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Saturday, 25 May 2019

Agape Love at the Sauna.

A typical Friday afternoon. Off to the gym, I went, as I normally do as one retired from full-time work. After a 65-minute aerobic workout on one of the four TechnoGym rowing machines, burning off 300 kcals, followed by 16 minutes on the treadmill with a further 60 kcal burned off, I made my way to the spa suite, where I am to relax in the bubble-bath, steam room and sauna. Indeed, very much like my Roman ancestors across two millennia of history. The only difference is that both sanitation levels and advanced technology have come a long way from the ancient public baths, perhaps to the cost of aesthetics, in which the Romans were renowned. 

Nothing new about any of this. The novelty wore off decades ago when I started attending sauna in 1976, as a slim 23-year-old. Although the original suite featured the frigidarium - a cold plunge pool, which, during the major refurbishment in the nineties, has been replaced by a so-called ice cold shower which has been known to be far from icy during the Summer!

A typical sauna cabin.

But despite my years at the facility - and others overseas such as in Haifa, San Diego, and Sydney - something that I consider new is has been occurring lately. And that is the presence of a female patient with a mental age of that of a baby, along with her supervisor or carer.

Indeed, I have already touched on this subject recently.* Then I wrote about my experience with a group of mentally-disabled patients and their carers at the same Leisure Centre after a swimming workout. I then made a comparison between the lifestyle of one of the patients with that of a wedding of a TV celebrity whose parents I know personally at our church.

This female patient at the sauna looked to be about twenty years of age, give or take, and she was quite pretty, with long flowing hair. She and her carer spend most of their time in the bubble bath, but I have seen them venture into the saunarium, which is cooler than the sauna but with a higher level of humidity. Towards the end of my time at the spa facility, she and her carer were taking a finishing shower. Afterwards, she sat in a chair, facing directly towards me, and apparently staring straight at me.

I turned and smiled at her. There was no other response but to stare steadily at me. Then I waved at her during the brief moment her carer had her back turned. Still no response. Not to worry, as I returned to my inclining position on one of the heat beds. As I lay there, I had a longing to approach her and give her a hug and speak gently to her. The desire to give her a hug was offset by anticipation that she would take it the wrong way, and scream with fright or protestation. As such, I felt the wiser to remain where I was.

But I still felt love for that patient, the love Christ has for us. While we were totally helpless, Christ died for us, thus demonstrating the love of God in the most sacrificial method. Therefore it was significant and still fresh on my mind that their visit to the spa took place only the day after watching a BBC Panorama programme about the abominable cruelty shown to very similar patients at Whorlton Hall private hospital in County Durham.

This was eight years after Panorama had also investigated Winterbourne View independent hospital in Gloucestershire after a whistleblower reported the levels of cruelty which had taken place within. As a result of the Winterbourne View investigation, the care home was closed down. At present, Whorlton Hall has also shut down. Both investigations were carried out by undercover reporters working as carers.

I have found the Whorlton Hall abuse very distressing. One of the patients, a mentally-disabled female who is also autistic, has a deep fear of men, and she only felt comfortable among female carers. Instead of respecting her wish, several male staff members deliberately taunted her while she was trapped in her room. Laughing and guffawing, her screams of terror was entertaining to them. These guys were quite big, strong and imposing, white, English chavs, whose mere presence bringing out the patient's screams of terror feeding their animalistic instincts, taking pleasure of her distress and suffering.

My heart went out to that patient. I wanted to cry, to cry at my frustration of sheer helplessness to do anything. Perhaps I wanted to see a miracle, for me to be there, to see her face transform from terror to joy. How I long to see her safe in the arms of Jesus, as he gives her an everlasting hug.

Undercover filming of abuse at Whorlton Hall. BBC TV.

Yet how frustrating it can be to my faith when considering that churches have a very dim history when it comes to caring. My own father, when he was an adolescent, had to stay at a nunnery during the Second World War. He tells of the level of cruelty which had taken place whilst staying there, especially when receiving a hard smack across his face for taking Communion without first going to Confession.

I can verify my father's testimony. I have a book, Stiff Upper Lip by ex-boarder Alex Renton. In it, he tells of an anonymous English interviewee who suffered hell at a prep school run by the Jesuits during the War. He began to feel rebellious, lending his support for the Germans and for the Communists, after hearing sermons delivered by "cane-happy priests" and being forced to pray, which he didn't but instead hummed a secular tune whilst in a praying position in order to stay out of trouble.

This also reminds me of a well-known novel by Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, from which movies, musicals and theatre performances are made to this day. It tells of the grim workhouse environment run by a board of "Christian administrators" - well fed and often pompous - who believed that cruelty is the right way to keep their junior inhabitants in line. This included keeping them to a state of near starvation as well as freely wielding the cane at the slightest misdemeanour.

Therefore it doesn't come as too much of a surprise when I was stuck for a proper solution to the problem. I have thought about every carer in such homes being committed Christians. Then I remembered history. No, that didn't work very well, did it? Little wonder when Charles Darwin wrote his book, On the Origins of Species, which had the power to displace the Christian faith from all logic, history, and from the general worldview, his works were warmly welcomed and became to be seen as universal scientific fact to this day.

It seemed that God wanted to show me something after watching such a distressing programme. On the very next day as well. That was when I watched this mentally disabled female enjoying the spa facilities with her carer. And all I felt was love for her, a wish to see her happy and eternally saved by Jesus Christ. That when the idea came up: If care homes or hospitals of this kind must exist, why not enforce a constitution that these establishments can only be run by true Christian believers who must first pass a stringent test?

However, I also realise that there is a massive difference between offering her a smile as a passing stranger, and ongoing day-to-day care.

Caring daily for one who is autistic and who has a mental disability can be mentally, emotionally and even physically challenging. And I must be honest with myself, I know for sure I can't hack it. And I believe in Jesus as my Saviour. In fact, coping with my own wife's illness is a massive challenge in itself. And her illness is purely physical, even with a sound mind, she's still in need to be in a wheelchair whenever out of doors. I find it agonising when I have to watch her writhe in pain, and I have no other option than to call an ambulance. Fortunately, the introduction of powerful medicines on her prescription such as Co-Codamol and Oramorph has enabled home treatment in lieu of calling for an ambulance, but these experiences can still be scary enough and demand a deep faith in God on a day-to-day basis.

"Please sir, I want some more" Movie version of Oliver Twist.

By contrast, I know a widowed female pensioner who has just reached ninety years of age, yet her dementia sends her into verbal violence which is intense enough to send anyone present from the room she's in, or even from the house itself. I know full well that I could never be able to care for such a person, but I do know that her own granddaughter is her live-in carer. Fortunately for both of them, her two sons along with the Council pay for daycare at a nearby home for the working week, relieving the carer from hours of stress. In turn, the widow enjoys the company of others at the care home, where she is allowed to carry out housekeeping tasks which prove to be very therapeutic.

That's why I do believe that for such people, the family is still the best environment for them to live. An environment where love can be felt and experienced. However, the best kind of love which can be offered to such disabled people is agape love. It's the same sacrificial love God has for us. Therefore, for a carer, especially in a care home or hospital, to possess such love, he or she must know Jesus Christ to be her Saviour, read and thoroughly absorb the Bible on a daily basis and experience the daily filling of the Holy Spirit.

Only then will the cruelty found in private hospitals becomes the thing of the past.
*To read the account at the Leisure Centre cafe, click here.


  1. Dear Frank,
    Thank you as always for the excellent and thought-provoking post. As we get older, especially, it seems that so many in our midst are in need of constant care. My heart goes out to those in our church and elsewhere to struggle to show agape love to their relative with Alzheimer's who now not only fails to recognize them, but becomes violent at times.
    Only Christ was the perfect example of agape love, yet He has left us with the Holy Spirit within to teach us to love as He does. May we become more like Him every day until He takes us home, and may that day come quickly when those who know Him will be in glorified bodies, free of all ailments.
    Thanks again for the great post and God bless you and Alex,

  2. Great post, Frank. Like you, I think for many people, the best care will come from their own family. Like you say, just because a person claims to be a Christian does not ensure they will provide loving care. A consistent good attitude will depend on the person having a proper relationship with Christ.