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).
A guest blog post by Anna-Lena Hathaway
As many families around the world prepare for Christmas, by playing music, putting up lights, or decorating a Christmas tree, I am reminded of a family tradition of celebrating the advent season. One definition of the Latin word “adventus” means “coming.” In many Christian churches, advent is a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the coming of Christ and the celebration of the Nativity at Christmas. The advent season provides the opportunity to share the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah. Today, this countdown can be found in advent calendars with chocolate, socks, or other treats, and many families, churches, and cultures light a candle for the four Sundays before Christmas.
Years ago my grandmother Dorette Kreutziger, a Journal-listed practitioner of Christian Science, created her own “Christian Science advent calendar” by reading through the twenty-four questions and answers in the chapter “Recapitulation” in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy. The discoverer and founder of Christian Science laid out these twenty-four questions and answers to explain the principles behind her discovery. Mrs. Eddy begins the chapter with the most fundamental question: “What is God?” to which the author writes: “God is incorporeal, divine, supreme, infinite Mind, Spirit, Soul, Principle, Life, Truth, Love” (Science & Health, p. 465: 8). In her second question, Mrs. Eddy calls these terms synonymous with the “one absolute God” (Science & Health, p. 465: 12). Through these twenty-four questions and answers, she explains how to address and overcome challenges by affirming the ever-present power of God, our relationship with God, and how to apply these truths to our daily lives. She concludes her chapter with the “important points, or religious tenets, of Christian Science” (Science & Health, p. 497: 1). These twenty-four questions sum up the philosophy of Christian Science, whose purpose, Mrs. Eddy explains, is to “reinstate primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing” (Manual of the Mother Church p. 17: 12-13). My grandmother’s exercise makes for a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the divine Principles governing the universe as set forth by Christian Science, whether the reader is new to Christian Science or has been a student for many years.
Pondering the seven synonyms: Principle, Life, Love, Truth, Mind, Soul, and Spirit offer a daily opportunity to express God in unique and new ways and to find our own completeness as God’s infinite expression or reflection. As I look forward to diving into these questions and answers again this December, I am reminded of the true meaning of Christmas and greeted with an immense sense of gratitude for Christ Jesus. We can all increase our spiritual understanding by expressing and witnessing those synonyms for God in our daily lives.
Some further reading?
Our first real Christmas (by Scott Preller)
The Christmas season or Christmas: Which shall it be? (by James Spencer)
"...and I want to remember..." (by Kate Robertson)
Quiet anticipation in 24 steps (by Annette Kreutziger-Herr)
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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