This morning I opened by favorite book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy (my beautiful edition in dark blue leather with gilt edge), to continue with the Christian Science Advent Calendar, and I found the answer to the question "What is man?", question #14. I am in awe every time I read this text. It seems to me a little miracle that a book like this, with a text like this, exists on our planet. That it found its way into the memory of humanity, being read and studied side by side with the Bible. That a woman dared to write down those ideas, and persisted and persisted with resilience and an incredible love for God and humanity, until the ideas were printed to start their journey into the hearts of people on all continents, for 150 years now. I remember a moment when in was a teenager, still in High school, when I was sitting in our garden, with the book on my lap, and hoping that Mary Baker Eddy would know that the book had travelled farther than she ever did, translated into a language she didn't speak, healing and informing an individual like me she never met. She of all people knew and knows how to navigate the kingdom of heaven --- so I trust she knows.
When I open the door in the Christian Science Practice, when I answer the phone or read an Email, I meet naturally seldom individuals who want to know how I am doing - that is part of being in a service to humanity, and this is not the point. I meet with calls for help, problems to solve, challenges to overcome, sicknesses to heal - I encounter people bringing to me a physical diagnosis of incurability, life-long regrets, stubborn character flaws, relationship issues, an inability to love, writer's block, a devastating history of sexual abuse, mistreatment of women, infertility, being in love while not being loved back, addiction, financial lack, legal issues, sudden illness, job-related incapacity, the challenging transition from university into a first job or the equally challenging transition from the last job into retirement, slow learning, job related issues, suicide attempt, grief, family challenges, loneliness, a family asking for spiritual care for a dying family member, lack of purpose, consequences of accidents, ambiguity in regard to the next step, overexertion in caring for a loved one, breakdown of a parent because of a teenager which is a heroin addict, drawbacks in the job because you are gay, the flu etc.
I am amazed to see how quickly divine Love has always an answer, a first, intelligent, individual answer, which comforts and sets the heart and mind on a new path, a fresh perspective. Sometimes the solution, healing, release comes quickly, sometimes it takes time to walk the talk, to feel at home in the new world of goodness and care, to see the whole picture. The solutions, healings, the release and freedom always come, without exception. And that is because of the truth in Science and Health, which activates something in each one of us, which is the truth of being. The book doesn't invent something, it reminds us of what is inbuilt into us. It draws us out of narratives - beliefs and convictions - which we have been telling ourselves for such a long time that we see ourselves as mere listeners to these stories instead of as the story-tellers who we are, with a little help from a talking snake (see Genesis 2). We learn something new, which is the eternal truth of our completeness (see Genesis 1), and move forward. Life is turned into a graceful learning curve, from a material viewpoint to a spiritual perspective. And a learning curve it is, in which the ego must go and Christlike qualities will be put on as the only garment of individuality. Mary Baker Eddy writes in Miscellaneous Writings on p. 5:
"That man is the idea of infinite Mind, always perfect
in God, in Truth, Life, and Love, is something not easily
accepted, weighed down as is mortal thought with mate‐
rial beliefs. That which never existed, can seem solid
substance to this thought. It is much easier for people
to believe that the body affects the mind, than that the
mind affects the body."
When I study the answer to the question "What is man?" I am already prepared for this radical, revolutionary description by what I studied the previous two weeks. I have already learned about Principle and Love, about Spirit, Mind and Soul, about Life and Truth, about the scientific statement of being, about intelligence and substance being spiritual and untouchable by material sense, about the oneness of God and the non-existence of gods, about the singularity of Soul and the non-existence of souls, about the inability of creeds to move thoughts and lives forward and the ability of honest, consecrated efforts to meet the demands of the "Science of Soul". I also remember the history of healing in my family history with 100 years of Christian Science healing around - including healings from spinal meningitis, meniscal tear, broken elbow, toxemia, broken shoulder, tetanus, severed limbs, aftereffects of accidents, a lost sense of purpose. I saw joy restored, inner peace regained, children born at home without fussing, hope regained after tragic loss, stolen items given back, a lost voice found, I saw protection from crime, reconciliation realized, I saw womanhood strengthened and malehood redeemed. I am prepared:
"Man is spiritual and perfect; and be‐
cause he is spiritual and perfect, he must be so under‐
stood in Christian Science. Man is idea, the image, of
Love; he is not physique. He is the compound idea of
God, including all right ideas; the generic term for
all that reflects God's image and likeness; the conscious
identity of being as found in Science, in which man is
the reflection of God, or Mind, and therefore is eternal;
that which has no separate mind from God; that which
has not a single quality underived from Deity; that which
possesses no life, intelligence, nor creative power of his
own, but reflects spiritually all that belongs to his Maker."
(Science and Health, p. 475)
It takes a life to grasp every detail of the answer, but it is worthwhile the effort to understand it, to struggle with resisting convictions ("because I said so"), to quarrel with oneself instead of with others. In the course of history, eternal Truth never backed away from human conceptions, never shrank back from mortal narratives. And it never will. So can we change sides and move over to Truth's perspective? Can we make the shift from "mortal" to "man" and stop resisting its implications in our experience? In order to get real, I have to continue learning from and yielding to Truth. I love this question, "what is man", for this question is about all of us, it is about you and me. You are in for a treat.
December is Advent time within any Christian faith community, in our family it means a spiritual adventure and a journey with the help of what we call "The Christian Science Advent Calendar" - the chapter "Recapitulation" in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. Of course, the term is something our family made up. I call it quiet anticipation in 24 steps, and my niece Anna-Lena wrote beautifully about it in her guest blog post. In Science and Health, the 14th chapter "recapitulation" summarizes the metaphysics of Christian Science. It is open, it is free for everyone - no clergy is protecting this knowledge, no proficiency is required on the side of reader, although I find that a dictionary helps to deepen my understanding of it. Christian Science is so generous and open about its content and confident in its truthfulness that it invites anybody to test by his or her own experience what to make of it.
Today I ponder question #7, dealing with the real meaning of substance. As I reflect on this question, I pray about a deeper understanding of substance. And I see this question being linked in our time to the Christmas season in the Western world with its emphasis on buying instead of being. Christmas after all has the central meaning of the priority of spiritual substance over a material sense of worth and meaning.
So what to make of all the material stuff and how to discover true substance? I open the book Science and Health at the very beginning and I find a quote from Shakespeare: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Could this really be true? Is thinking all that matters? Even at Christmas prep time when there seems to be more material stuff around, more talk about "things"? Does everything really boil down to motives?
For me, the answer is “yes.” And that’s how I’ve come to understand my relationship with “material stuff”—whether it’s an object, or an activity where I choose to spend my time.
Lets take one example, like playing the piano. The thought behind this activity could be focused on diving deeper into the meaning of art and life itself. It could be viewed as an opportunity to increase concentration, to improve on individual talents, or to bless others with beauty. On the other hand, playing the piano could also be about impressing an audience, or about pursuing wealth, recognition, or fame.
Maybe this example seems silly, because it’s pretty obvious that only the right motive carries with it the perseverance to achieve true excellence - on the piano and in life. But it does point to the importance of the thought that guides our actions and decisions. Collecting songs, vinyls, or wristbands, following fashion trends, moving up levels in a computer game, learning to make the most delicious Christmas cookies ever —all these can be individual ways of expressing more of the Love that is Life, more of the supreme intelligence of divine Mind that is everywhere and all-in-all. Each endeavor calls on us to use our spiritual qualities, making it a training ground for spiritual progress. And if we answer this call, we find opportunities at each turn to express the infinite qualities of Love and Life in individual ways. The motive will propel us forward.
But, if we let our individuality become secondary to selfishness, or personal satisfaction, the same pursuits will take on a different hue. In the worst of cases, we end up in something that Mary Baker Eddy called “the ditch of nonsense.” (Miscellaneous Writings, 1883-1896, p. 230). Thankfully, she gave us a way out through this guideline: “Enjoying good things is not evil, but becoming slaves to pleasure is. That error is most forcible which is least distinct to conscience. Attempt nothing without God’s help.” (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 197)
As I think about this passage, it helps me take the question of motives to a higher level. In fact, I think, the best measure of the worth and purity any pursuit is not just whether it is blessing others, but whether it is also helping us learn something more about Truth, God. Whether it is impelling us to bow in all humility before something so much bigger and wiser and so much more creative than we are. With God, divine Love, at the center of our lives, we are moving towards an upgrade in spirituality and a downsizing in material stuff. Simply because spirituality is so much more interesting, authentic and real. We are able to make good and wise and unselfish choices and see more clearly how everything can turn into something sparkling and meaningful—and even revelatory.
In her answer to the question "What is substance?" Mary Baker Eddy writes: "The spiritual universe, including individual man, is a compound idea, reflecting the divine substance of Spirit." (p. 468) Isn't it crystal clear from this answer, that any material thing or material stuff in and by itself can never be substance? But we are. Man is the most precious substance of all. We are the real worth, we are the stuff the universe is made of. All spiritual, all good. So much more than money can buy.
(This post is based on a text about "material stuff" - a continuing exploration of true worth and true meaning in life).
Who is writing?
In my work as Christian Science practitioner and writer I draw on listening to God and listening to people.
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