Christian Science Services
May 31, 2001
Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.
Was it audacious of us to comment on the purpose and structure of Christian Science Services, after making a hash of our meeting last week (see notes on Loneliness)? Our chairperson had left abruptly after being attacked personally (and has not yet returned calls offering apologies and comfort). Others felt unsafe and were ready to pull out, receiving help from members who themselves were dealing with the trauma.
Some healing did occur. The member who launched the attack rapidly became remorseful, is now drafting a letter of apology and has resolved to study Christian Science in greater depth than previously. A member who was ready to leave has actually found compassion for the one who attacked and has purchased copies of the Textbooks and Christian Science Quarterly for him. Others have tried to stay as close as possible to the major sufferers, while confronting their own demons, including "it's their problem" attitudes and abandonment fears.
By midweek there was even talk of how much growth this situation was forcing upon us ("Trials are proofs of God's care" Science and Health, p. 66:10-11) and how it's just the way Church is appearing as it refines the belief of church ("The muddy river bed must be stirred in order to purify the stream" Ibid, p. 540: 9-11).
Those who made it to this week's meeting talked first of their own growth during the week and then addressed what reforms we could undertake to make our meeting safer for those attending. We'll need to revise our preamble, for one thing, making it clear that while we value contention on issues — hoping to find new views in the process — we deeply abhor personal attacks. As a friend of the group advised, "Be hard on issues, soft on people." Other recommendation were:
1) Be sure we under-gird the meeting with solid Christian Science work, particularly when we take on a very dualistic topic.
2) Make Christian Science literature — particularly the Textbooks — available to newcomers after they've attended a couple of times.
We then turned our attention to branch church services and meetings. A member read us Mrs. Eddy's description of her own instantaneous healing of injuries incurred when she fell on the ice (see Retrospection and Introspection, page 23). He felt that this passionate spiritual infusion was the first Christian Science service. Are the services today — including our meeting — as alive with healing and joy as this, or no more than dead rites commemorating that event? Others pointed out that it's up to those attending to bring the fire of Spirit into a Christian Science meeting; bearing that in mind we had four distinct recommendations on how to buck up Christian Science services.
1) Leave the branch church services more or less the way they are. They offer a quiet atmosphere and structure for meditation on Deity. For those who want more pizzazz, a meeting like ours could supplement their study and practice.
2) Concentrate on healing. Make sure that is the focus of all activities. People will flood in once healing is identified with the local branch. Some small changes could be made — like revision of the Christian Science Hymnal, bringing it up to date; a beginner's kit for newcomers; something like a coffee (Postum?) hour after the service.
3) Since the Manual of The Mother Church (by Mary Baker Eddy), page 120, says, "Present Order Of Services," we really have a free hand in revising services fully. For instance, two sections of the Lesson Sermon could be read from the podium, after which congregants could split up into smaller groups around tables to study and discuss in detail the remainder of the Lesson.
4) Leave the structure and even the content of the services entirely up to the local branch. Brief descriptions of what to expect at a service could be placed in the Christian Science Journal next to other information about that branch.
We then went on to more general comments.
1) Church, in its usual definition of a body of worshippers, does not traditionally have the place in Christian Science that it does in other religions. A member quoted this from Science and Health: "It is sad that the phrase divine service has come so generally to mean public worship instead of daily deeds." (p. 40:28) He greatly expanded on this idea to recommend living one's church as body, home, community, universe. Furthermore, let it all be God's church, God's infinite body.
2) Another added, "I'm an ongoing Christian Science service. How am I doing?" He wondered how much healing, comfort, uplift he was providing within the range of his thought. Apparently he does not see this practice as a matter of personally welcoming people into his life — sure there'll be some — but as a matter of impersonally seeing/experiencing the divinity of everyone in his — indeed, the whole — universe.
3) Real Christian Science service is practice and this may involve suffering. When a problem hits us or our church do we hunker down into victim mode — where healing cannot occur — or do we welcome the opportunity for growth contained therein? A member quoted Margaret Laird: "A fault finder can't be a fact finder." The fact is always some aspect of the presence and power of God. Thus our church is our every moment practice of converting matter-based problems into spiritually infused realities.
Two members gave us testimonies illustrating this process.
1) One availed herself of psychoanalysis to help locate and separate out parental images that were infecting her relationship with God. She was relating to Him as a big dysfunctional parent, but now through Christian Science realizes her at-one-ment with God and eschews any blame games vis-à-vis the parents.
2) Another, having reached a terrible state with a fast crowd, started attending church with his sister and grandmother. An empty, derelict life was turned around, he graduated from college and migrated to the US. He has continued his church attendance here but also comes to our group for a deeper exploration of issues in the company largely of Gay people.
For next week we figured a gentle, non-controversial topic would be in order. "Heaven" fit the bill.
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
To be "present with the Lord" is to have, not mere emotional ecstasy or faith, but the actual demonstration and understanding of Life as revealed in Christian Science. To be "with the Lord" is to be in obedience to the law of God, to be absolutely governed by divine Love,—by Spirit, not by matter.
Material beliefs must be expelled to make room for spiritual understanding. We cannot serve both God and mammon at the same time; but is not this what frail mortals are trying to do?
Man's privilege at this supreme moment is to prove the words of our Master: "If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death." To divest thought of false trusts and material evidences in order that the spiritual facts of being may appear, — this is the great attainment by means of which we shall sweep away the false and give place to the true. Thus we may establish in truth the temple, or body, "whose builder and maker is God."
Are we duly aware of our own great opportunities and responsibilities? Are we prepared to meet and improve them, to act up to the acme of divine energy wherewith we are armored?
Never was there a more solemn and imperious call than God makes to us all, right here, for fervent devotion and an absolute consecration to the greatest and holiest of all causes.
It is not indispensable to organize materially Christ's church. It is not absolutely necessary to ordain pastors and to dedicate churches; but if this be done, let it be in concession to the period, and not as a perpetual or indispensable ceremonial of the church. If our church is organized, it is to meet the demand, "Suffer it to be so now." The real Christian compact is love for one another. This bond is wholly spiritual and inviolate.
It is imperative, at all times and under every circumstance, to perpetuate no ceremonials except as types of these mental conditions,—remembrance and love; a real affection for Jesus' character and example. Be it remembered, that all types employed in the service of Christian Science should represent the most spiritual forms of thought and worship that can be made visible.
The question is often asked, Why is there so much dissension among mental practitioners? We answer, Because they do not practise in strict accordance with the teaching of Christian Science Mind-healing. If they did, there would be unity of action. Being like the disciples of old, "with one accord in one place," they would receive a spiritual influx impossible under other conditions, and so would recognize and resist the animal magnetism by which they are being deceived and misled.