Lithium

Lithium                         

The patient was a 65-year old woman from Kent who had been manic for several years.  She was interfering, vindictive, tactless, overbearing, inconsiderate, and altogether quite intolerable.  She was extremely overactive, heedless of time, and she slept very little.  Her husband, a long-suffering man who had been devoted to her, was on the brink of leaving her and she had alienated all her relatives and friends.  Her doctor started her on lithium: “Within a month she had completely calmed down into a tranquil…state.  On discharge she continued her reposeful mood and began to recover her interest in people and things, and she no longer shows any signs of her previous symptoms which had made her a domestic terror and a social menace. Her husband is the greatest lithium enthusiast in East Kent, and I have no doubt that it saved the marriage.” (1)

Just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years.  She was bent over and quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”  When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.

Two stories, two similar stories.  In both someone is hurting, someone is in need of healing.  And in both there is healing.  And there is a someone or a Someone who is responsible for the healing that occurs.  And in those healings maybe there is something we can learn.

Sometimes in life one goes along for years and years and nothing much happens health-wise.  Maybe a cold or two.  Then something happens then Bam! You wonder if ever you’re going to get back to normal health.  This latter has sort of been my experience this year although – now – thanks be to God and your prayers I’m very much on the mend.

Earlier this year I was in the hospital because of serious Sodium deficiency.  Sodium deficiency?  I always put plenty of salt on my watermelons. How could that happen? Yet there I was in the hospital with the doctor commenting, man, when I see people with that great of a Sodium deficiency usually they are smack dab in the middle of a stroke.

And it got me to thinking. We are an improbable mixture of these common things – such as Sodium – and when we’ve got too much or too little we’ve got big problems.

I ran  across a book review the other day, read the review, then said I’ve got to get this book!  And then I did, I got it, and I’ve already read it – couldn’t put it down. I’ve read the whole book and I’m a slow reader.

The title is “Lithium.”         “Lithium.”    It’s by Walter A. Brown and it has a subtitle:  “A Doctor, A Drug, and a Breakthrough.”

Some of you might be wondering what’s so special about Lithium, maybe scratching your head what did my teacher say about Lithium in that high school science class – so long ago you can’t really recall anything.  Some of you might have discreetly as possible pulled your iphone from your pocket  and as quietly as possible  “googled” Lithium.

Not too much there.

Most of know that Coca-Cola in its earliest days contained cocaine.  Most of us probably didn’t know that another soft drink started life as “Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda and eventually 7up. One of the seven ingredients which gave it its name 7up was a Lithium salt, Lithium Citrate.  In the late 1800s there were quite a few health resorts centered around  springs or waters thought good for health,  Among others here in Arkansas there is Hot Springs and Eureka Springs.  In Georgia there was Lithia Springs which had been recognized as early as the 14th century by the Cherokee Indians as a place of sacred, healing waters.  It, too, became a popular resort in the late 1800’s with a train line directly from New York City to Lithia Springs, Georgia. Presidents Cleveland, Taft, McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt along with Mark Twain and the Vanderbilts were visitors to this resort over the years.

So Lithium has a reputation of sorts for healing.  Healing what? Or good for what?  Over the years various uses have been found for Lithium.  It has  uses in ceramics, lubrication, batteries, and medicine.  Maybe especially batteries. An article in the business section of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette within recent weeks talked about an investment of an significant amount to develop lithium salt brine in the El Dorado area for use in batteries.

But one is medicine.

In 1949 an Australian psychiatrist named John Cade made the curious discovery that lithium was extremely effective in treating mania – a mental illness.  During World War II he had been held in a Japanese prison and observed that some mental illnesses had a biological basis.  After the war serving as a psychiatrist in a state mental  institution in Australia he conducted some experiments on his own.  These included ingesting Lithium himself.  His first patient to whom he referred as W.B. had been in a chronic state of mania for several years.  After a course of treatment using Lithium he was able to leave the hospital and get a job.

The recognition of Lithium as a valuable tool in treating certain mental illnesses has not been smooth.  In excess Lithium is toxic and dosages need to be carefully determined and periodically monitored.

John Cade’s father was a psychiatrist also and administrator of a mental hospital.  His family lived in a home on the grounds so he was familiar from an early age with those housed at the hospital.  His empathy with and desire to help those with such conditions developed at an early age.

Let me state that a little better.  As a psychiatrist in a mental institution he was personally acquainted with men and women who suffered from mental illnesses.  He had an inquiring mind and was always trying to figure out how things work.  He thought maybe there was a biological reason for some of these illnesses.  And rather than just leave it to someone else maybe I can figure it out.  And so he conducted some experiments on his own using his own patients.

The “theology” of our Gospel reading today is very simple.  Jesus saw a need, saw someone who was suffering, and He did something about it.  And I think the theology, the message for us, is  simple as well.  When we see a need, when we see someone who is suffering, we who would be his disciples, his followers, his brothers and sisters, we, too, need to do something about it. 

I think John Cade – an Australian, a psychiatrist, a person I never heard of until I read this books exemplified the type of brother or sister of Christ that we should seek to become - We see a need, we see someone who is suffering, we, too, should want to do something about it if it is in our power to help.

We live in anxious, fearful times.

I suspect  many of us were moved by the words Father Carey shared with us in his message to us last Sunday.  As he suggested as never before  the church needs to be the House of Love, in world filled with Hate.  I think this church, this group of brothers and sisters in Christ, this place we call St. Luke’s, needs to be the House of Love, the House of Christ’s love, in a world filled with Hate.

How do we do that?  When we see a need, when we see someone who is suffering or hurting or in need we who would be Christ’s followers, Christ’s brothers and sisters, we need to do something about it.

Well, maybe we’ve already are doing that.

Maybe that’s why we have our Respite program which is a home and a place of comfort – a House of Love – for those it helps.

Maybe that’s why we have our program on Tuesday mornings for those who need clothes, shoes, and other things.  Maybe that’s a House of Love for those it helps.

Maybe that’s why we help St. Francis House and its Veterans program.  Maybe that’s a House of Love for those it helps.

Maybe that’s why we have our special study groups – our Monday evening or our Thursday evening study groups.  Maybe this is a House of Love for those who participate in these groups.

I could go on and list many others ways we help others.

I am one of those who particularly love the words of our liturgy.   I particularly love the words of our Rite I Liturgy.  There is a phrase I particularly like in the prayer after communion in which we join the priest in saying. “And we humbly beseech thee, O Heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou has prepared by us to walk in…”

To walk in…

Not think about,

Or talk about,

Or put off until we think about it again,

But walk in – do – bring about in reality…

As our Lord and Savior did that long ago day in the synagogue when He saw someone who was hurting.

“When Jesus saw her, he said to her, “Woman, this day you are set free from your ailment.”

Amen.

 

(1)  Lithium, A Doctor, A Drug, and a Breakthrough, by Walter A. Brown, Liveright Publishing/W.W. Norton & Co.

 

 

 

 

                    

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