I was sent away at a young age to a school in another country. A big part of curriculum there seemed to include cross country running which I was never particularly fond of. I would get "stitches" in my sides and struggle to keep going across the fields and up and down the hills. But then often I would get something called a "second wind." My struggles with stitches or getting enough to breathe would vanish and I would sail on with a new set of feet.
I have experienced both "stitches" and "second winds" in my study of Christian Science and in my work.
Recently though I went through an extended period where all my prayers seemed flat. Everything I had ever memorized in the Bible or the works of Mary Baker Eddy seemed now devoid of what had once been sustaining insight. I would also be up in the middle of most nights for several hours, not with a sense of distress, but with an acknowledgment that whatever landmarks I had once had now apparently shifted or vanished. I felt perhaps like Claudius, Hamlet's stepfather, who says: "My words fly up, my thoughts remain below. Words without thoughts never to heaven go."
Perhaps I'm being harsh here because what seemed to be unfolding during this time in my work and life was actually thought provoking and fulfilling.
But it was getting persistently hard to pray. I was going through what appeared to be a huge reassessment of every past assumption or hope or ideal, no matter how large or tiny, I'd ever entertained thus far in my life.
I was startled at some point to read this passage from a letter to Mary Baker Eddy written by William McKenzie in 1896: "I have learned how my whole human mentality with its poetic idealism, aesthetic love, hero worship, pride in seeing hidden things, glory in mental power, has been a subtle spiritualizing of matter – a putting off of divine wisdom into human mind. The uncovering was terrible and for a time I seemed to lose my consciousness of Good. Then the intricacies of personality have been revealed as never before and after a long agony I seem to find myself alone with God. I never had any idea before what was unconsciously in mind." (The Christian Science Monitor: Its History, Mission, & People, Keith S. Collins, p. 35)
I can't begin to articulate succinctly the aspects of my life I found myself now questioning, but question them I did. And question them I should. Mary Baker Eddy writes: "Do human hopes deceive? Is joy a trembler? Then, weary pilgrim, unloose the latchet of thy sandals; for the place whereon thou standest is sacred. By that, you may know you are parting with a material sense of life and happiness to win the spiritual sense of good" (Mis 341:14-18).
Why then this struggle still to pray? There are times obviously when the only thing to do is to go step by step, patiently and persistently, with whatever honest insight or spiritual intuition is granted you.
Several months ago this all reached a critical point when abscesses developed on both sides of my mouth. I was startled also to discover that there was a decidedly loose tooth in my mouth. I called a practitioner. We talked at length on several occasions. I don't remember being fearful. The abscesses abated fairly soon, but I was concerned about the loose tooth and knew I would be visiting a dentist's office soon for a regular visit. I knew they would be swift to detect anything wrong.
This passage from Science & Health has always been important to me: “The effects of Christian Science are not so much seen as felt. It is the 'still, small voice' of Truth uttering itself. We are either turning away from this utterance, or we are listening to it and going up higher...The purification of sense and self is a proof of progress. 'Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.'” (S&H 323:28).
I began then to acknowledge that I am indeed already pure. All this purification is because we are each already pure in heart. This is where we start. With what we are. We have each been created pure in motive and in every aspect of our unfolding sense of commitment, affection and honest endeavor.
Meanwhile, the tooth in my mouth continued to stay loose. Other than that first time to ascertain what was going on I never again checked the tooth. But obviously something wasn't stable when I brushed my teeth. Nor was it stable when I bounced a ball. But I have to say this never seemed to concern me. I remember talking with the practitioner about this, and I don't remember what was actually said, but I made fun of the whole thing.
And at some point this problem receded. I never did inspect the tooth. But I knew the folks at the dentist's office would certainly check every aspect and hidden corner in my mouth when I came in for a regular appointment.
The dentist and dental assistant found nothing. They poked around and did a cleaning and that was it.
I can say now I know something more clearly than was possible before. In the midst of all our questions, in all our looking in every direction, or under any rock, there is always a still, small voice saying, "This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left" (Isa 30:21).
This voice is ever present in the middle of the night. It is with us during the day. It is blessed and pure.
"The Lord will command his lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life" (Ps 42:8).