Light is the sign to follow

I wanted to share a simple thought I’ve been pondering since being on a walk yesterday in some unfamiliar woods. The woods are near my parents’ house, so one would expect I could not get too lost there. But in these woods there were many different directions and not one distinct path. I had never entered this area before, and I’m not an expert nature walker. I walked for a while and then thought I was heading back in the direction I had come, but nothing looked familiar.

 

At first I tried following these little signs that were on the trees, thinking they were leading to a particular place. But they did not seem to be taking me closer to where I needed to be in order to get home. I started to try to figure out which direction I should be going, but I just felt lost and had a brief moment of panic.

 

As I kept walking, not knowing whether I was going in the right direction to reach a desired destination, the one thing that ultimately led me to a way out of the woods was simply finding some light. In the midst of the darkness of the woods, I saw light from one direction. As I followed that light, I finally found myself in a parking lot which still was not familiar but from which I could find my way home fairly easily.

 

When we find ourselves feeling lost or not knowing which direction to take, we often seek some sort of sign to lead us forward. We want something blaring in the sky to tell us which way to go. For me this rarely happens, though I know of some people who have had such experiences. But if we can seek the light, whatever that may mean at any given moment, we will find our way. Light is not hard to identify because it usually brings clarity and peace.

 

After this experience for some reason I thought of the word “gloaming”. It refers to twilight or dusk, but it comes from a root simply meaning “glow”. Mary Baker Eddy uses it in Science and Health here: “The adult, in bondage to his beliefs, no more comprehends his real being than does the child; and the adult must be taken out of his darkness, before he can get rid of the illusive sufferings which throng the gloaming.” (371).

 

When we are experiencing “the gloaming”, it may seem very frightening. The “illusive sufferings” can feel very real. Maybe it is a time of transition in our lives that seems to bring on this state, or maybe we are dealing with remorse, or maybe it seems we have lost something and are having to overcome grief. But this is a promising moment because there is a glow, the glow of divine Love that surrounds us. And each of us has a light that shines and cannot be put out. We just need to get out of the darkness and keep following that light. It is there- look for it and go in that direction. The rest will become clear when it needs to. 

Living Inside a Love that dispels evil with a kindness that is the new cool

I walked by a little girl wearing a shirt that said “Kind is the new cool”. I wanted to stop and give her a big hug or nominate her for president. As I kept walking I thought of how Jesus said, “You will never get into God’s kingdom unless you enter it like a child” (Luke 18:17). Maybe we should all sit down and let some children teach us how to act. It seems like we could use some childlikeness to influence our public discourse these days. Our world is greatly in need of kindness.

 

Recently I had noticed an intense harshness both in social media and in some unusually unpleasant interactions in my own experience. My attempt to sell something on Craigslist resulted in the buyer refusing to pay what she had agreed to and elicited a yelling match between her and my neighbor who was feeling protective of me and wanting to ensure that I got the amount that was fair. And a close friend handled a situation in a way that felt uncharacteristically inconsiderate.

 

I could sense that these situations were affecting my outlook in a negative way, and these stirred up feelings seemed to manifest in physical discomfort one afternoon. I felt weak and unwell all of a sudden. It seemed obvious that I needed to address my mental state. In prayer I was claiming that these intense angry feelings had no basis in God, the only power, and could not be present in my consciousness nor influence the collective thought in the world that appeared to be filling the airwaves recently. I resolved to be clear that these poisonous thoughts could not infiltrate my being in any way, and I made an effort to recognize every evidence of good, of which I knew God to be the source, that I knew could counteract and destroy these ungodlike sentiments.

 

The evidence of God’s presence and power was present in many ways, one of which was through the kindness of a child. I was caring for a friend’s two teenage sons while she was away, and they seemed to sense that I needed some space that evening. They had been wanting to watch a movie together, but one of them saw me on the couch and said, “We can watch the movie another night. We’ll head upstairs so you can go to bed. Love you, Auntie Laura!” The sweetness of this interaction melted away the cold, harsh feelings that had overwhelmed me earlier, and the physical unrest also dissipated.

 

The next day I still felt some anger and yearned to be free of it. But frankly I didn’t seem to know how. I felt especially disappointed in someone’s behavior and wanted to get past that way of viewing this person. As I went into the supermarket, a familiar song was playing that I had not heard in years. It was a song my brother used to listen to when we were growing up and he was a budding jazz connoisseur. The song was Living Inside Your Love by George Benson. I love this version with him and Earl Klugh.

 

I’m sure it was intended as a romantic song, but I always heard it as a song about living inside God’s infinite love. And I realized, “Oh, of course. We were never expected to love people who do wrong out of our mortal limited sense of love. We are able to love others because we are all held inside that all embracing divine Love. It doesn’t come from me as a person. I can do that- I can love by knowing that it’s really God doing the love.” That was a huge relief and a weight off my shoulders.

 

I thought of where Mary Baker Eddy says in Science and Health, “The depth, breadth, height, might, majesty, and glory of infinite Love fill all space. That is enough!” (p. 520). The marginal heading for that paragraph says “Love and man coexistent”. How comforting to know we are not responsible for finding love within ourselves by ourselves. There is an infinite source of that love. The world needs that love so much, and we can affirm that it is tangibly present.

 

And it really is tangibly present in all kinds of ways when you look for it. Recently I was staying with a friend whose husband packs her lunch every morning. It was the sweetest thing and really touched me. I kept thinking that little acts of kindness like that, inspired by that omnipotent allness of a Love bigger than ourselves, can collectively have an effect on dismantling and dissolving the terrorism and rancor that seem to be rampant in our world lately. It might not happen today or tomorrow, and more ultimately may be required of us than these simple acts of kindness. But it is a such a good place to start and such a good reminder that we are not helpless in the face of these scary sentiments that come to the surface. Our endeavors to be like children and make “kind the new cool” can make a difference and help transform our world into an atmosphere more like the kingdom of God. 

Safe on God's shoulders- from the blue thing to a new thing

I gave my dad a card for Fathers Day with a drawing of a dad with a daughter up on his shoulders so that she could reach an apple on a tree. I told him it reminded me of when he used to take me for walks in what I referred to as “the blue thing”. It was a blue carrier that he put on his back, and I could sit in it and have an elevated view of the world, which I quite enjoyed. I recall walks in the winter where I looked down on the newly fallen snow and up at the magically icy trees, taking in the beauty from the safety and comfort of my perch on my dad’s back. I think the blue thingwas meant for a child perhaps up to age three, but I recall my dad carrying me in it until I was at least five. I was pretty sad when we determined that it was time to retire the blue thing.

 

About a week after receiving the card, my dad said one of the sweetest things that has ever been uttered to me. Knowing that I had been going through a period of needing to figure out some personal details that have been a bit complex, and wanting to be of help, my father gently said over Skype, “If I could raise you up on my shoulders now to carry you through this time like back when you were in that blue thing, I would like to.”

 

Well, I’m way too big for that blue thing now. But recently I was reminded of this verse from Deuteronomy: “And of Benjamin he said, The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by him; and the Lord shall cover him all the day long, and he shall dwell between his shoulders.” (33:12). 

 

Whether or not there is someone to help “carry” us through a hard time, we are not alone. We are not without that Father-Mother who encompasses all that is and keeps us secure, even more secure than a human father ever really could.

 

In her book Unity of Good, Mary Baker Eddy says this: “If He is All, He can have no consciousness of anything unlike Himself; because, if He is omnipresent, there can be nothing outside of Himself. Now this self-same God is our helper. He pities us. He has mercy upon us, and guides every event of our careers.” (page 3).

 

This language of God pitying us is a bit unusual for Mrs. Eddy. She speaks of God generally in an absolute sense. But she also defines God as Love itself (I John 4:8) and as very accessible and tangible. Pity comes from a word meaning compassion. Mrs. Eddy likely meant not that God feels bad for us but that God cares for us in a very real way. And she says, “Divine Love is never so near as when all earthly joys seem most afar.” (Miscellany, p. 290).  

 

The greatest comfort comes in knowing not only that God cares for us compassionately as a Father but that “there can be nothing outside of Himself”. If God is omnipresent, we are always surrounded by Love and have nothing to fear. And that assurance brings a security that is able to hold us long past when we fit on our fathers' backs. It also gives us an uplifted view even more expansive than the snowy scenes I remember from the blue thing. In God we can actually be lifted up to a NEW thing, a new realization of the omnipresence of Love.

These women are free

For those who may not have had the opportunity to visit a prison, I like to share some of my experiences as a speaker in these settings, where I often find what I would have to call holy ground. Recently I spoke at a women’s prison in Ohio that houses inmates convicted of some fairly serious crimes. Some of these ladies are serving life sentences.

 

At first I was concerned about how our attendance would be because there was a large scale religious event scheduled at the same time. About thirty volunteers lined up to enter the prison for this gathering, and they brought in cookies, a major draw for inmates eager to eat anything not made in the prison kitchen. I prayed to let go of my worry and trust that the ladies who needed to be there to hear this message would find their way despite the appeal of cookies. A hymn came to mind:

 

O do not bar your mind

Against the light of good;

But open wide, let in the Word,

And Truth will be your food.

(#201, Christian Science Hymnal)

 

I wish you could have walked with me from the main entrance over to the chapel building. It’s hard to describe that experience. Whenever I go into a prison setting, I make a specific effort to see the innate purity and innocence of all the men or women I meet there, despite how society has labeled them. On this walk, this practice was effortless. It was probably one of the visual moments in my life that has best captured the concept of redemption.

 

It was a warm, sunny day, and I walked past some lovely gardens that women had planted and were tending. Then I passed a group of women who were training rescued greyhounds through a special program at the prison. The ladies beamed at me as I looked at the sweet faces of the dogs gazing up at them with reverence. As I turned down the long walkway to the chapel, women lined either side of the path serenading the volunteers and me as we walked in. Their eyes were bright as they smiled and sang these words: “God loves you, and I love you, and that’s how it’s gonna be. God loves you, and I love you, and that you’ll surely see.” It was impossible not to tear up as I looked into the faces of these women, some of whom had been convicted of heinous crimes, all of whom shone in the light of the sun like free, innocent little girls. Their expressions matched the words they were singing.

 

The women filed into our room and filled the chairs. One of them said she had brought about ten others to hear this message. The competition of the large event appeared to be a non-issue. After I spoke, I asked if there were questions or comments or if any of them had a testimony to share. One woman asked how she should respond to a friend who wondered why we should believe that God is real when so many bad things happen. I felt led to step back and allow the women to share their thoughts on this challenging topic.

 

A lively discussion followed, with women sharing various viewpoints, some of which differed from what I would have said. Finally one woman, who I later learned had attended some of the programs offered by the Christian Science volunteers who come into the prison regularly, firmly stated that she didn’t believe that God makes anything bad happen, that these things are not God’s will, and that we can bear witness to God’s goodness and expect to see it in our lives. She spoke with such conviction that the discussion ended there, and the woman who had asked the question seemed uplifted. I was grateful I had been quiet, since it was perfect for this response to come from one of her peers.

 

Finally, in response to my invitation to share any testimonies they had, one woman told a very moving story. She shared that prior to coming to prison she had been in a very bad car accident and was in a coma. During this time, her husband passed on. After some serious struggles with prescription drug addiction, she ended up being convicted of a crime. At that point she was so angry at God and so bitter toward others that she would lash out at people who approached her.

 

Through prayer and reading the Bible she had a complete turnaround and was going to be getting baptized the next day. She said that while she may be in prison, she finally feels free in a way she never has before. This was a fitting way to end our time together, since the title of the talk was The Way Out for You. It was about finding our freedom regardless of what our circumstances may be.

It is a privilege to be able to visit people who are not able to interact with the wider society because they are behind bars but are experiencing freedom and grace in profound ways. It brings me a deeper gratitude for my own freedom and reveals what is possible through grace. I am very thankful for these opportunities to witness the presence and power of Love. Truly these women embodied the words they sang as we entered the chapel, and truly they are free. Free to be what God created them to be. May we all be able to live lives that say, “God loves you, and I love you, and that’s how it’s gonna be. God loves you, and I love you, and that you’ll surely see.”

Beauty and goodness on an ugly day: a place to start prayer and action

When a tragedy of large proportions occurs, how do we begin to respond? Can we do anything helpful from afar? Aren't most of our attempts to be of support futile at best if we can't be there in person? Words sometimes feel inadequate to express certain thoughts, and attempts to describe experiences can be elusive. While aware of how words can fall short, I offer what came to me today in light of these questions. And I continue to listen and seek more guidance.

 

I had been planning to go to a local museum today, and I questioned whether this was the right way to spend the afternoon when I heard of the horrific events in Orlando last night. But then I saw this quote online.

 

Choosing to view beauty today was the beginning of a prayer. I saw it in the form of art and happy couples walking together and the view out the museum windows, and even in the delicacies at the cafe. I almost felt guilty drinking it in, and I found tears were in my eyes while I drank a cappuccino.

 

But I prayed that those who passed on in Orlando are in a place where they too can see beauty, and that their family and friends can find comfort and healing in tangible beauty too, and that those who would consider doing something so despicable out of their pain would be led to the light and beauty that can deliver them from that darkness.

 

It felt right to choose to appreciate beauty and goodness today rather than dwell on ugliness and destruction. It was a way of praying that felt real and inspired deeper prayer. I know this might not make sense to everyone, but we will all find the best ways to respond to this tragedy. May they be ways that lift us up and spark the constructive action that is so needed in this world, whether it be via art or science or social work or spirituality or education or other vehicles we can use. It is time to put our gifts to work in finding solutions, starting with the gift we all have: the ability to love.

 

This simple prayer of witnessing goodness in a moment of apparent extreme evil manifested in the world is not in vain. To me it echoes this message from Mary Baker Eddy: “It is ignorance and false belief, based on a material sense of things, which hide spiritual beauty and goodness. Understanding this, Paul said: ‘Neither death, nor life, . . . nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God.’ This is the doctrine of Christian Science: that divine Love cannot be deprived of its manifestation, or object; that joy cannot be turned into sorrow, for sorrow is not the master of joy; that good can never produce evil; that matter can never produce mind nor life result in death. The perfect man — governed by God, his perfect Principle — is sinless and eternal.” (Science and Health, p. 304).

 

While I was exploring the museum, an employee came up and explained one of the pieces to me. He and I agreed that we enjoy some contemporary art but find some of it disturbing and hard to understand (there were a few pieces that were quite gory and startling to look at). We shared how we appreciate art that is uplifting rather than of a violent nature. This exchange gave me a sense of solidarity in recognizing that even if we do occasionally have to look at things or events that are ugly, there is always a deeper beauty that must triumph, even in our world right here. And Christian Science teaches that this beauty and goodness is indeed the only reality, from which we can never be separated.

 

Zechariah 9:17 proclaims, “For how great is his goodness, and how great is his beauty!” There is no substitute for devoted prayer and inspired action to address these major problems our world faces, and it would be naïve and insensitive to think that a trip to a museum could provide the needed fix. But witnessing beauty and goodness, an act which can lead us away from depressing rumination or fixation on repetitive news reports, opens our thought to fresh ideas for how we can contribute to healing the world. And that is a good place to start. 

 

 

 

You already have everything

Last week I was walking one morning and saw this message on the sidewalk:

That reminded me of this song: 

What I appreciate about the approach of Christian Science is that we don't have to rely on "speaking things into existence"; we can actually know that we include all good right here and now (see the blog post from two weeks ago called "Financial freedom that saves more than coupons"). Instead of getting caught up in the "added things", we can seek the kingdom of heaven (see Matthew 6:25-34).

The song speaks not just of material things we may wish for but also things like love, forgiveness, and freedom from our past. We can indeed claim those things right now because as God's complete ideas we have all good at every moment. It isn't saying we already have something to comfort ourselves in hopes that it will come to us in the future but rather recognizing that we already include everything we need. It's like in Luke 15:31 when the father says to the elder brother of the prodigal son, "You are always with me, and all that I have is yours". We may not see how that good will be practically manifested in our lives this moment, but it is there and has to become clear in some way. It's not wishful thinking; it's confident knowing. We already have it.

Excellence with labor

In this graduation season, I am aware of those who have shown what to me appears almost unfathomable dedication, sometimes over several years, to complete a degree. Some examples are on my Facebook feed, such as a friend’s wife who, all while being a wife and mother, at last finished her Ph.D. in microbiology. Yesterday I talked with a close friend who earned his RN degree in one year through an accelerated program.  As he described the past year to me, I was in awe of what he had accomplished. He now heads straight into masters and doctoral level work in nursing.

 

Graduation ceremonies have always been moving for me. For some reason whenever I see a processional of students in robes and hear Pomp and Circumstance, whether it is for kindergarteners or doctoral candidates, I find myself tearing up. There is something about a sense of achievement and progress that I find very meaningful. For a moment, upon hearing about my friends graduating and seeing their robed photos on Facebook, I felt wistful, wishing that I had more to show for the work I do every day, throughout the course of which I sometimes ask myself if I am really making a difference.

 

As I hear about these people who have worked so steadily and thoroughly to reach these goals, whether over a long stretch or in a shorter sprint, a question comes up that also arose in my thoughts after I watched the movie Spotlight (winner of this year’s Oscar for Best Picture). I was deeply moved by the relentless efforts of the Boston Globe reporters in the film to research and present an accurate article about a very troubling and important story. And I asked myself: “Am I willing to put that same level of dedication into my work?”

 

Of course I want to say yes with all my heart. The desire is there. But what does it look like to carry it out? And am I willing to do it? In my work as a Christian Science practitioner, it can sometimes feel as if the demands are more abstract and less defined than needing to get a story written for a newspaper deadline, completing research for a published study, or preparing for an exam in a course. But the need is great and deserves to be taken seriously. When someone calls me for help, my work is mainly of a mental nature. But why should I approach it with any less focus and commitment than my friend who is eagerly learning all that he can to be a phenomenal nurse in a hospital?

 

As I pondered these questions, I had the thought to look up “no excellence without labor” in a concordance to Mary Baker Eddy’s writings. In Science and Health, she writes, “Christian Science is not an exception to the general rule, that there is no excellence without labor in a direct line.” (p. 457). So why does that labor sometimes feel rather elusive or hard to define? Maybe because it is so vital and yet so foreign to the generally accepted norms for what constitutes productivity. 

 

Very regularly I have to refute (in my own thought) the claim that my work is amorphous and not really accomplishing anything because society doesn’t recognize it as significant or sometimes even those among my own friends and family find it strange. The best way I have found to counter these suggestions is to rededicate myself to the work and ask myself if I am approaching it with as much focus and earnestness as I can and as the people who call me deserve.

 

On a practical level, each Christian Science practitioner might have a different answer for what this “labor in a direct line” looks like. Mrs. Eddy gives some basic guidance on how to meet this demand in Miscellaneous Writings: “There is no excellence without labor; and the time to work, is now. Only by persistent, unremitting, straightforward toil; by turning neither to the right nor to the left, seeking no other pursuit or pleasure than that which cometh from God, can you win and wear the crown of the faithful.” (p. 340).

 

I remember reading the above quote once and feeling it sounded very harsh. But as I consider the experiences of my friends who have put such “persistent, unremitting, straightforward toil” into their academic programs and those I know who are deeply devoted to their careers, I find this to be more of a rousing message than a frightening one.

 

As I have made an effort to approach my work with more discipline, be it by getting up earlier to have sufficient time to pray for myself or declining social invitations in order to focus more fully on the needs of a patient, I have found these choices to bring more freedom than confinement. And perhaps the most encouraging thought in pursuing a greater commitment to our work, whatever type of work it is, comes in the knowledge that we are not alone in our efforts. Philippians 2:12 promises, “God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” (New Living Translation). With the understanding that God is truly doing the work and even giving us the desire to be part of that work, we can all find joy and freedom even in the midst of toil and labor that ultimately does lead to excellence…whether or not we get a diploma or a fancy cap and gown along the way.

 

 

Financial freedom that saves more than coupons

I’ve been learning about how a spiritual approach to finances can be practical and enlightening as well as liberating. Talking about relying on God for all of our needs is fairly common, but what would it look like to actually do that? This is an area where I have plenty more discoveries to make, but recently this concept of God as the true source of supply in our lives has become more tangible to me through some experiences that may seem insignificant but brought a smile to my face (and a meal to my table!). 

 

Since I’m not in a line of work where I get a paycheck in a predictable amount at regular intervals, I have found the need to seriously consider where my compensation comes from. And in some ways I don’t even think of it as compensation. I don’t think of my clients as the source of my income, and I don’t think of money as the currency that meets my needs. That probably sounds strange, but it’s really the most natural thing. 

 

This approach I’m taking is inspired by a very basic concept of who I am, which I draw from Mary Baker Eddy’s answer to the question “What is man?” in Science and Health on page 475. In this definition she refers to each of us as “the compound idea of God, including all right ideas”. To me right ideas, in our current experience, could be described as spiritual concepts of things like beauty, purpose, fulfillment, wisdom, and joy. And those ideas may be expressed in practical forms like healthy companionship, a peaceful home, and a proper sense of basic needs supplied. This concept is based on the pronouncement in Genesis 1 of God's creation being entirely good. And did you notice that God's first command to creation was to be fruitful (Genesis 1:22)?

 

Since each of us already includes all that is worthy and good, what comes into our bank account is just an expression of that truth. As we see that more clearly, concerns over finances become less pressing. When Jesus looked at the few loaves and fishes he had (Matthew 15), it would have seemed absurd that he could think they would feed five thousand people. But in Science and Health Mrs. Eddy explains that he was able see Spirit, not matter, as the source of supply (p. 206). So he simply gave thanks and distributed the food, without skipping a beat.

 

If Christians are supposed to follow Jesus as our model, we probably can’t do that very well while thinking of ourselves as limited and lacking. It doesn't appear that Jesus thought that way. It is the Christ, the power that enabled Jesus to do his great works and is still active in our lives today, that reveals our true wealth and worthiness. A favorite hymn in the Christian Science Hymnal says “While Christ is rich, can I be poor?” (224). I have found it so helpful to turn back to that line in the midst of challenging financial situations. Another line in the hymn says “I must have all things and abound, while God is God to me.” I see that line as a message that as long as we are recognizing God as most important and powerful and not putting anything in God’s place (a constant discipline, yes, I know- I mess up on that one a lot throughout the day), we will see abundance in our lives.

 

When we see Spirit as the source of our needs being met, it frees us to see those needs met in unexpected ways that sometimes do not end up involving exchange of dollars. A couple things like that happened this week. I’ve been endeavoring to be extra frugal lately, but I admit that I am not a committed coupon clipper and grocery ad studier as my dad is. His skills and devotion in this area are matched by few. He has been known to enter a checkout line with a large quantity of items and, after presenting all of his coupons for the items he is purchasing, all chosen with copious attention to their sale prices, dumbfound the cashier with the miniscule total on the register. It’s a wonder to behold, but I confess I have not taken on his level of dedication in this area because, as much as I am in awe of his grocery shopping and saving skills, I have other ways in which I prefer to spend my time (like writing this blog).

 

Anyway, I went into Sprouts last week to buy about six items. I had not looked at their weekly ad, but I found that four or five of the items I was buying were on sale. And I mean really on sale. Like cashews, which are normally $8.99 a pound, were $4.99. Cashews are generally a bit of a splurge, but that was a deal! I made it out of the store for about $10 if I remember correctly. This same thing just happened today at Von’s, where extra virgin olive oil, which I only buy every few months, was almost half the usual price. 

 

I could go on and share many examples of these unexpected ways that provisions come, which to me are evidence of a higher source of supply, higher even than the skill of advanced grocery ad perusal and calculation. But I now must go and have dinner with the coupon that came in the mail for a free burrito. On the front the coupon says “’free’ as in free”. Pretty simple. How about that approach to finances? The truth of our spiritual identity and completeness makes us free. Free from worry. Free from crippling indebtedness and expectation of perpetual poverty. “Free” as in free. Free to enjoy all the good that God gives us in ways beyond what the best financial planners could come up with. 

 

Note: If you would like to encourage some community sharing, feel free to post a comment below about how you have found spirituality and prayer helpful with financial issues. Or ask a question. If the readers of this blog would find it helpful to have some conversation on these topics, this can be a place for that to happen. If you prefer to just read and quietly ponder on your own, that’s very welcome as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Motherly care in family court and everywhere

On Friday I went with a friend to court. She was nervous about having to be in the same room with her ex-husband, who had been abusive during the marriage. The whole reason for her needing to go to court seemed absurd and unjust to me, and I was praying that Truth, God, would reveal what the judge needed to see so that my friend could move forward with her life without the apparent attempts of her ex-husband to hold her back.

 

Thank goodness this judge was wise, fair, and compassionate. She dismissed the case, which is exactly what seemed most appropriate to me given the circumstances. I was grateful to see another example of divine justice prevailing, another proof of God’s sovereign power and tender care. I was also inspired by my friend’s courage and strength as she stood in the courtroom and faced the judge with grace and confidence despite the discomfort of the situation.

 

But going to family court is never fun. Having been there a few times before, I’ve realized how challenging it can be to hear what others are facing in the cases that come before the judge in that setting. Prior to my friend’s hearing, there were a couple other cases that made us both concerned for those involved. One woman was asking to remove a restraining order against the father of her children. At first I thought that sounded positive. But when the judge asked the woman whether this was a wise choice, given the father’s history of angry outbursts as recorded on court records, my friend looked over at me and winced at the thought of this woman potentially compromising her and her children’s safety. The next case was a woman who was asking to renew a restraining order against the father of her daughter for as long as possible because she feared being in his presence. Not easy to hear.

 

Another case was a couple seeking to finalize their divorce, having written up an agreement they both had signed. Again, on the surface that seemed promising compared to other divorce cases where proceedings can be so complex and inharmonious. But the soon to be ex-wife was visibly upset, wiping tears from her face. I was so grateful when the judge, after asking some legally required questions, acknowledged the woman’s feelings. “This is difficult, isn’t it?” she noted, and the woman nodded her head.

 

The judge was expressing motherly caring in her demeanor. Not something we might often expect to see in a courtroom, but here it was so needed, and it was poignant to witness. On this day when we celebrate mothers, I found my thoughts turning to those women in the courtroom and many others, including my friend, who have experienced or are experiencing extreme challenges stemming from abuse, poverty, and pain. I also thought of the fathers in these situations, many of whom have perpetrated violence as a result of the things they themselves witnessed as children. What do they most need? Mothering love. And sometimes that can only come from God.

 

As with so many of the ills that appear prevalent in society, there aren’t easy answers for these issues. But as I consider the hymns we sang in church this morning that refer to motherhood, I find myself trusting and holding to the promise that there are simple answers. Not easy, but simple. Sometimes the most complex seeming problems require the simplest answers. One hymn, number 232 in the Christian Science Hymnal, starts with this verse:

 

O Love, our Mother, ever near,

To Thee we turn from doubt and fear!

In perfect peace our thoughts abide;

Our hearts now in this truth confide:

Man is the child of God.

 

For those who appear to have been victimized, it is comforting to know that there is a Mother who brings perfect peace to any situation. For those who have engaged in abusive behavior, there is a Mother who still claims them as Her own and can redeem them through Her unfailing love.

 

We also sang the beautiful poem by Mary Baker Eddy entitled Mother’s Evening Prayer (hymn 207). The whole thing is so stirring, such a powerful message of God’s ever-present care and protection, beginning with these words:

 

O gentle presence, peace and joy and power;

O Life divine, that owns each waiting hour,

Thou Love that guards the nestling’s faltering flight!

Keep Thou my child on upward wing tonight.

 

As we go to bed on this Mothers Day, and perhaps every night, if we think of it, we might pray this prayer for parents and children everywhere, affirming that nothing can resist or disturb that gentle presence or rob anyone of that peace and power that is their divine right as a child of God. That gentle presence can be manifested tangibly even in the most unexpected places, as it was in that courtroom on Friday. Thank God for the courageous mothers everywhere who reflect God’s love as they care for their children, even in the most harrowing circumstances. God will never leave them comfortless, as promised in John 14:18. May we find opportunities to embody that motherly comfort ourselves, regardless of whether we have our own children or even whether we are female. And in our difficult moments, may we not forget "Love, our Mother, ever near". 

 

 

 

Embracing curiosity...ecumenically (and beyond!)

Recently I had the opportunity to attend the National Workshop on Christian Unity, an annual ecumenical conference. I had first heard about the conference from a retired Lutheran pastor who has become a dear friend and heads a local ecumenical group in which I participate. The monthly meetings of this group have been deeply enriching for me and have led to meaningful connections for which I am so grateful.

 

When I contacted a fellow Christian Scientist who is very knowledgeable about and involved in ecumenical work, I learned that a group of Christian Scientists planned to attend the conference. There were nine of us there, certainly the highest number yet in the several years since she was the first Christian Scientist known to attend the conference.

 

There were of course many highlights to this experience, and I could discuss them in detail, but I wanted to share one thing that particularly stood out to me and shifted my thought in an important way.

 

I’ve found myself in many contexts with Christians of other denominations over the years, from the various gospel choirs I’ve sung with to my seminary experience to participating as a representative of my church in a local interfaith group when I was First Reader. In these situations I often downplayed the fact that I was a Christian Scientist, though I knew people were generally aware of it. Since I didn’t express a great desire or perhaps even openness to talk about my Christian Science background, there weren’t a lot of questions directed at me. My desire was often to be “undercover”, learning as much as I could about my fellow Christians and their denominations but not having to answer tough questions about Christian Science.

 

As one whose work is now entirely focused on Christian Science healing, these discussions have become unavoidable for me. I admit that sometimes there have been awkward exchanges, but more often they have been inspiring, as was the case with many conversations at the recent ecumenical conference.

 

One particular conversation felt especially exhilarating. I was seated at lunch next to a friendly, articulate Bishop of the United Methodist Church. While I have many friends and associates who are pastors of churches, I am not close to anyone who has attained the title of Bishop. So, I was genuinely eager to learn what his work entailed. It wasn’t that I thought learning about a Bishop’s duties would bring me some great insight that could change my life. But I really was curious to know about various aspects of his work. How many local pastors was he in charge of? How did they get assigned to various churches? How did he make sure they were all supported vocationally? What was the average stay at a church for pastors in his area? These were things I wanted to know.

 

After I peppered him with questions he seemed to enjoy answering, he began to sprinkle me with his curiosities about the work and life of a Christian Science practitioner. His interest was genuine, and I was happy to share my experience with him. After the meal, a few officials from the national office for his denomination came over to the table, and he introduced me to them, enthusiastically saying, “I have so enjoyed talking with Laura!” The sentiment was mutual.

 

I found myself asking what had made this exchange feel so successful where at times such conversations have felt awkward in the past. And I realized one fact was that we were both simply curious. The Bishop was not trying to find out if Christian Science could heal him, and I wasn’t considering whether I should become a Methodist. I didn’t feel the pressure of trying to convert him, nor did I feel a concern that his response to my experience would be antagonistic. It was a low pressure exchange.

 

I think sometimes we are taught that curiosity is a bad thing. That it isn’t deep enough to warrant a full response and that it could even potentially be dangerous. I realized I may have at times been hesitant to enter into a dialogue with someone unless I perceive that the individual is earnestly seeking a deeper understanding of the teachings of Christian Science. Perhaps a simple desire to know what we are about doesn't seem reverent enough in the face of the misunderstanding that has often been unpleasantly perpetuated about our denomination. But curiosity is honest. And, it can lead to a deeper sense of seeking.

 

In the context of Mary Baker Eddy’s writings, the word “curiosity” is used almost exclusively in letters and quotes from people who had been healed by Christian Science and later joined the church (such as in the chapter Fruitage in Science and Health). In an article from the Boston Herald after the dedication of the Extension of The Mother Church in 1906, published in The First Church of Christ, Scientist and Miscellany, the reporter writes: “As all the services were precisely the same in every respect, nobody attended more than one, so that there were well over thirty thousand people who witnessed the opening. Not only did these include Scientists from all over the world, and nearly all the local Scientists, but many hundreds of other faiths, drawn to the church from curiosity, and from sympathy, too” (30:3).

 

In many of these cases, that genuine curiosity, even if accompanied by some skepticism at first, gradually led these future church members to discover that Christian Science is what they had longed for all their lives. Indeed, that may not always be the result of our exchanges with a curious individual who is asking us about Christian Science! Nor should we feel like it needs to be. But there is no reason for us to be scared of or put off by those who are curious about our faith and its practice.

 

While we may feel protective due to some negative experiences we or our fellow Christian Scientists have had (and we should prayerfully protect ourselves when these feelings arise in these contexts), this concern does not need to hinder us from honestly sharing with those who are honestly interested. They may not ever desire to read Science and Health or end up attending a service at one of our churches. But at the very least they will have heard firsthand from a Christian Scientist about the experience of practicing our faith, and that is the best way for them to learn authentically what Christian Science is.

 

One of the lessons I took from this conference was to embrace those who are curious and welcome their questions, even if the questions are startlingly bold or if they don't seem like they are as deeply interested in Christian Science as I might wish. As we freely discuss our church experiences with our curious sisters and brothers, also eager to learn about the practice of their faith, we may find that we are mutually drawn together not only by that curiosity but by a sympathy that grows from a shared respect and admiration. We cannot know where that will lead, but healing in some form (whether of individuals or of all too commonly held public misunderstanding) seems like a very real potential result. So, let’s welcome genuine curiosity. 

The power of standards

I miss Downton Abbey. While I acknowledge that at times during the series there were a bit more soap opera-like elements than I would have preferred, the overall feel of the show was uplifting and ennobling. I came to view the characters as close friends and was eager to learn their fate each week, hoping that good would prevail in the end, which it generally did. What was it that made this show so wildly successful? Mentioning that it had the highest ratings ever of any show on PBS, Mark Sappenfield of The Christian Science Monitor in a Daily Briefing defines the reason behind its appeal as best as I’ve heard it explained yet: “Beneath everything was fellowship, propriety, and the portrait of men and women who- for all their many faults- sought high standards, whether upstairs or downstairs” (see Daily Briefing from March 7, 2016).

 

No wonder so many people tuned in on Sunday nights to watch the Crawleys and their associates find their way out of sticky situations and held hopes for their resilience next week when they fell short. It feels invigorating and encouraging to watch people live with integrity even when it involves a struggle. It empowers us to live better lives ourselves.

 

I’ve been pondering the word “standard” this week because it was prominent in the Christian Science Bible Lesson. The Golden Text, which opens the lesson and is a theme that runs through it, says: “...lift up a standard for the people” (Isaiah 62:10). The word “standard” is sometimes translated in various versions of the Bible as “banner” because it referred to a flag that was literally lifted, often during battle. Our modern word “standard” comes from an old French word meaning “extend”, which may have been associated with the act of lifting up a flag on a pole for people to rally around. We think of a standard as a principle or ideal, something to aspire to. And as we strive to think and live in a way that raises or extends that ideal, it can have a powerful influence on the world.

 

Mary Baker Eddy describes “man’s original standard” as “the spiritual man made in the image and likeness of God” (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 186). That is the ultimate ideal. We aren’t mortals trying to attain that impossibly high standard. The image and likeness of God is who we are, how God created us, according to Genesis 1. The way to “lift up a standard for the people” is to bear witness to this truth by claiming it for ourselves and others.

 

Last week I was eager to watch another PBS offering, one of my favorite things ever on television. A PBS station near my parents’ house had aired Anne of Green Gables, a television version of one of my favorite books since childhood, and my dad had taped it for me to watch during a visit. When I turned the TV on, about to figure out how to access the show on the DVR, I was immediately confronted with the breaking news of the Brussels attacks. Once I heard the basics of what had happened, I was presented with the choice of continuing to watch the news or starting Anne of Green Gables as I had anticipated.

 

To be honest, my initial reaction to hearing about the attacks was a despondent and rather resigned, “Here we go..not this again. I don’t even want to hear about this.” News of terrorist episodes and hate crimes has become more and more common, to the point of viewer fatigue. But somehow it seemed irresponsible for me to watch this relatively lighthearted story of a red-headed heroine unfold rather than pay attention to the details of this disturbing breaking news. I felt I would be an irresponsible citizen to turn away from the news story, which was obviously quite serious. Then I asked myself, “What is it that I love so much about Anne of Green Gables? Why am I so eager to watch it?” I realized that it really was the same thing mentioned in the article about Downton Abbey. I loved to watch Anne live to her high standards of integrity and compassion. It inspired me to do the same. These standards were in direct opposition to the ugly elements of behavior that had appeared to play out in the actions of the attackers in Brussels.

 

I decided to turn away from the news report and seek refuge in watching Anne of Green Gables, but during the show and afterwards I thought and prayed about applying the true standard of “the spiritual man made in the image and likeness of God” to the situation in Brussels. I thought about how those who had perpetrated these horrific acts appeared to be deprived of an opportunity to live to that standard, but truly no one can be left out of God’s presence; truly even they were part of God’s creation. And those who appeared to be victimized could never have actually been separated from the God that created and maintained them as reflections of Divine Life. I knew that those who were on the ground in Brussels would be living to that high standard that was their divine birthright by reflecting Divine Love to one another in the form of tangible support and care.

 

People who end up committing terrorist acts do so because they have not found a satisfying and fulfilling way to live to a higher standard. Many formerly radicalized individuals are working to support young people in aspiring to that standard rather than yielding to the false appeal of joining terrorist groups (see this article in The Christian Science Monitor). I believe that by making our best effort to live to the standard we were created to lift up, embracing our identity as the image and likeness of God and looking at others in the same way, we can join the characters of our favorite PBS shows in stirring the world to emulate these high ideals more fully.

 

 

A definition of hope

One thing I appreciate deeply about Christian Science is that it gives us a very tangible sense of things that can sometimes seem vague and abstract. Recently I heard a speaker make a statement that that I felt gave voice to how Christian Science enlightens us in our understanding of these seemingly elusive things. The speaker, however, was not a Christian Scientist.

 

It was Jim Wallis, an evangelical leader and widely acclaimed author and speaker, who spoke at an event I attended. He said that hope means “believing in spite of the evidence and watching the evidence change”.  This statement resonated deeply with me as I considered the many references to the word “evidence” in Mary Baker Eddy’s writings.

 

In Christian Science healing, we don’t ignore the evidence of a problem that may seem present physically, but we do look away from it and expect it to yield to God’s omnipotent goodness and divine control, which includes no disease. As Eddy puts it, “Only by the illumination of the spiritual sense, can the light of understanding be thrown upon this Science, because Science reverses the evidence before the material senses and furnishes the eternal interpretation of God and man” (Science and Health, 461).

 

Reversing the evidence in our thought leads to healing that is manifested in our bodies and in our experience, and that gives us the best hope we could have because we can expect to see outward results despite the appearance otherwise. Wallis was speaking not in the context of healing for physical problems but rather on the topic of societal ills, particularly racism. The principle applies for both needs. Hearing Mr. Wallis make that statement has encouraged me in my prayers both for challenges that seem insurmountable in our world and situations in my own experience that may appear to need some major adjusting.

 

To me, what brings real hope is “the illumination of the spiritual sense” mentioned above in Eddy’s quote. And because Spirit is omnipresent, that illumination is available to all of us everywhere at every moment.