When I enter the Church of Christian Science, the proceedings have begun and I slip into an empty pew. I’ve seen the rare news story about a sick kid who died because his faithful parents chose not to seek medical attention. While Jehovah’s Witnesses are known to refuse blood transfusions, some devout Christian Scientists decline to see doctors. This is all fine and well for adults; for minors, the state may step in to charge parents with negligence.

The room feels more like a small court than an ordinary chapel. The pews face a raised podium that stretches almost wall to wall. Three women sit behind the podium and I imagine them in ethereal judge’s robes–though, from my perspective, I see them only from the neck up. Aside from two men, the congregants are all women. I feel as if I’ve stepped into a parallel society, some female-centric tribunal in a feminist alternative to The Handmaid’s Tale. That strange dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood I was assigned in high school haunts me still.

The wall behind the podium sports two quotes. On one side is Jesus: “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” The other side is Eddy: “Divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need.” I notice that each has been given exactly 12 words, but somehow I feel Lady Justice’s scales tip ever so slightly toward Eddy.

I try to imagine what it must have been like back in Eddy’s day to be trapped in a prolonged state of suffering. No one but my closest family members willing to come near. Suddenly a stranger who everyone admires and thinks is special, this sort of celebrity, approaches me and puts his hands on my head and looks me in the eyes. Perhaps he says, “God loves you” with such gravitas that I have no choice but to believe it. How much better would I feel from that small act of kindness? I might still have my ailment, but the degree to which I believe this limits or isolates me almost certainly would be diminished.

This makes me wonder if some of Jesus’ miracles weren’t actually rooted in a very human phenomenon, the simple yet powerful gesture of connection; in my mind, this would make them no less extraordinary. Quimby recognized this aspect of Jesus’ talent and he tried to replicate the technique. He employed compassion to break through the alienation that plagues the human condition.

Suffering is the same, but the names for it change. According to Quimby, the standard diagnosis of his day, “neuralgia,” was giving way to a “new invention called spine disease.” Mary Baker Eddy suffered all of the most popular ailments including neuralgia of the stomach, nervous inflammation of the spine, and the mysterious and unpleasant-sounding “renal calculi.” She was nearly an invalid when she sought out Quimby; under his care her health improved, though the year he died, 1866, Eddy relapsed dramatically after a slip on an icy sidewalk. The attending physician predicted she would die; instead, she discovered Christian Science. Quimby taught that physical ailments could be inventions of our alienation and other anxieties. Eddy saw further that disease and death were not real at all, but illusions of our mortal minds.

Calvin, like other Protestants, explained man as a thing apart from God. Eddy understood differently: God is all that exists so man can’t be a thing apart. Calvin saw that to achieve holiness, man must struggle against his creaturely nature. Eddy understood that man, having no identity separate from God, can be nothing but eternal and perfect. The struggle is to overcome all beliefs to the contrary.

I am agape at this other-worldly destination to which this journey has brought me—no need to leave the confines of my own community. I stand with the congregation as we open our Christian Science Hymnals to one penned by Margaret Matters, head of the “Mother Church” in the mid-1900’s. Accompanied by a piano, we sing:

O Science, God sent message!

Today Christ’s precious Science

thy healing power makes plain!

14 thoughts on “Illusions

  1. Corinna,
    I recall that many years ago I taught school with a woman who was a Christian Scientist. We had a few discussions. I asked her why she wore glasses. Her reply: “I tell people I wear my sin on my nose. Where do you wear yours?” I am making no comment positive or negative about her response—just an observation.

  2. Beware any religion that makes your physical ailment the result of your ‘sin.’ Whatever makes the victim guilty of deserving their problem is a non-starter. Jesus didn’t say “your belief has stopped your sinning from harming you.” He said “Your faith has healed you.” HUGE difference.

    There is no doubt whatsoever that Christian Scientists’ were ahead of their time in making the connection between a healthy psyche/heart/mind and a healthy body. But to say that my daughter’s lupus, which is the result of a foul-up on the gene that also produces psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis, is her “sin” evidencing in her is beyond idiocy and falls into the category of sinful itself. As a matter of fact, the entire concept risks continuously falling into the error of judgement of others.

    My last and yes – SNARKY – comment is that perhaps someone ought to turn them on to a good poet.

    Sorry. I realize I am not being kind but the impracticality of this entire branch of “American Protestantism” has always gotten my goat. I will now do penance for my thoughts and go away. 🙂

  3. I am not a Christian Scientist but I admire many of their teachings. Since I’m a Registered Nurse I cannot condone their decisions in behalf of their children not to seek medical help much as the Jehovah’s Witnesses will not allow a blood transfusion for their children. Like other founders of American religions of that time, Mrs. Eddy believed she had found “the Truth” and like others made the decision that her followers should only read her literature and base their beliefs on her book, “Science and Health with Keys to the Scriptures.” Just as in the Kingdom Halls of Jehovah’s Witnesses where the same Watchtower will be studied in every Kingdom Hall around the world, Christian Scientists around the world read exactly the same thoughts distributed by the Boston Mother Church. They have what they call First and Second Readers. One reads the scripture and the other reads Eddy’s interpretive words. Much of the Sunday service is conducted as with the Quakers, sitting in the silence. In another setting I was once asked to role play Quimby’s method of healing. I was handed an original script of his writing. I never did so much talking to dissuade my client from their thoughts and to a more positive awareness of themselves. I laughed when I was finished and said, “I’m not sure if the client was healed by my nonstop talking or if i forgot about my own discomforts in the process.” Mrs. Eddy eventually disowned Quimby as her healer and teacher and introduced the idea of healings taking place in the silence. She befriended a meta-physician named Emma Curtis Hopkins and made her the editor and further developer of the world famous newspaper, The Christian Science Monitor, still in circulation. Mrs. Hopkins was well educated in the Greek Classics and attempted to introduce Greek philosophy and mythology as well as teachings from Hinduism that Mrs. Eddy could not abide. The two women parted company. Emma went on to become a “teacher of teachers”. She taught the Fillmore’s who founded Unity and other metaphysical teachers.

  4. Isaiah 53:5
    But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was on him; and with his stripes we are healed.

  5. Corinna, human caring and encouragement are important factors in healing, but when I got breast cancer I also needed treatment. So the question seems to be two-fold: does the Supernatural intervene in this world, and if so, what is that intervention like? Is it independent of human activity? Or is it carried out through people?

    When a tumor was suspected, I had a computer guided needle biopsy and 16 samples of tissue were extracted. At the end of it the doctor told me they had “missed the spot” and would have to redo the procedure. (Not happy news.) So the biopsy was redone and more samples taken. The cancer was in the first batch of tissue. So I see the hand of God at work, but not operating in a vacuum.

    A little boy of four fell out of a third story window. (The family belongs to our church.) He had a terrible head injury. Doctors at Children’s Medical Center, Dallas, went in, stopped the bleeding (which was massive), took out a piece of his skull, banked it in his abdomen, removed part of Tristan’s brain which they said was so injured it was like scrambled eggs. He was in a coma for days and his head swelled, creating pressure beyond what could be tolerated, everything possible had been tried and nothing was working. At that point what do you do? Pray. Ask for intervention by God. One by one, little things began to happen. The nurses turned him to do something. The pressure went down. They were encouraged. Another medical person said let’s try something else. The pressure went up and down for awhile, and then began over the next two days to drop to normal. Of course, the question then became, how will he be when he wakes up? Will he be able to walk or speak, considering where his injuries were? Will he see and hear?
    It is now two years later and he is six, walking, running, talking, in kindergarten. Doctors and therapists say “This does not happen.

    I don’t want to draw conclusions for you or anyone. We each have to answer the question, does the Supernatural intervene? For myself, watching this child, and my own experience, too, I believe the answer to be a strong yes. We all also have to wrestle with the “hows” and what decisions we are going to make. It depends on your perspective.

    Sometimes people who become centered on faith healing move from the ideology of “God heals” to “God must heal.” Then we get into trouble. Mostly I try to realize that God cares immensely and I want to align myself with that, calling on Jesus to be present and be powerful. I want to live under His care, even though it’s risky because I am not in charge.

  6. :).

    I am really enjoying these posts of yours – your journey through your eyes/words gives it a different perspective, and I like that…

    As far as this healing/religion thing goes – IMO Science is still being developed, the same way religion is – only when a large i.e. majority group of people believe in something, then does change occur; whether it be policy, belief, or just plain decorating the building…

    Case in point – i have a rare disease. Because its so rare I get to choose what to do most of the time as far as treatment goes – because no one knows what the outcome will be – theres no statistics or events – just maybes…

    In that way, religion and science are almost the same entity in my world…

  7. “Joseph Campbell
    “There are something like 18 billion cells in the brain alone. There are no two brains alike; there are no two hands alike; there are no two human beings alike. You can take your instructions and your guidance from others, but you must find your own path.”

    Joseph Campbell, Pathways to Bliss

  8. Corinna:
    This statement from your post is simply profound: “This makes me wonder if some of Jesus’ miracles weren’t actually rooted in a very human phenomenon, the simple yet powerful gesture of connection.” Woof!
    There was more and less to Jesus’ miracles than we imagine… By that, I mean that many attribute his miracles to an almost magic force emanating from him by the Holy Spirit. Others say it was the power of the “healee’s” faith…..Such things are argued interminably. But the power of connection: now that’s worth pondering, especially now in our increasingly ‘connected’ electronic world. Jesus certainly brought the power of simple, genuine human connection from God to man….

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