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Some people who have lost loved ones have been deeply comforted—and even healed of grief—through realizing that every precious quality they cherished in their loved ones, they also, as children of God, fully and beautifully express. After all, each of God's sons and daughters reflects the wholeness of His nature, right here and now.
Yet in the midst of grief, even a recognition of this profound truth sometimes leaves people feeling that something is missing. And most people, if you asked them, would probably tell you that their suffering comes from the absence of their loved one; that the expression of the same spiritual God qualities in themselves and others—tenderness, humor, unselfishness, for example—simply doesn't substitute for that loved one's specific presence. But then, how could it? Identity isn't merely generic; it is marvelously and exquisitely individual. Individuality is the glorious art of our being, the original way in which each one of us expresses the universal spiritual qualities of God. In fact, because God is the incomparable One, all that He creates must reflect that oneness, must be incomparably, irreplaceably individual. In the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy explains, "The one Ego, the one Mind or Spirit called God, is infinite individuality, which supplies all form and comeliness and which reflects reality and divinity in individual spiritual man and things." Science and Health, p. 281.
What we actually love, and what we seem to miss when someone we hold dear passes from our sight, is that loved one's completely individual way of expressing the qualities of God. So what we may need to recognize when we are dealing with grief is the breathtaking truth of the specific presence of individuality.
The fact is that even when we're certain that our loved one is continuing on, we seem to be equally certain that this continuity does not mean distinct individual presence here and now. Yet how could this be so when "here" and "hereafter" there is only one Life. And since the one all-inclusive, omnipresent Life is continuously with us, how could Life's entire manifestation not be continuously with us—all of the individualities that are eternally inseparable from the Life and Mind conceiving them? How could there possibly be absence in omnipresence?
What confuses the issue is the mistaken belief that matter is connected to, and is the medium of, someone's presence; that without matter, nothing would have form or means of expression. This is the fundamental error that causes us to lose sight of our loved ones. Understanding that life isn't defined or determined by matter, Jesus was able to raise people from the dead, and Science and Health says, "When you can waken yourself or others out of the belief that all must die, you can then exercise Jesus' spiritual power to reproduce the presence of those who have thought they died,—but not otherwise." Ibid., p. 75.
The spiritual origin, perpetual presence, and eternal continuity of life was demonstrated in its fullness through the virgin conception, life, works, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ Jesus. His own perfect life, as well as his consistent, extraordinary healing work, brought to light the image of God, proving men and women to be in their true nature, Godlike. In fact, through his many healings, Jesus showed us the present reality of true, spiritual individuality. An individuality that exists before the belief of material conception and birth. An individuality that is visible to spiritual sense.
Through his example, we discover that it is only to darkened, earthbound thought that spiritual individuality is invisible. Jesus saw God's flawless likeness everywhere—the individual whose Father and Mother is the divine Principle, Love. And he saw that flawless individuality in the very place where the material senses saw a material personality. Science and Health explains: "Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals. In this perfect man the Saviour saw God's own likeness, and this correct view of man healed the sick." Ibid., pp. 476-477.
Identity isn't merely generic—it's individual.
A number of years ago, a woman realized that her deepest desire and most earnest prayer to God was to understand what it means to see "in Science the perfect man" right here on earth, as Jesus did. She felt that this was the quintessence of Christian Science practice. Within that following year, her husband passed on. A few days afterward, in the middle of a sleepless night, she sat up and reached out to God with all her heart, asking specifically for a glimpse of what it means to behold "in Science the perfect man." Immediately, it was as though the room was filled with light, and a penetrating, all-embracing love. Enveloped in this love, she felt her husband's presence, and clearly discerned his specific spiritual individuality. She wasn't seeing the spirit of someone who had departed, nor was she communicating with a spirit. Rather, she was seeing his identity from a higher standpoint—"in Science"—which defined and revealed her husband with a crystal clarity unbound by the veil of material sense. It was a knowledge of who he was beyond any she had ever had before.
A few months after this experience, she received a telephone call telling her that a dear friend had been in a serious automobile accident and was in the hospital. Many weeks later, she was told that although her friend's eyes were open, she had not "awakened"—that is, she did not appear to have any awareness of herself, of others, or of her surroundings. It was believed that this "awakening" would have to occur in order for her friend to recover. The woman set out to visit this friend in the hospital, and because of the experience she had had after her husband's passing, she was absolutely certain that she would see through the belief that matter constituted this friend's individual presence and consciousness. In fact, when she entered the hospital room, she felt that same light of divine Love revealing her friend's conscious individuality. She looked at her and addressed her, certain that her friend would know her and respond. She did, and this was the turning point in her friend's complete recovery.
The true nature of individuality is visible to spiritual sense here and now as idea, not as matter or material personality. And if we believe that there is something vague or intangible about spiritual individuality, we need only look again to the experience of our Lord: Jesus talked with Moses and Elias on the mount of transfiguration. See Matt. 17:1-8 . This wasn't spiritualism—belief in communication with departed spirits. It was beholding "in Science the perfect man" that enabled the inspired meeting—beholding the individual whose presence then and now, on earth as in heaven, is not dependent on matter, and can never be made to suffer the confinement of time and space.
In response to the question "What is man?" Science and Health gives this revolutionary definition: "Man is idea, the image, of Love; he is not physique. He is the compound idea of God, including all right ideas . . . ." Science and Health, p. 475. Perhaps we've seen right ideas as those constructive ideas meeting our needs moment by moment; or as faculties and functions like sight, memory, and digestion.
But in Science and Health, ideas most often refer to the individual forms, identities, and entities in creation. The stars and planets, the mountains, rocks, trees, flowers, grains of sand, blades of grass, all creatures, men and women—these are, in their true nature, ideas, and as such are permanent, indestructible. Science and Health says, "The divine Mind maintains all identities, from a blade of grass to a star, as distinct and eternal." Ibid., p. 70. Then each one of us, reflecting infinite, all-inclusive Mind, must include "all right ideas." We must be conscious of and appreciate each individual who ever was, is now, or ever will be in the eternal unfolding of spiritual being. So when a loved one passes from our sight, we not only continue to include his or her lovely qualities, we continue to include the loved one as well. That is, we can feel and recognize the presence of an individual in our consciousness. And we can progressively appreciate his or her specific individuality. Still, one might well ask how we do this.
Just as no two snowflakes are alike . . .
Almost everybody learns in grade school that even though all snowflakes have a common recognizable identity, or classification, no two snowflakes are alike. What makes them different? Composition—the way the elements that constitute a snowflake are arranged, the relationship of the snowflake bits to one another. And perhaps it seems all too obvious to say that every composer of music consistently sounds like himself or herself, no matter how many hundreds of pieces he or she composes; and that we are able to consistently distinguish one composer from another, even though all are using the same notes and expressing through these notes the same universal qualities. But why this individual consistency of sound or style? What produces it?
It is the way the notes are composed. Or in other words, the relationship of the notes to one another—a relationship forming a unique structure, an individual harmonic pattern, that, although capable of infinite variation and eternal development, remains mathematically constant, forever identifying one individual.
To mortal thought, composition, or arrangement, is always some form of organized matter, in which structure results from the action of physical forces, or laws. And it is symbolized by the man created from dust in the second chapter of Genesis, or by an updated version that one might call the "atomic dust man" or "DNA man." This mortal personality is described as formed of billions of genetic bits of information that are able to be manipulated, rearranged, and cloned. But is this the basic reality of our being? Every physical healing accomplished through an understanding of spiritual identity not only calls this into question, but proves matter to be an illusion of the material senses, not reality. Material personality only simulates the structure of real individuality, a spiritual structure to which nothing can be added and from which nothing can be removed, nor can any element of it be rearranged, manipulated, or cloned. In the Bible, the book of Ecclesiastes says: ". . . whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it." Eccl. 3:14.
The true structure, or embodiment, of each one's individuality is completely spiritual and mental. It is a unique unduplicated harmony composed of "all right ideas"—a harmony resulting from the perpetual gathering action of spiritual force, the law of the divine Principle, Love. This law of Love both reveals and sustains the structure that is our spiritual individuality. The New Testament refers to this dynamic divine energy as the Holy Ghost, and in her book Unity of Good, Mrs. Eddy explains, "This Science of God and man is the Holy Ghost, which reveals and sustains the unbroken and eternal harmony of both God and the universe." Unity of Good, p. 52. Because the individual structure of selfhood is eternally sustained, each one's true individuality—completely separate from matter—is permanent, and perfectly discernible to the consciousness filled with spiritual love. Science and Health explains, "Thought will finally be understood and seen in all form, substance, and color, but without material accompaniments." Science and Health, p. 310.
. . . we each play a part in the divine composition.
Our true self, then, is "idea, the image, of Love" and not physique. Our specifically "shaped," precisely and harmoniously composed individual consciousness develops and progresses forever. Each one of us is, right now, indestructible, irreplaceable, eternally dear to both God and His children. And nothing about us can ever be lost or changed through willful or accidental disarrangement, or through decomposition. In fact, one of the Messianic prophecies was that God's "Holy One" would never see corruption. See Ps. 16:10 ; Acts 2:25-28. Indeed, Jesus fully demonstrated the incorruptible nature of true structure, or body, in the resurrection and ascension, conclusively illustrating the fact that, even now, in our present experience, identity is not material. It is spiritual. We follow him when we take up the cross as he commanded, and immolate the superficial, personal sense of self that hides our ever-present spiritual individuality, the image of Love.
Many people feel that their appreciation of loved ones who have gone on continues to grow and develop. As we embrace the deepest meanings of individuality and inclusion, we will feel more distinctly our inseparability from absent loved ones. And as this enlightened view is maintained, it must dispel the darkness of loneliness and grief. Science and Health reassures us, "Spiritually to understand that there is but one creator, God, unfolds all creation, confirms the Scriptures, brings the sweet assurance of no parting, no pain, and of man deathless and perfect and eternal." Science and Health, p. 69.
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