I am honored of having been invited to become an acting member of "The workshop of Religions" in Berlin. This wonderful, almost time-honored institution was founded a few decades ago to move interreligious dialogue from the institutional to the biographical. Each individual member represents in this sense just himself/herself - coming from one faith tradition. Or thought tradition. Diversity is key. Authenticity is key. We talk as we are - not as we think we should be. At this point 25 people, mostly teachers and community leaders, each from a different faith tradition, or tradition of thought, I should say, because also humanism and atheism are represented. This workshop calls for sincerity, respect, openness, listening - unconditional love. Or, as someone remarked: The commitment to accept difference and individuality without flinching.
So yesterday the topic was "A pivot point in my life". We were asked to bring a text/song from our individual tradition and speak about what it meant to us and how it relates to one biographical moment. We heard five distinct stories - from a humanist working for the Berlin Workshop of Cultures in Berlin - who had spent years in Tibet, from a Japanese Roman-catholic, writing a Ph.D. about interreligious activities in Berlin speaking about the book "Silence" by Shusako Endo, from a Southern German teacher of religion who was raised a Christian, had moved away from Christianity only to return a few years ago, from a Lutheran minister who is on the board of a Memorial Center commemorating the victims of National Socialism speaking about what the cruxifixion means to him. And from a Christian Scientist. Me.
I related an experience of reconciliation and healing which had grown in me with the help of John's beautiful letter in the New Testament. (You can find the whole experience here). While I spoke my little pocket Bible which I carry with me since I am fourteen, was handed around. In the fourth chapter John writes: "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God." (7), and to make a really long story of hurt and healing short, I could see how Love is the law in the universe. How Love is more than a moral obligation: Love is the substance and standard in Love's creation. I also spoke about how Mary Baker Eddy is teaching me to see the Bible in a practical light, the light of companionship. The textbook is a Bible commentary, in my view, it bows deeply in front of its timeless truths and makes them accessible today. And I linked my little presentation to the outstanding movie "Suffragette" which I had seen the day before, sharing my love for the advancement of women's right. And acknowledging the big part Christian Science played and is playing in moving women's issues forward like few other churches or religions on the planet. Because Christian Science goes to the bottom of these issues and come to the front with fundamental spiritual rights for everyone. Because the key to those rights is not in man, but in the hands of God. The sweet interchange of ideas driven by questions from the group, included my own family history, healing and prayer, the empowerment of women through Christian Science and Mary Baker Eddy herself.
Now, every single one of the presentations was spiritual, authentic, honest. It was a joy to listen, a rare 1 1/2 hours were every word that was said was truly meant, came from the heart - and gosh is this powerful! It was divine Love, directing the script. Links and connections could be seen at every corner. For example, when one of the participants shared from her own biography how she felt in great need of guidance and comfort. At a time which saw her leaving the house at 7 am in the Winter cold for a long commute to an unloved workplace. But then Bobby McFerrin came to her rescue with his version of the 23rd Psalm. She said how meaningful it was to discover God as a Mother, how she had left the church of her upbringing because of the concept of God as a man and how this didn't resonate with her sense of spiritual matters.
The words of the 23rd Psalm speak about love, support, care, warmth - and mothering. In Bobby McFerrin's version Mother love is caring for us as only a Mother can. It was the first time ever that she was presented in her life with the idea of God as Mother, and she memorized this song and the melody, singing it every morning on her way to work - and knowing from that moment on, that all would be well. And it was:
How grateful I am to have been presented right from the start the concept of Father-Mother God. And evidently how special this still is on the globe. You would have liked to see the faces when I shared with the group Mary Baker Eddy's version of the 23rd Psalm, written about 120 years before Bobby McFerrin. I am presenting it to you - it can be found on page 578 of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. My own copy of Science and Health, with my markers and post-its for my current reading project is now on loan with a Sikh friend from the group, I hope I am getting it back next month.
This is a tricky and important subject. Anybody who does not live the life of a monk with a vow of silence tucked away in a mountain convent, knows about strife, about accusation, censure, critique, and criticism. It is a dear friend who shared with me this insight:
People will only accuse you of their own mistakes.
What an observation! I wish I had known this for years. But now I do. Once you know its truth and embrace the embedded potential for progress, you understand much better the fabric of conflict. At least I do. Of course, it is easier to see the mistakes of others rather than confront our own shortcomings. The entire Sermon on the Mount deals with this question, in a way. This is one side. The other is how to stay calm when being criticized unjustly. And how to accept legitimate complaint as such without arguing. Mary Baker Eddy doesn't mince words when putting her own version of Jesus' advice about the mote in our brother's eye and the beam in our own eye (see Matthew 7: 3-5) into writing:
If a man is jealous, envious, or revengeful, he will seek occasion to balloon an atom of another man's indis‐
So: People will only accuse you of their own mistakes. And if we are being manipulated into accusing others, we have a problem. We can learn to see how the urge to criticize others is melting away as the willingness to grow ourselves is deepened. It keeps us busy 24/7, this grand "warfare with one's self", Mary Baker Eddy mentions in an address to the Massachusetts Metaphysical College in 1893 (quoted in Miscellaneous Writings, p. 118). Accusing others is like using a lens - a magnifier, a camera. Use the lens of your mental camera and turn it to the hidden potential, to the soft and fluffy side of all of us, to the goodness waiting to come forward. And take a picture. In the end, we are like the two rabbits - in need of much stroking. So in this sense, this insight is a caress: "People will only accuse you of their own mistakes."
Is more better? Are many people better than just a few? In preparing for a conference with several colleagues it was a mild shock for us to see at the opening only a handful of people in the audience. Another conference organized by the entire faculty on a historic topic, for which the 300 chairs in the hall had been prepared with programs and handouts, found us carrying home 260 handouts. The forty present had a great time, though. Sometimes musicians meet an almost empty audience. A few years ago I bought a ticket for a 20th century opera by a composer I greatly admire. I expected to attend a sold-out performance (my love for music can visualize nothing less than awesomeness). When I arrived the entrance hall was unusually quiet, the jobless ushers asked me to stay where I was (I had a ticket for the balcony on the third floor) and take a seat in first row. The performance was dashing, although only twenty people (out of possible 900 seats) had shown up.
Recently someone shared with me the disappointment she was feeling when seeing only a few people show up for a service which could have blessed many more. I listened for an answer, and the answer was this: "When I think about the excitement I feel for people and the love I have for humanity, I often feel that each man is like a small universe. It is an honor to meet this universe. It is complete, full of possibilities and qualities, an adventure to get to know. So if you have already one universe in the room, would there be more completeness in the room if there were two?"
This concept is not as strange as it sounds. It does not lead to hermitism or deficiency of love for our sisters or brothers. "Father, where Thine own children are, I love to be" (from a poem by Mary Baker Eddy entitled "Christ my refuge") continues to be the motto of most Christians' lives. But to accept every single woman or man as a universe contributes to peace and contentment in any social setting. It has been extremely comforting and helpful in dealing with all kinds of small and tiny numbers. It has brought healing, and it has shielded me often from counting numbers, while pushing me to perceive quality instead of quantity. It also taught me to stop judging by physical as opposed to spiritual evidence. It invites everyone to listen better, look deeper, and see what wonderful qualities are already there, in one individual already.
In the Bible translation The Message Psalm 139: 14 is rendered:
"Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!"
This complexity is the fullness of divine being, deeply steeped in exuberant creation. Mary Baker Eddy, following the quote from the beginning of the first record of creation in Genesis 1, writes: "The infinite has no beginning. This word beginning is employed to signify the only, — that is, the eternal verity and unity of God and man, including the universe." (Mary Baker Eddy. Science and Health with Key the Scriptures, p. 502)
So whenever I attend a reading, a concert, a conference --- and I note that I am only one of a few, I remember that man includes the universe. And that Love is boundless. Fullness and completeness cannot get more complete as they already are. Elvis Presley, who on his quest for God studied Mary Baker Eddy's Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (you can read more here), wrote in one of his songs how "Love produced the perfect man, that understood, the image of the makers word..." (in his song "Life").
"...man, including the universe" - let this idea open you to a different life style, in which infinity is not the prerogative of the hereafter, but a present possibility of Love, which "produced the perfect man". Evidently with a little rhythm and snap and a wink.
Who is writing?
In my work as Christian Science practitioner and as a writer I draw on listening to God and listening to people.
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