Alertness to Duty. It shall be the duty of every member of this Church to defend himself daily against aggressive mental suggestion, and not be made to forget nor to neglect his duty to God, to his Leader, and to mankind. By his works he shall be judged,—and justified or condemned.
— Mary Baker Eddy, Manual of The Mother Church, Article VIII, Section 6
There is simply nothing like the feeling of actually experiencing the presence of God. It moves you from the numbing dullness of mortal existence to such an overwhelming sense of the actuality and aliveness of good that nothing seems capable of containing it. And the more you have that experience, the more you recognize it in others who have truly felt it, too. You can certainly feel it in many of the Bible’s accounts of healing. I’ve often felt it when listening to accounts of healing at Wednesday Christian Science testimony meetings.
The only thing that is almost as amazing as the depth of joy that comes from realizing the actuality of God as unbounded Love, is the point that we can lose this feeling unless we are vigilant about defending it. Given how wholly “other” this spiritual sense of things is from the flatness and colorlessness of the mortal sense of things, it is hard to believe that something so tangibly, spiritually real could ever be lost sight of.
Yet very shortly after Elijah stood triumphant over the 450 prophets of Baal, after seeing God consume the water-soaked sacrifice with fire, we find him under a juniper tree asking to die because he was convinced he just wasn’t as good as his fathers (see I Kings 19:4). It can be hard to believe that the disciples, who had been daily with Jesus, who had seen firsthand how real the healing power of God is, could go back to fishing immediately after Jesus’ crucifixion (see John 21:1–6). Yet many of us who have had such powerful healings that we’ve gone for days feeling bathed in a sense of holiness, have also had the experience of sitting in a Christian Science testimony meeting feeling that for some reason we just couldn’t recall any healings worth sharing.
Christian Scientists simply cannot afford to lose sight of the proof of God’s presence in their lives, especially since they have been given the means to prevent it. An admonition in the form of a Church By-Law, “Alertness to Duty,” spells out what is involved: “It shall be the duty of every member of this Church to defend himself daily against aggressive mental suggestion, and not be made to forget nor to neglect his duty to God, to his Leader, and to mankind. By his works he shall be judged,—and justified or condemned” (Church Manual, p. 42).
For most people, phrases such as “aggressive mental suggestion” tend to conjure up notions of graphic news images we can’t get out of our thought, hypnotist acts, and persuasive advertising campaigns that get us to buy certain products. There’s a certain level of recognition that thought is being steered in a specific direction. But most people also tend to believe that their own human abilities are enough to prevent them from being overly influenced by these suggestions if they just pay close enough attention.
Christian Science helps us see that the suggestions we’re being asked to defend ourselves against are actually far more aggressive and deadening, and demand a far stronger defense than the meager capacities of the human mind could hope to provide. Truly aggressive mental suggestion is assertive to the point that the things we find ourselves struggling with don’t feel as though they are either mental or suggestion, but the “fixed facts” of material reality.
For example, we may feel as if we’re dealing with mental suggestion when we hear news reports of a contagious virus being spread. But when the symptoms of that virus start showing up on the body, it can be very tempting to feel that we’re now dealing with a real “thing” rather than a suggestion. That’s aggressive! But as Christian Science shows, that’s also still suggestion, not fact. It’s a suggestion of life in matter that is presented to us in the form of a done deal. But it is false, and can be defended against, not through the efforts of the human mind, but through Christ, the true idea of being, of life in and of Spirit.
We can get a glimpse of how this aggressive mental suggestion appears to operate, as well as how we defend against it, from the beloved children’s classic, Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh, by A. A. Milne. In the story, “Pooh and Piglet Go Hunting and Nearly Catch a Woozle,” Piglet joins his friend Pooh, who is unwittingly walking in a giant circle. Pooh explains to Piglet that he is “tracking something.” But being unaware that he is walking in a circle, Pooh misunderstands the significance of the tracks he inevitably encounters, and asks Piglet, “What do you see there?”
“ ‘Tracks,’ ” said Piglet. ‘Paw-marks.’ He gave a little squeak of excitement. ‘Oh, Pooh! Do you think it’s a—a—a Woozle?’ ”
The two friends continue their adventure, but with a certain caution and concern, in case the animals they find turn out to be hostile. Of course, the number of tracks, as well as the fears of these two trackers, multiplies each time they complete a circle without realizing it. Things eventually get to the point where Pooh is “feeling more hot and anxious than ever in his life before,” and Piglet suddenly remembers something else he has to do and scurries home “very glad to be Out of All Danger again.”
At this point their friend Christopher Robin, who has been up in a tree watching all of this, climbs down and asks Pooh what he’s been doing. Christopher Robin explains that he’s watched Pooh go around a clump of trees alone twice, and then go around again with Piglet, and that he was starting to go around again until Piglet suddenly left. The truth slowly dawns on Winnie-the-Pooh that he’s been going around in circles, tracking his own paw-marks. “He sat down and thought, in the most thoughtful way he could think. Then he fitted his paw into one of the Tracks . . . and then he scratched his nose twice, and stood up.
“ ‘Yes,’ said Winnie-the-Pooh.
“ ‘I see now,’ said Winnie the Pooh.
“ ‘I have been Foolish and Deluded.’ ”
Now Pooh had been convinced there was a Woozle somewhere ahead of him. He had the undeniable, hard evidence of “paw-marks” to prove it. But when Christopher Robin was able to explain things from the higher perspective of his perch in the tree, Pooh had to eventually accept the truth of what he’d been shown.
None of us likes to face those times when we’ve been “foolish and deluded,” but according to Christian Science, to the degree that we’re going along with the belief that the material world is a legitimate perception of the way things really are, we are in fact in a similar position to that of Pooh and Piglet—chasing ignorance and being chased by fear. We need the higher perspective of the Christ, which can never be influenced by even the most aggressive of suggestions, to help us take that next needed step of coming to terms with the fact that matter has no real substance.
Christian Science helps us see that the suggestions we’re being asked to defend ourselves against are actually far more aggressive and deadening, and demand a far stronger defense than the meager capacities of the human mind could hope to provide.
Mortal mind has its particular version of each one of us. Whether we find ourselves suffering from “Woozles” or chronic claims of sickness or sinful character traits or a host of other difficulties, in every case the mortal sense of individual experience is based on a belief that life and intelligence are in matter. To think from the basis of a material view of ourselves, even if we intend to improve that view through Christian Science, is to leave thought undefended and vulnerable. When we glimpse a measure of the great reality that Christ Jesus opened up for us, namely, a realization that man’s true being is the forever expression of Spirit, of Life, Truth, and Love, we have a consciousness imbued with the power and understanding of Christ, the true idea of God.
As Christian Scientists, we are not allowed to go along with a tendency to believe either that we’re not susceptible to aggressive mental suggestion simply because we call ourselves Christian Scientists, or that we are unable to defend ourselves from such suggestion because we’re not “good enough” at living this Science. Such mental inclinations are themselves aggressive suggestions.
I remember when I was in training in the military, one of the ways our instructors liked to test us was to place us on guard duty and then send along a high-ranking officer to try to get past us by ignoring our authority. When you’re a lowly trainee and a colonel comes up to you and barks, “I forgot the password but I need to see someone in there. Get out of my way!” it can be a real gut-check moment, where you have to consciously remember the authority you have because of the office you are performing, and be able to say confidently, “No, sir, you may not enter without the password.”
In the same way, we have Christly authority to deny the suggestions of finite mortal sense, no matter how loudly they claim authority in our lives. Christian Science shows us our God-given authority to forbid entrance to whatever opposes our right to express unbounded Life, Truth, and Love, because it shows us that both physical symptoms and impositions such as dishonesty or hate or stress are at their core mental, which means they can be detected, eliminated, and destroyed through prayer.
It is important to keep in mind that this duty to defend ourselves is not given to us in the form of some sort of axiom for personal spiritual development. It is a By-Law that is presented to us as a crucial demand of Church membership. Although this duty applies to us individually, the fact that it is a responsibility we all share as members of The Mother Church assures us that we are not doing this alone.
The efforts we make in defending ourselves against aggressive mental suggestion have a larger effect than just making our own personal lives go better. They remind us that we are part of something infinitely large. We are working shoulder to shoulder with other metaphysicians to transform the world, to help shift human consciousness from a material basis of operation to the spiritual reality of being. In other words, our daily defense is about giving proof of the verity of the great discovery that “all is infinite Mind and its infinite manifestation” (Science and Health, p. 468).
Members of The Mother Church have committed themselves to demonstrating a sense of the actuality of God, to advancing Christian Science as taught by Mary Baker Eddy, and to loving their fellow men and women with a Christly understanding of their perfect identity as children of God.
If we’re doing the work of daily defending our own consciousness from the evil effects of aggressive suggestion, we’ll have the joy of knowing just what our duty is to God, to our Leader, Mary Baker Eddy, and to mankind on any given day, and we’ll be shown exactly what we need to do to fulfill that duty. And we won’t have any illusions about any of this being merely an intellectual exercise.
Our daily defense of our spiritual identity empowers us to do good, not just ponder it. That’s why the By-Law concludes with the warning: “By his works he shall be judged,—and justified or condemned.” Don’t we all yearn to be able to end the day with a feeling of gratitude for having made the most of opportunities for healing and doing good that came our way? Certainly none of us wants to find ourselves reexamining our mental footsteps and actions on a given day, and having to admit that we’ve been “foolish and deluded.”
It’s helpful to step back from time to time and take an honest look at where our thought is. At any given moment, we can ask ourselves whether we are acting with the understanding that matter is never more than a false suggestion, which we have the authority to overturn, or whether we are currently believing that we are living in matter and trying to use Christian Science to make things go better. Facing up to the need for a better defense is not weakness—it is a step of progress.
When Mary Baker Eddy sent this By-Law to her Church, she also sent with it a letter that shows something of how stern and vital a warning she felt this duty included. She wrote: “At last this enclosed By-law for The Mother Church has become imperative, and instead of vacations and good times pleasure hunting, this church needs most of all things to settle this question in the life of every member—Am I obedient to this By-law?” (L00226, July 12, 1899, The Mary Baker Eddy Collection, The Mary Baker Eddy Library).
The issue isn’t whether we would have felt chastised after receiving such a letter. What’s at stake is a realization that if we fulfill this mental duty, nothing will be able to come between us and the joy of feeling the presence of God.
Scott Preller is a Christian Science practitioner and teacher in Boston, Massachusetts, and is also President of the Christian Science Board of Education.