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NOW & THEN

AN INTERVIEW WITH ARCHAEOLOGIST SIMON WARD

From the March 2008 issue of The Christian Science Journal

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tells me he doesn't remember the precise moment he decided to become an archaeologist. Childhood found him drawn to historical sites during summer holidays, and growing up in London in a family of artists, he explored every corner of the great museums. While enrolled at Exeter University in Devon, he studied geography and archaeology, but the classes in archaeology—and digging in the earth—soon left geography in the dust.

Ward's family practiced Christian Science, and after a "rebellious teen period," he says he rediscovered the spiritual laws that have become the foundation of his career and life. Currently a senior archaeologist for the Chester City Council, as well as the archaeological consultant for Chester Cathedral, he is serving a term as First Reader at his Christian Science branch church. Ward and his wife, Margaret, who is also an archaeologist, have two children, now attending university.

Over a period of several weeks, while completing a book on the history of Chester, Ward graciously found time to engage in an e-mail dialogue with me. The conversation focused on the cornerstone of his work—the changing face of time—and how he holds this concept up to the light of divine Truth, which has "... remained unchanged in its eternal history" (Science and Health, p. 471).

Well, Simon, Mary Baker Eddy certainly had a few things to say about our human history. For example, she made this statement, "The human history needs to be revised, and the material record expunged" (Retrospection and Introspection, p. 22). Let's begin right there, because as an archaeologist and a Christian Scientist, human history must be an area you've contemplated deeply.

On the face of it, archaeology might seem a strange occupation for a Christian Scientist. One definition of archaeology says that it is the study of the past through its material remains. But this is a simplistic view. Archaeology is really about discovering the stories and lives and experiences of people in the past. What we discover is that they were not so different from ourselves.

The process of archaeology is also parallel to the way one uses Christian Science to approach a difficulty of some kind. On an archaeological site, we use our methodology and techniques systematically to uncover what is already all there. Then from the evidence uncovered, often fragmentary, we put together the story of a site. At the start, it can look like a barren and unpromising piece of land, but we have a systematic approach that shows us the way to proceed.

In Science we are not creating anything—we are uncovering the truth and harmony that are already established. They need only to be brought to light. And sometimes the evidence for that harmony might seem very broken and fragmentary, but through faith and understanding, we discover that it is whole.

Can you expand on what you said about people in the past being "not so different from ourselves"?

Nowadays, especially in the developed world, we have a great abundance of things that have improved and enhanced material life. Here I am, typing on my computer at home and exchanging messages and thoughts with you across the Atlantic on the Internet. What visionary in previous times would have ever thought that likely? However, in spite of all this material progress, it's important to realize that we are not superior to people who lived in the past. All right, they didn't have our wealth of material aids and experiences, but they were no less intelligent, thoughtful, loving, and certainly no less spiritual than we are.

I sometimes see our archaeological projects as similar to Bible parables—that the ordinary, everyday things, the potsherds and finds, point us towards a greater truth.

—SIMON WARD

So as an archaeologist, it sounds like your challenge is to always be moving beyond the idea of "the past" as the main event.

One thing I learn daily in this work is how temporary our ideas about material history are. Our ideas are constantly changing and developing as we find out more. What once seemed certain and clear might now be considered almost ridiculous. At one time, any great ancient stonework was thought to be the work of giants! As material theories are found inadequate to explain our experience, thought will gradually overturn and overturn until it finds the spiritual reality.

So what, then, is your understanding of progress?

I am very intrigued by the idea of progress. Archaeology tracks changes and development. We can distinguish between a Roman pot, a medieval pot, and a modern pot because each one is unique to its time period. It seems that people have always wanted to progress, although often they have looked to it in material terms. But in Science and Health it says that "progress is the law of God, whose law demands of us only what we can certainly fulfill" (p. 233). So progress is not something we can take or leave, and it's not something that could ever leave us behind, because progress isn't material—it's spiritual.

That seems to explain perfectly Mary Baker Eddy's statement, "Through astronomy, natural history, chemistry, music, mathematics, thought passes naturally from effect back to cause" (Science and Health, p. 195). What I think you're saying is that what we see as good, as advancement—evidenced as human footsteps—is really divine unfoldment.

Absolutely. Our material progress is only a shadow of true spiritual progress. Certainly the discovery and interpretation of archaeological finds leads one to think about cause and effect. What can we say with validity about the evidence we have in front of us? Like so many other areas of our experience, mortal mind often presents us with evidence that we need to dismiss so we don't draw false conclusions.

Simon, can you talk a bit more about the preservation and stewardship that's such a vital component of archaeology today? Like so much else in your work, does this, too, have a spiritual underpinning?

One concept that often surprises people when they learn about archaeology is that the end product of an excavation, in a material sense, is a big hole in the ground. But what we have—or should have if we've done our job properly—is all the information and evidence carefully recorded, planned, and catalogued. It's not just boxes full of bones and broken pottery, but the ideas that they represent, the stories they can tell us about the people who were connected to them so long ago. But as archaeologists, we have a responsibility to not dig sites recklessly. Wherever it is possible, we leave them to be explored in the future. But on the other hand, if everything is left buried and hidden, we will learn nothing.

This leads me to think about the parables in the Bible. I sometimes see our archaeological projects as similar to these stories—that the ordinary, everyday things, the potsherds and finds, point us towards a greater truth. Jesus was, of course, the master of parable telling. He used the everyday images of farming life, of seed planting, and shepherding that would be so familiar to his listeners, to explain God's presence and the effective power of His word. Jesus also spoke about stewardship, commending the good steward who was ready for his lord's coming (see Luke 12:42–48). The parable of the talents (see Matt. 25:14–29) is also a bit like archaeology. The servants who used their lord's money to make more money were rewarded, but the one who buried his money in the ground and hoarded it until his lord's return was punished. This might seem a bit harsh, but it shows we cannot hide our Lord's talents. We have to make those talents—our God-given qualities of love, truthfulness, wisdom, spiritual understanding, and so on—grow and flourish.

As an archaeologist, you must work in teams frequently. Can you talk about the challenges that come up in this setting?

Working in teams can be challenging, especially when the weather is bad and time is short. The teamwork doesn't stop when the dig is finished. There is still a great deal of work to do too, to catalogue and interpret the findings—and this involves many specialists in different fields of archaeology, all with their own ideas and interpretations. But one thing I always try to hold onto is that we work with Principle, divine law, and in Science and Health we learn that Principle is a synonym for God. In our human experience, just as on an archaeological project, we are moving toward understanding more about this Principle and demonstrating it in our lives. It's a duty and a joy to express our Christly qualities and to learn to recognize them in others.

There must be many instances in archaeology when you search methodically and over a long period of time for something—and still come up empty. How do you face down feelings of fatigue or monotony or disappointment that might try to get your attention?

This is where a statement from the Bible has great application—"Let patience have her perfect work" (James 1:4). I have many times had to question whether the area we were working on was the best deployment of our time and resources. When the diggers are looking tired and frustrated, that's an excellent time for me to turn to God, divine Mind, for inspiration. I have frequently prayed to God to show me the way to go, or the action to take, or what to say to lift the situation. So often, the answer comes with just asking God to show the way.

One thing I learn daily in this work is how temporary our ideas about material history are.

—SIMON WARD

Going back to the idea of a "human history," what do you think about this desire so many people have to gather the facts about their heritage? Genealogy and everything that has to do with tracing one's ancestors is a favorite pastime–and for some, even an obsession.

Yes, it does seem a very potent thing, to want to learn about our ancestors—at the same time we are endeavoring to demonstrate that God is our Mother-Father-Parent. Perhaps it relates to our motives. St. Paul admonishes us to be temperate in all things. It is interesting to think that what separates us from the past is time, and time can be a very strong force in human life. Science and Health states that "... time is no part of eternity" (p. 468) and that "mortal measurements" must disappear before "spiritual perfection appears" (p. 595). So it looks like we have some work to do! Simply seeking more material knowledge does not advance us.

Both Christ Jesus and Mary Baker Eddy explained and demonstrated exactly who we are—God's spiritual offspring. What could be a greater and more natural desire than to find that out? Maybe the evidence for it in our human experience is broken or even hidden. We need to put the pieces back together and dig away the dirt to reveal our true spiritual selfhood—which was always there.

Simon, I think I understand the message you're sending to all of us. We are all spiritual "diggers," aren't we?

Yes—and there is so much joy in finding our buried treasure. As the Bible says, "Yea, I have a goodly heritage" (Ps. 16:6). We have been given a wonderful promise.

♦

Joan Taylor is a Journal staff editor.

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