It is the prerogative of the spiritual view to see that everything from God's perspective is very good. When something in the human experience isn't good, it is not the end of it. It never ever happened that eternal Truth yielded to limited belief. God, Truth, has always the last word, because it was the first and only word in the first place.
In the last weeks I noticed a little word, that I have come to appreciate and love even more than before. It is the word "effort". It has to do with attempting something, with struggle, with humility and following - but also with work, exercise, resolution, and achievement. Effort tells us that work matters, not just inspiration or feeling. In the healing practice of Christian Science every case is healed. Often healings are quick and permanent. But sometimes a case is tenacious, the healing takes longer, and then effort kicks in. Especially when the mental muscle to carry on seems to have disappeared. It is all about thinking.
In the healing practice this effort is not something you do; it is something you don't do, and that is: Give up.
When recently a friend shared with my husband and me insights into the nature of the cross and the crown, as beautifully displayed on the textbook cover of Science and Health by Mary Baker Eddy, the interpretation of the cross as symbolizing "a spiritual effort" stood out to me. And when this week's Bible lesson, which Christian Scientists study diligently, included the term "effort", I felt I had found a gold mine. What is effort? What distinguishes effort from human will? How is effort linked to "effortless being"? I know that healing is not a human accomplishment but a divine gift. But then: How are the cross and the crown linked?
In his second letter, Peter writes:
"In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God's promises." (2 Pet. 1: 5. NLT)
To make an effort is all about honesty, about the desire to put the ego out of business, about the willingness to learn. Effort needs understanding, f.e. that homework is for you, not for the teacher (that is why cheating doesn't really help). Effort needs love. Effort is different from human will - it is trying, really trying, and resisting the temptation to giving up too early. Honest spiritual effort is the opposite of skepticism, hopelessness, negativity, and cynicism. It is moving forward and willing to let go of past views and learn something new about the goodness of God. It is also not pushing failure into God's camp. The basis of a true effort is a deep and unflinching love for God and man - and a resilience to let this love shape every aspect of our experience. Buddha is reported of giving this advice to the spiritual seeker: "There are only two mistakes one can make along the road of truth; not going all the way, and not starting."
Many Christian Scientists will tell you, that the healing of a tenacious physical problem, a torn relationship, a disastrous financial situation, messy circumstances at work or at school came shortly after they felt they had reached the end of the rope. But willing to go, with Buddha's words, all the way. I remember finding a location late a night, alone in unfamiliar territory in a different country, precisely the moment when I felt I was totally lost. Often the healing comes when we continue to to cherish gratitude, humility, and good just one minute longer, not giving up. Meekness steps aside, expecting to see Love, and only Love at work, and the spiritual laws of Truth and Life carry the day.
We are not alone - there is a mighty power supporting each one of us. There is hope and a sure reward to goodness. Here are two pieces of advice by Mary Baker Eddy - out of many in her published writings:
"Success in life depends upon persistent effort, upon
the improvement of moments more than upon any other
one thing." (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 230)
"Let us rid ourselves of the belief that man is separated
from God, and obey only the divine Principle, Life and
Love." (Science and Health, p. 91)
The illustrations to this blog are from the famous Rutland Psalter, a sumptuously illumined manuscript produced ca. 1260. They remind me in the unique and for me very moving medieval way that spiritual life is about effort - and about joy at the same time. Because we know how it all ends.
It is not ignorant, uninformed or uncool to not have an opinion on a given issue. Our lives are built on eternal facts, immortal facts, which operate in a different realm and not needing our approval. To refrain from forming an opinion means to side with Truth, which is always on our side, on everyone's side. To side with Truth is natural, but our culture discourages often this path. Often the only thing that is asked of us, is an opinion, an intense emotion. Like? Dislike?
During a heated debate at my university on a topic I certainly had an opinion about, I felt a need later on to pray and listen. Earnestly. Deeply yearning for a higher view. And the result was, that I realized the glory of not having an opinion and the wisdom in unselfishly supporting the peace of mind of everybody. The mental work that followed has changed my experience in more fundamental ways than I could have imagined. One being that I am not a friend of unsolicited advice anymore.
Since that time a favorite insight from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy has grown even dearer to me:
"In Christian Science mere opinion is valueless." (p. 341)
An opinion really cements a human perspective which our ego relies upon. It leaves little space for understanding and holds us in a constant spot of flutter and fuzz. For anything in life and in Life is really not about an opinion, it is about understanding. Do you like this individual? Or dislike that person? Do you like this artwork? Do you dislike that decision? Based on truthful living how about these questions: Do you understand this individual? Or understand that person? Do you understand this artwork? Or do you understand this decision? What do you really know? And how does it feel to love with a universal love?
To move out of the combative fabric of public culture - or private culture - out of the back and forth of the opinion driven culture is a tall order. It asks for a lot of humility, inner work and ego busting. I rarely read a more moving account of this process and the shining results that followed than an account by Mary Trammell, a Christian Science practitioner and teacher from Florida. You can read the entire interview with Suzanne Smedley here. This part relates the healing of a prolonged period of weakness which prevented her from leaving her house, while she continued her practice work from home:
"I remember I was lying on the sofa one day, alone in the house, and I thought, 'If I ever get completely healed, I want to be a new person, and I’m going to give my whole life, like I never have before, to God and to the practice of Christian Science—to its healing mission.' And then, it was almost like a voice said to me, 'Well, why can’t that begin right now?' And so, I made the commitment right then that I would give it my all in a way I never had before. I think it was from that point forward that I began to see light at the end of the tunnel, and I had a complete recovery. (...) And as you know, Suzanne, I’ve been quite healthy ever since.
From then on, the practice became my life—the center of everything, whether it was family, church work, writing, editing. Without that, the rest would be meaningless. And I think I came out of that experience with a new sense of God as Love.
Prior to that, I’d spent a lot of time in an academic atmosphere, where the intellectual put-down, or arguing back, was a skill—you were encouraged to be a little combative. But after that healing, I couldn’t feel combative about anything, except fighting for the Truth. I found that even with our kids, who were teenagers at the time, I didn’t want to get mad at them anymore!
I remember soon after that experience, our son accidentally dropped a whole pile of plates, and broke them all, and felt terrible about it. I heard a big crash and went out to the kitchen, but you know, I wasn’t upset. I said, 'Well, let’s clean it up,' and he looked at me, and he said, 'Mom, you’ve come a long way. Two years ago you would have gone ballistic about this.' Since that healing, I haven’t ever had it in me to get really mad about anything."
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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