A Scientific and Spiritual Appreciation of the Human Immune System
A COVID Prayer
The first inhabitants of Africa and North America intuitively appreciated the gifts of the natural world—all living things, including the tiniest insects; the rivers, lakes, and oceans; the mountains, minerals, and earth itself; the sun, the moon, and the stars. They developed a spiritual relationship with these gifts. They knew that their own precious gift of life was dependent upon and made better by these other creations. They gave humble thanks for these sacred gifts. A big part of that thanks was to be respectful and protective of those gifts. To abuse those gifts was unthinkable.
In addition to the natural world, one of the most precious gifts human beings have been given is our human immune system. As a pediatric rheumatologist who has worked closely with the human immune system for more than 40 years, I have become increasingly aware of what a precious, ingenious, hard-working, and reliable gift the human immune system is. Until recently, however, I primarily marveled at the immune system from a scientific perspective. Only recently have I begun to appreciate the immune system from a spiritual standpoint. That primarily occurred after I went through the exercise of imagining what the immune system would say, if interviewed about the COVID-19 pandemic. (Please see the companion article, An Interview with the Human Immune System.)
Somehow, that exercise mobilized a deeper appreciation, respect, and gratefulness for the immune system than I had ever had before. I no longer take its work for granted. I have become more protective of it—meaning that I do not want to see it abused by environmental toxins or by misguided bio-technological manipulations. To imagine, for example, that the human immune system is suffering from the effects of glyphosate (Monsanto’s misguided product) is very disturbing. Likewise, I find it hard to accept the arrogance of otherwise brilliant scientists who think they need “to train the immune system how to protect us from infection” and whip it (with adjuvants) into properly doing so, as if the human immune system needs their superior intelligence and deserves such abusive prodding. And it saddens me to realize how much harder it is for the immune system to do its work when we do not eat properly, or exercise sufficiently, and when we are physically and emotionally stressed.
What is the relevance of this to the COVID pandemic? At the beginning of the pandemic, perhaps we should have had the humility, respectfulness, and wisdom to at least ask how the immune system would handle this viral threat and whether vaccination was the wise way to go. Perhaps, even now, we should ask if, in our hubris, we might be making matters worse. Perhaps, out of respect for our immune system, we should ask whether our current approach might be misguided and whether we should change course. Perhaps it is not too late to listen to our human immune system, learn from it, and work humbly with it.
Many people give thanks before meals; many do not. Perhaps all of us, though, should consider giving thanks to one of the most precious gifts we have been given—the human immune system. Although the first inhabitants of Africa and North America probably did not specifically mention the immune system in their expressions of reverence and probably did not have a scientific appreciation of the immune system, they probably had an intuitive spiritual appreciation of it. Perhaps a spiritual appreciation of the immune system is at least as important as a scientific one. Perhaps we have not even had an adequate scientific appreciation.
Thousands of years ago, in the culture of the Bushmen on the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa, the men, women, and children would reverently kneel before the praying mantis, who would lead them in prayer. Perhaps today the praying mantis would say: “Thank you for the precious gift of the immune system. Help us to protect it, nurture it, and learn from it. Forgive us if we have disrespected it.”