During the ten years that Keith Wommack played in his rock band, The Wommack Brothers Band, he never traveled without the Bible and the writings of Mary Baker Eddy. His band shared the stage with marquee performers such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Elvis Costello, and Journey. He loved music—still does! But Keith slowly exchanged hours of guitar practice and working on songs for hours of reading, studying, and pondering spiritual ideas. He began to heal others through what he was learning. When he left the band in 1982, he went immediately into the healing ministry of Christian Science. "I found that songs could soothe and uplift for a time," Keith says, "but only spiritual understanding could truly heal."
Keith married ten years later and became an instant stepdad to his wife's two sons, Jarrod and Jordan. Little League baseball coach, assistant scoutmaster, and chess coach, for 15 years Keith participated fully in his sons' lives until they headed off to their current universities. Keith has now been a Christian Science practitioner for 25 years, a Christian Science teacher for 14, and a Christian Science lecturer for seven years. He and his wife, Joanne, live in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Keith and I conducted our conversation via e-mail.
Would divine Love make Her child capable of such suffering and lostness? Would divine Mind ever stop caring for the human body?
Keith, as you know, if you look at the cover of the Journal, you'll see the seal of Christian Science incorporated into the magazine's nameplate. And around the emblem of the Cross and Crown, you see Jesus' command to all those who seek to follow him: "Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons" [Matt. 10:8, Revised Version with marginal note]. I'd like to zoom in on the "cleanse the lepers" phrase for a moment. "Cleanse the lepers" seems an odd assignment today, since leprosy no longer exists as the scourge of civilization as it did in Jesus' day. What do you make of the relevancy of this command?
I see this command as very relevant, because I see it as a metaphor for the types of infirmities that continue to menace people today, and no doubt will forever menace people as long as they misperceive themselves as material.
In the Bible, the book of Mark tells the story of Jesus cleansing a leper. The leper says to him, "If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed" [Mark 1:40–42].
Many of today's leprosy-like conditions, as in ancient times, are still seen by some people as a sign of God's displeasure and punishment for sin. I'm finding in my practice that cleansing the leper means not only healing physical troubles, but, as well, liberating people from the belief of being an outcast, unloved, or a miserable sinner with no hope of cure. Christian Science reveals that we are not mortals preparing ourselves for a future embrace with God. Christian Science teaches us to cleanse ourselves of the false belief that man—and I'm using the generic term here, encompassing women and men—could ever be unclean. This regeneration awakens us to see we have always been in God's eternal embrace. We are always at one with God!
I've learned that there are two ways in which I must know myself and others. First, I must know everyone as God's perfect, spiritual idea. Second, I must recognize the weaknesses and sins I have accepted as part of myself or others. Then I use the first idea to get rid of the second.
In Leviticus, leprosy is described as the most serious of all forms of uncleanness. It caused the person to live outside the camp, to be cut off from the whole congregation of Israel. Lepers could approach no one, touch no one. They were required to give warning of their presence by shouting out, "Unclean! Unclean!" This was so others would know to stay away. We don't know exactly what diagnosis a modern physician would give to the disease of the leper mentioned in Mark, but if it was similar to modern leprosy, known as Hansen's disease, the victim of this diagnosis would accept the suggestion that they were losing all sense of touch.
Any evil or devilish belief left unchecked in thought seems to grow and worsen. The belief in leprosy is no different. Those accepting this belief of leprosy were left with no sense of touch, and eventually damaged their toes, fingers, and feet. They would knock them, cut them, get infections—and not notice. And because an evil belief starts a downhill slide for those who do not defend themselves against it, many lepers went blind, for without feeling in their eyes, they forget to blink. These were the loneliest people. Like many others, they were blind, but unlike most who were blind, lepers couldn't use their hands to provide the sensations and interactions with the world that their eyes denied.
Leprosy could be thought of as a symbol of lostness. Leprosy, to material sense, presents a vivid picture of sin slowly destroying who you are, tearing down all your relationships, and in the end leaving you alone, despised, rejected, and hopeless. So no wonder Jesus included "cleanse the leper" in his commands to his disciples. And I think that we can see how the command continues to be relevant. What a lie about God's creation! Would divine Love make Her child capable of such suffering and lostness? Would divine Mind ever stop caring for the human body? Could immortal Soul cause us to stop feeling?
No. So when I pray, my deepest prayer is for the ability to follow Jesus' example to some degree—to cleanse the man from whom sin has taken away everything and to cleanse the woman who cannot feel or see her true worth. To awaken people to their unchanging relationship with God and touch them with the restoring, healing love that flows from God.
You know, Keith, I think many people feel that because of various things they've done in their lives they're not worthy or deserving of healing. And I think your insight into what leprosy symbolizes can help people shake off that absurd notion. Everyone deserves to be healed, don't they?
Absolutely. Everyone deserves to awaken to feel the eternal Christ in them, to awaken to feel the Truth in them, to see themselves as God sees them—without sin, whole, and free. Deserving of healing right now.
I was watching "Bill Moyers Journal" on PBS a few weeks ago. Mr. Moyers chatted with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 because of his role as a unifying leader in the campaign to dismantle apartheid in South Africa. Moyers asked Reverend Tutu, "What do you actually do when you forgive someone?" And Tutu said, "Well basically, you're saying, 'I am abandoning my right to revenge, to payback. ... By the fact that you have abused me, you have hurt me, or—whatever it is that you have done, you have wronged me. By that you have given me a second right ... over you that I could refuse to forgive you. I could say I have the right to retribution.' When I forgive, I say, 'I jettison that right, and I open the door of opportunity to you, to make a new beginning.' That is what I do when I forgive you."
I bring this up because it seems to me that what may be required, at least in some measure, for someone to feel worthy and deserving of healing is forgiveness—self-forgiveness. Learning to let not only others but yourself off the hook in order to "open the door of opportunity" and "make a new beginning."
I think forgiveness is a BIG factor in healing. And I think that Desmond Tutu said it right. Forgiveness, whether of oneself or others, means starting over with love—wiping the slate clean.
If I criticize others or keep score of their mistakes, I'm not seeing how God created them, loves them, and guides them. If I want to be a consistent healer, I need to strive to see everyone, the best I can, as spiritual and perfect. It is not what someone else is doing or has done, but how much of God's love I am expressing that makes my prayers effective.
I've learned that I may have to push past pain and anger to forgive at times. But I can. The Christ-spirit impels and strengthens us to do so. Jesus, during his crucifixion, could pray, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" [Luke 23:34]. It is the Christ—God's influence in human consciousness—that wipes the slate clean. The Christ is the divine eraser, the healing and saving power of God that Jesus demonstrated. Jesus was the man and Christ was his way of thinking. It is the Christ that impels me to love what God sees in another. The more I understand and respect this Christ nature, as well as appreciate Jesus' great love and sacrifice, the more I am able to love, heal, and forgive.
I've learned that I may have to push past pain and anger to forgive at times. But I can. The Christ-spirit impels and strengthens me to do so.
What else, in addition to forgiveness, can help people experience more of the tangible power of Christ-healing in their lives?
Well, here's one thing I've found that helps: Quit interrupting God's story.
One afternoon several years ago, my wife, Joanne, and I had $4,000 worth of cookie dough boxes packed in dry ice stacked on pallets on our back porch. This was for a Boy Scout fundraiser. In one hour we carried all the boxes inside and sorted out the flavors. We then made stacks of boxes for each one of the boys in the troop.
All afternoon boys came to the door, and I helped them carry their boxes to their cars. After carrying one of the last loads, I felt a horrible pain in my shoulder. Whether I moved or didn't move, stood up, or lay down, it didn't matter. I was in pain. I awoke the next morning feeling no better. A few hours later, I realized that I needed to quit: I needed to quit interrupting God's story. God has a wonderful story to tell of effortless grace, glory, and being. As God says, "No other gods, only me" (Ex. 20:3, The Message). And I needed to quit interrupting God's story with a tale of pain and woe.
I thought about how everything Joanne and I had done was for the good of others. We couldn't be harmed for helping. Right where it appeared as if two mortals were helping other mortals, right there, divine Mind was actively loving its buoyant, vibrant expression of loveliness. This was God's story. As soon as I stopped interrupting God's story with my song of pain, the pain simply left. It was gone. I was immediately free.
Speaking of pain, I've read that approximately one in six Americans suffers from chronic or recurrent pain. Time magazine reports the bleak news: "Studies suggest that roughly half of Americans with chronic or recurrent pain simply do not find a good solution" ["The Right (and Wrong) Way to Treat Pain" by Claudia Wallis, Feb. 20, 2005]. That's sad, because as you and I both know, Christian Science does offer a good solution, and a side-effects-free solution. But too few people benefit at this point because, relatively speaking, Christian Science is still under the radar. Ideally, that will change some day. Now, when you say "the pain simply left," what do you mean? What happened there? The way you took stock of the situation was a form of prayer. But how does prayer affect the body?
As a Christian Science healer, I start from the metaphysical premise that the Christ-spirit, active in human consciousness, quiets misconceptions responsible for pain. And that premise shapes our experience in tangible ways: We experience relief from pain.
Because you see, God didn't make us flawed or inadequate and set us up to fight on a losing battlefield with pain. God equips us with the spiritual authority to do what Science and Health urges: "Banish the belief that you can possibly entertain a single intruding pain which cannot be ruled out by the might of Mind ..." [p. 391].
And that line gives us a hint at how prayer affects the body. Prayer—which could be in the form of banishing a false belief about oneself—affects the body because the essential nature of reality is thought. Although it seems otherwise, the universe is more like a thought-structure or consciousness than a physical machine. And unlike a machine, the structure of human thought is able to change. God, divine Mind, doesn't change. It is our thought, our human concept of reality, that changes. And prayer—with the inspiration and power of God behind it—moves thought as nothing else can.
In simple terms, we could say prayer changes thought, which in turn heals and restores the body. So no trouble is unreachable because only thought needs to be touched. And when we pray, the Christ, the healing presence and power of God, reaches all the corners of thought, so to speak, and transforms it—allowing the human mind to surrender and yield to the divine Mind. Fear, stress, pain—the darkness in the human mind—cannot hide from the brightness and health of Mind.
The book of Hebrews in the Bible says that "the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" [4:12]. I like that. Prayer is how the Word of God turns thought. Prayer allows us to see how God has spiritually made us and perfectly maintains us.
I'm learning to view matter, not as an actual substance that I have to get rid of or change, but as just a solid state of mortal thought that eventually fades when I see that Life and Mind are divine—God. The more I recognize the spiritual nature of substance and consciousness, the less I think materialistically. My body, then, becomes subordinate to my spiritual understanding, and in proportion as that happens, I begin to experience the natural, harmonious regulation of my form and function.
What you're saying really gets at a basic premise of Christian Science: the unreality of pain—and the unreality of disease. A lot of people have a tough time accepting that premise. What would you say to a skeptic in this regard?
I would start by pointing to these lines in the chapter "Christian Science Practice" in Science and Health: "It is mental quackery to make disease a reality—to hold it as something seen and felt—and then to attempt its cure through Mind. It is no less erroneous to believe in the real existence of a tumor, a cancer, or decayed lungs, while you argue against their reality, than it is for your patient to feel these ills in physical belief. Mental practice, which holds disease as a reality, fastens disease on the patient, and it may appear in a more alarming form" [p. 395].
Yes, Mary Baker Eddy's discovery that disease is ontologically—and therefore demonstrably—unreal is radical. However, you have to be absolute and radical if you are to be effective. I cannot nullify disease if I believe disease exists. I cannot cast out pain if I actually believe pain is transmitted from a nerve to the brain.
All disease, pain, and discord of every kind result from a misperception of reality, right?
That's right. Error is a hypnotic suggestion.
A friend of mine watched a hypnotist put on a show in Italy. A man from the audience was hypnotized and made to believe that he was eating bananas. The crowd saw that he was eating candles. After the sixth banana, the man was enjoying himself and looked as if he was going to eat another. The crowd became angry, fearing for the man's health. They felt that the wax couldn't possibly be good for him. Because the crowd rebelled, the hypnotist awoke the man and told him, "You thought you were eating bananas." Pointing to the audience, he said, "You saw he was eating candles." Then speaking to everyone he explained, "He was eating nothing." He had hypnotized the entire audience too!
Mary Baker Eddy's discovery that disease is ontologically—and therefore demonstrably—unreal is radical. However, you have to be absolute and radical if you are to be effective.
Every problem we can possibly face is as unreal as were the bananas and candles. No matter if it is individual mesmerism or mass mesmerism that we're faced with, I am learning that I can fearlessly pray and break the spell. The fear governing any case is in equal balance with the belief the disease is real and necessary. The less matter and disease seem real to me, the less that fear will control my treatments through prayer. And therefore the more surely healing will result.
Health equals a spiritual state of thinking or consciousness.
Yes! And my healing practice is to deal with what is in consciousness. Since Mind is consciousness, I can be confident that pain, lack, and fear can never be in mine or anyone's consciousness. Therefore, pain and lack and fear cannot actually be thought or experienced.
Let's drill down some more. When you take a case, what do you do? What do you tell your patient?
I received an e-mail a few months ago from a man who found Christian Science on the Internet this year. He had ordered Science and Health from spirituality.com and had been reading it and wanted to talk with someone about it. He was a child psychotherapist working with the children of illegal aliens.
We met at a bookstore. It was a great meeting. He shared his spiritual journey with me. He had studied many philosophies and religions. He was thrilled to find Christian Science. We talked about man's divine nature and the practicality of prayer. It was a joy to listen to him and share what I was finding in Christian Science.
A few weeks ago, he contacted me again because he was suffering physically. He told me he had prayed and stated spiritual truths to himself and was feeling better until he spoke with a friend. The friend had been suffering with the same symptoms. His friend told him that he had just been to the doctor and was diagnosed as having walking pneumonia. Once he heard his friend's diagnosis, he started feeling absolutely horrible.
We spoke for a few minutes and I told him I would pray with him. I silently affirmed man's absolute freedom as God's self-expression: God's man is always free of fear and suffering. I was then led to mentally speak directly to evil. I declared, "You are nothing and I know it. You cannot fool anyone into believing that matter constitutes health or can possibly interfere with it. Leave. You have no control over this man's thought or anyone, anywhere. God governs his entire being. My knowing this is a law of annihilation to everything you try to suggest or insinuate."
My patient e-mailed the next day, saying, "I am happy to say that I have not had any signs of respiratory distress at all. Last night, I really focused on what you told me about there being only one diagnosis that comes from God. The thought came to me from the Scriptures [of the account] when Jesus was baptized and a voice from heaven said, 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased' [Matt. 3:17]. I also went through the Psalms, and I came across the line, 'O Lord, how great are thy works!' [Ps. 92:5]. I reasoned that all of God's works are great, so how could a pneumococcal bacterium be great?'"
I knew that my treatment was in alignment with what both I and this man knew about the nature of reality and about God's laws of health and well-being. The man's e-mail concluded with this verification of all that we had both been praying about: "I stayed with that thought and began repeating the real diagnosis, that I am God's beloved son. I also repeated the scientific statement of being [see Science and Health, p. 468] like ten times and expressed my gratitude for the realization of divine Science. I slept great last night, and I was surprised to wake up and not feel 'sick.' This truly is an amazing demonstration!"
Jeffrey Hildner is a senior writer for the Journal. He also is creative director of the Journal and our sister publication, the Christian Science Sentinel.