of horrors.
This fascinating true crime tale was documented in a book called “Starvation Heights” (the press’ name for the health sanatorium), by Gregg Olsen.

The truly bizarre aspect of the story was that both sisters, as well as other patients (at least a dozen of whom also starved to death) absolutely believed in the efficacy and wisdom of the fasting cure.  Even on their deathbeds.  They literally paid to be starved to death.

But I wondered, should American Christians be so quick to wonder at such delusion?

A research study a year ago found that 40% of self-identified Christians, who attend church regularly, read the Bible once or twice a month, while one in five churchgoers said they never read it.  We American followers of Christ have unlimited access to the Bible in every translation and attractive package, the inerrant and God-breathed Scriptures, but we choose to read Internet stories and texts, this Report and that Report, political news, and celebrity happenings, and so starve ourselves of the words of eternal life.

We who have freedom of worship and a veritable marketplace of godly churches manage to make it to worship services once a month, or once or twice a year, because we’re so busy, or tired, or depressed, or ashamed, and we miss receiving the Eucharist, the nourishment of heaven.  We don’t get to taste and see that the Lord is good.  Nor do we make it to Bible studies, for the same lame reasons.

We are starving ourselves of the presence of God, and we don’t need a Svengali figure to drive us to it; we choose it by default. We fill up on things that don’t satisfy, TV, computer, alcohol, video games, junk food, travel, work, politics, and then we’re weak, defeated and malnourished. We take ever-increasing amounts of anti-depressants and wonder where is our joy? Our ability to overcome temptations, the world, the flesh and the devil?

Linda Hazzard, the fasting specialist, was ultimately found guilty of starving Claire Williamson to death and sentenced to prison. The surviving sister returned to England after she was rescued from the sanatorium (initially against her will). The doctor’s defense argued that because her victims chose voluntarily to submit themselves to her unorthodox health regimen, she should be found innocent. Fortunately, the jury did not agree.

For us, the decison remains, to choose life: the words of eternal life, the church and its sacraments, the fellowship of the Beloved, in a world of increasing spiritual want and deprivation.