Even at a distance of 3,000 years, the holiness of the experience comes through. “I will make all my goodness pass before thee,” God assures Moses in Exodus, “and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee.” The Bible describes Moses’ communion with God the next day on Mount Sinai only briefly, but the spiritual inspiration he felt is palpable: “And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth .… And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped.”
The full account is in Exodus 33:11—34:8, and if you haven’t read it lately, you might be surprised at its powerful depiction of spiritual experience.
Spiritual “mountaintop” experiences didn’t stop with the biblical prophets. And, of course, they don’t come from physically climbing mountains. The great question of religion has always been how to reach this point of inspiration—how to have the deep and direct communion with God that turned individuals such as Moses into prophets.
Traditional religion has typically viewed these experiences as rare or inaccessible for ordinary people. Given the many individuals through the centuries who have mistaken their personal impulses for God’s commands, there’s understandable skepticism about many claims of divine inspiration.
Mary Baker Eddy, Founder of the Church of Christ, Scientist, understood this skepticism, but she also felt strongly that deep and inspired communion with God is at the heart of biblical religion and for contemporary prophets as well (and that would include everyone with an honest heart and openness to spiritual light).
God’s nature is “changeless goodness,” she once quoted from an old hymn (Unity of Good, p. 26). God is continuously unfolding His goodness, expressing it in all of creation. We all have the capacity to experience this incomparable divine goodness as Moses did in proportion as our hearts are spiritually lifted to receive and respond to it. “… God pours the riches of His love into the understanding and affections,” Mrs. Eddy wrote, “giving us strength according to our day.” The statement is from a deeply felt and reasoned chapter titled “Prayer” in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (p. 5).
There’s nothing pat or superficial about inspired prayer or the holiness in which it is rooted. As most of us know, it can sometimes be a struggle to find genuine spiritual inspiration, on ordinary days as well as in the midst of difficulties and doubts.
Moses’ experience on the mountaintop has a lot to teach us in these struggles. It came at a point of spiritual crisis for the people of Israel, and when Moses’ confidence in his own spiritual worthiness was badly shaken.
He had earlier communed with God on Mount Sinai and had returned with the Ten Commandments. Returning again from the mountain not long afterward, he found the people of Israel worshipping an idol of gold. The profound understanding of God embodied in the Commandments was already being clouded with materialistic religion prevalent in the surrounding cultures.
Healing and progress come as human mentality bows its head and lets God, divine Mind, testify.
Moses reacted. He broke the stone tablets containing God’s “testimony.” Later, repenting of his anger toward his people—if they could not be saved, he entreated God to “blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book” as well—he humbly sought to regain the spiritual height he had so abruptly come down from (see Exodus 32:31, 32). The prophet’s humanity shines through in the narrative as he wrestles for a higher spiritual standpoint.
He questioned his appointed mission. He prayed for a renewed conviction of God’s presence. The answer that came indicated the beginnings of renewed faith. “My presence shall go with thee,” God assured him, “and I will give thee rest” (Exodus 33:14).
But Moses knew he needed more. Confronted by the Israelites’ unfaithfulness, he had temporarily lost the true spirit and holiness of the worship of God. With great earnestness he renewed his petition: “I beseech thee, show me thy glory.” The word glory in the Scriptures is often used to convey the actual experience of God’s presence. God glorified is God expressed, God’s infinite goodness concretely felt and realized.
Moses’ prayer brought him again to the spiritual mountaintop, and the new, overwhelming sense that he gained of a God “merciful and gracious … abundant in goodness and truth” represented a major spiritual advance. He did not necessarily grasp its full significance in theological terms, as he would continue to hold on to elements of tribal religion. Still, this experience spiritually re-grounded him for the difficult wilderness years that followed. It restored his sense both of God’s realness and of his own relation to God.
We all need this profound communion with God. It isn’t only for an occasional prophet figure or an exceptional few. It’s the wellspring of what all humanity needs spiritually. It re-grounds us, restores goodness and purpose to our lives as nothing else can. It’s also the source of spiritual wisdom that re-grounds society as a whole and enables it to move forward in constructive paths.
In today’s relentlessly materialistic culture, it is becoming increasingly clear that Christianity—at least in any form resembling the religion taught and lived by Christ Jesus—can’t truly be practiced from the “lower slopes” of human piety or material belief. Mary Baker Eddy intuitively grasped this mental landscape more than a century ago. She lived in a period of tremendous social, technological, and religious change not unlike our own.
The Science of Christianity, which she taught, was not a minor “alternative” method for enhancing personal comfort and success. It was, and still is, a much more spiritually radical call to go higher—to vastly deepen the worship of God in our lives, and increasingly to work and pray from the mountaintop.
Perhaps we’ve been Christian Scientists for some time. We may have experienced healings and periods of inspiration in the past, but come to a point where our spiritual progress feels at a standstill. We may be discouraged by mistakes we’ve made or by physical conditions that haven’t been healed. Perhaps we feel daunted by challenges confronting our churches and our world in the 21st century. These difficulties don’t have to defeat us, but they do call us to respond more fully to the original revelation of Truth represented in Mrs. Eddy’s teaching.
The height we climb is, in her words, “the altitude of Christianity,” which lifts “the burden of sharp experience from off the heart of humanity” (Christian Science versus Pantheism, p. 12). Egotism, pride, and human ambition won’t make it up the slopes. Nor can we reach this altitude if we’re weighed down with hurts and disappointments or inflated with a sense of personal merit. The only self we can “present” in the top of the mount is our true individuality as God’s beloved image or reflection. Past sin can’t actually limit the reach of God’s love or its redeeming influence in human lives.
Letting our love for God and man draw us higher, we no longer bow down to the absorbing details of the material scene as a reality that defines and determines our life. We aren’t mentally caught up in material conditions and praying merely to adjust them. We lift up our eyes, as the Bible urges, and look on divine reality. We accept that divine reality is reality, not merely an abstraction we vaguely believe in. We live with this holy reality as the biblical prophets and, supremely, Christ Jesus did. It moves us and changes our standpoint just as it changed theirs.
True communion with God isn’t strange or mystical; it feels, as many have said, as natural as “coming home.”
Reaching the spiritual “height where God is revealed” (Science and Health, p. 241) isn’t the accomplishment of a well-intentioned human mind trying to know something beyond itself. It is Truth revealing itself to our waiting thought. In the Scriptures, a Bible commentary observes, “man does not search for God and then make in his mind the best image of him of which he is capable. He lets God speak his word to him, and say who he is” (The Interpreter’s Bible on Isaiah 44, p. 512). The same is true of the distinctive prayer for healing that Christian Scientists refer to as “treatment.”
Prayer that heals isn’t reducible to a human saying or thinking of words. In Christian Science treatment, the only purpose of our words is to remind us of what’s true, to lead us to a more conscious receptivity to God’s spiritual influence. The only power in this treatment is the divine understanding reflected in it—our actual, living communion with divine Spirit. Healing and progress come as human mentality bows its head and lets God, divine Mind, testify.
Mrs. Eddy emphasized that the practice of Christian Science healing wouldn’t long continue unless her followers gained sufficiently in spirituality to have this inspired communion with God consistently. Is this too hard for us today—ordinary people, with jobs, families, and pressing daily concerns?
The answer for humanity’s sake has to be no. The basic requirement is simply a heart that longs for God’s goodness as Moses did.
Now, as then, this takes sincerity, persistence, and a willingness to come out from the spirit-quenching worldliness that characterizes so much of contemporary life. But we learn as we go forward that we aren’t mortals with limited spiritual capacities, struggling to somehow “get in touch” with God. Our genuine nature is already and always at one with divine Love and Life—spiritual in the fullest meaning of the term. True communion with God isn’t strange or mystical; it feels, as many have said, as natural as “coming home.” It’s the discovery of who we really are.
When Moses returned from Mount Sinai with the Commandments a second time, he expressed a new spiritual assurance and authority that the people of Israel recognized. They didn’t fully understand what he had experienced and shielded themselves from Moses’ shining face, but they responded to the inspiration he brought. With “willing hearts” they poured fresh efforts and resources into the rededication of their tabernacle (see Exodus 35:20–22). Many felt chastened by earlier failings, but also awakened by a new recognition of God’s undiminished love.
This kind of awakening brings new life to churches as well as individuals. Indeed, it could be said without exaggeration that the Church of Christ, Scientist, initially came into being as the result of many powerful spiritual experiences of God’s glory, repeated many times in many people’s lives with healing effects. What we gain on the spiritual mountaintop doesn’t isolate us; it binds us more unshakably both to God and to our fellow man. It is divine Love chastening us and rekindling the love of church in our hearts. The holy experience of God in our lives will sustain our churches through challenging wilderness periods, and will ultimately lift up humanity with God-unfolded light and meaning.
Thomas Johnsen is a Christian Science practitioner living in Watertown, Massachusetts.
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