A Christian Science practitioner once mentioned to me that, when people would call on her for help, they often say something like: “If only it wasn’t this problem. I can handle so many things, but this one problem is difficult for me.”
I thought about those words some weeks ago when a tooth in one corner of my mouth was abscessing. I had thought, or hoped, the problem had been solved when the pressure in my mouth had come and gone a day before. I had also thought the problem might have been solved when, during the last two annual visits to a dentist, there seemed to be no further evidence of recurrent problems with my teeth and gums. The dentist had stopped pestering me about the need for dental surgery, and I could finally be free of whatever happened when I was a starving theatre artist and never went to the dentist.
But then it came again, this problem, in the afternoon. It came some more in the evening. And then I was up a good deal of the night. Thinking about this one problem that is so difficult for me.
I remember sitting, or pacing, in the dark and the first thing I decided, my first insistence, was that this is where I want to be. There was no place else I wanted to be than right here, in the middle of the night, facing this problem. I wanted to see this problem for what it is. To know that it could not come and go as it pleased. It had no coming and going. It could not sit down or get up with me. It did not compass “my path and my lying down”
(Ps 139:3) There is nothing in me, or my life, or any activity that can be hidden from God. There is no abscess, no dark cave beyond the intelligence and presence of the one infinite and supreme Mind, of which we are each the complete, utterly specific expression.
Nor did I want to seek some dental or medical solution the next day, because, frankly, I felt this problem would only return again sometime later in some form or other. If I had to cross this bridge, if I had to let go of some false notion or perspective, some ignorance or fear, I wanted to do it now.
Most of all I wanted to know that the joy of insight I find in this life—the sense of purpose, growth, and discovery, the growing awareness of what real companionship might be, what real activity might be, and the sense of ever expanding horizons—cannot ever be dashed by a problem somewhere in my body that dominates my thoughts, making the rest of my hopes and aspirations merely peripheral or distant. There is nothing that can pull the ontological rug out from under my feet.
Perhaps what is most important to me, as a writer, is the notion of song. I don’t mean to say that I like particularly to hear myself sing. But just song. What is it in our lives, or thoughts and yearnings, that sings? “For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” (Isa 55:12)
That phrase “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” means a lot to me. (Mk 1:3; Mt 3:3; Lk 3:4; John 1:23; cf. Isa 40:3) I want to hear that voice, to speak that voice. Those words, or thoughts, or activity, announce the first light. I think sometimes of those shepherds in Luke “keeping watch over their flock by night” when an angel comes upon them and says: “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” (Luke 2:10 I find a deep comfort in that story of shepherds at night. It feels as if all mortal sense of time and space disappeared from this earth in a moment of ever-recurring, or ever-present, prophecy or spiritual insight. Because when I hear those words “good tidings,” I hear those same words being spoken by Isaiah five or six centuries before: “O, Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O, Jerusalem, that bringeth good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!” (Isa 40:9). This is the same prophet whose “voice of one crying in the wilderness” is quoted by John the Baptist in the opening chapters of all four gospels. This is the same prophet who writes: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that published peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that published salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!” (Isa 52:7)
The comfort I feel is because these good tidings speak clearly across the centuries. They are fundamentally what the passing of centuries cannot take away. The words and vision of Isaiah were present centuries later when Christ Jesus was born. They were present also when Mary Baker Eddy discovered Christian Science over a century ago and established a church “which should reinstate primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing.” (Church Manual, p. 17) And they are present now. Each one of us is part of an ever-present community that is awake and hearing the voice of these good tidings. No matter what the problem, or distraction, that might be keeping us up in the night.
The next day, I called a practitioner who had helped me with this problem several years before. I told her I’d been shoved around for most of the night. I said how much I wanted to know that this was absurd. And that the notion of voice, or song, is important to me. It’s what I write and how I write and Christian Science is what has been instructing me in this. There are increasing signs of this instruction. As Mary Baker Eddy writes, “An improved belief is one step out of error, and aids in taking the next step and in understanding the situation in Christian Science.” (S&H 296:28) And therefore how can some physical problem in my mouth seem to mock all this? How can a part of our lives, or some specific problem, claim to be exempt from all signs of progress?
She answered that it was important for us “to know” that there is no problem. It is essential for us to recognize that we already know this. And when she said this, I began to realize how many verses I’m familiar with from Psalms, for example, or from Deuteronomy, or Isaiah, that contain the word know, or knowest, or known. “Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart, that the Lord he is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else.” (Deut 4:39) And the First Epistle of John seems to overflow with a sense of knowing. Its opening verse reads: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life.” The word know and its derivatives are present throughout this epistle.
Immediately the pressure in my mouth began to ease. Later that day I felt something in my mouth drain and go away.
When I was a young boy I used to play rugby in school in England. But as much as I liked playing the game, running with the ball, dodging people, trying to score goals, I began to have a problem with tackling. At first I didn’t like to tackle when it was cold. Then I didn’t like to tackle at all; I simply avoided it. And then one day I taught two younger boys how to tackle. Evidently I taught them well, because I remember one of them subsequently tackling me. And the implications of that have haunted me: That I could teach something that I wasn’t myself comfortable doing. And though I do many things now that are probably far more daring than tackling someone, that notion of a young boy becoming afraid of tackling and yet being good at teaching it, is something I found myself thinking about when I struggled recently.
I found myself confronting the notion that I could be a good Christian Scientist as a writer, or a good Christian Scientist as someone with other skills, but that I was not that good at knowing what simple, straightforward healing might be. And this despite all the evidence of previous healings.
And I realized I am coming to know now that there is no such discrepancy, no such tension, no hidden dishonesty, no inauthenticity. There is no corner, or notion, or moment in our lives that could be separate, or hidden in any way, from the presence and intelligence of our God. Our garment is whole and complete. It is who we are. It is what we know. It is right here being shown to us, step by step, each moment along the way. “Unto thee it was shewed, that thou mightest know that the Lord he is God; there is none else beside him. Out of heaven he made thee to hear his voice, that he might instruct thee.” (Deut 4:35,36)