Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not
unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways
acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
—Proverbs 3:5, 6
The chaos of mortal mind is made the stepping-stone to the cosmos of immortal Mind.
—Mary Baker Eddy, Unity of Good, p. 56
SCHOOLS, COLLEGES, AND UNIVERSITIES are among the most special places on earth. They are the spaces where most of the knowledge shaping yesterday's, today's, and tomorrow's world is acquired, generated, and transmitted. They are intellectual crossroads where generations meet, where creativity and free thought should have ample room, and where it is possible to question everything, to think freely in every direction. That may be more fiction than fact, but it's important to keep in mind this ideal, which the French philosopher Jacques Derrida beautifully formulated in "The Unconditional University," a lecture he gave in 1999 at Stanford University.
Two books and their companion reference books have been unsurpassable assets in sustaining and supporting my college years, and I've come to think of them as textbooks for any subject. Alongside the books I need for the academic subjects I research and teach, I keep on my desk the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, along with Concordances for both books. I've yet to find any subject on earth that doesn't relate to these two books and that doesn't gain more purpose and import when examined in their light.
The Bible stands on the principle of one God, one Supreme Being. In metaphorical ways, in timeless images and parables, this book is a companion in our life. The Bible supports anyone who is willing to let it speak to them. Science and Health, also known as the Christian Science textbook, explores the deepest meaning of one God, our relationship to Him/Her, and in modern language explains the infinite truths waiting to be discovered in the Bible. Mary Baker Eddy wrote: "Divine metaphysics, as revealed to spiritual understanding, shows clearly that all is Mind, and that Mind is God, omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience,—that is, all power, all presence, all Science" (Science and Health, p. 275).
There is nothing beyond the one God, who is supreme good, nothing beyond the one Creator, the only cause and intelligence. The Bible tells of blessings received by those who were willing to yield their own desires to the one divine will. Because God is the only infinite and supreme intelligence, you could say that the most intelligent and wise thing to do is to acquaint yourself with God and discover how to live in alliance with the supreme laws of creation. These laws permeate everything. They show that all men and women—all creatures—are expressions of one spiritual God. Understanding these precepts strengthens one's trust in the reality and actuality of Spirit in everyday life.
As with any topic, the perspective of the researcher is important. I am writing from the perspective of a student who has moved through a graduate program and a second PhD into a tenured professorship, while at the same time not forgetting what it takes to be a student. I tried to use my student life to learn how to think, not just to reproduce what others have thought before. I loved the experience of exploring and asking questions. The world around us takes on different shapes and presents more to us than can be detected at first glance.
Inspiration's ways and means
Science and Health states that "Academics of the right sort are requisite. Observation, invention, study, and original thought are expansive and should promote the growth of mortal mind out of itself, out of all that is mortal" (p. 195). I've found that the four actions indicated in that passage apply to all creative thinkers, artists, and inventors whose work I know well. For example, Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, by observing sound, listening and learning from his own musical experience, launched a remarkably inventive period that spanned several decades. Expanding upon the Russian experience, he invented new patterns of rhythm and tone organization, which led him to further study and exploration in many directions. Stravinsky's original musical thoughts were aided by his childlike, adventurous spirit. But he also drew on his considerable experience with music-making. His explorations of other sound worlds continued throughout his career.
The example of Stravinsky and other artists tell me to never understimate the quiet strength of observation, which bridges to invention, study, and original thought. Whenever I feel short on inspiration, those four terms—observation, invention, study, and original thought—remind me that inspiration comes in different ways. Each of the four modes of discovery are important in helping to expand one's thought—and this line of thinking continues to support my own creative endeavors, as modest as they may be.
The childlike adventure of learning
In three of the Gospels in the New Testament, Jesus is quoted as stressing the point that only childlike thought can truly understand God. For example, according to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus says: "Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein" (10:15). The kingdom of God is not a place that we enter sometime in the future, but is present now. Science and Health defines kingdom of heaven, in part, as "the realm of unerring, eternal, and omnipotent Mind" (p. 590). This definition is certainly of interest to students, since Mind is the only intelligence.
Childlike means "pure and innocent," as well as "uncomplicated" and "candid." This innocent receptivity is the heart of really understanding truth. The most simple questions can lead to the most profound answers. The willingness to be transformed by new insights and teaching is a prerequisite in learning.
The artist Pablo Picasso is often credited with saying, "It took me some time to become an artist, but it took me a lifetime to remain a child," and that statement shows the joy of learning—the feel of adventure, accompanied by openness. Never a burden. Sometimes the process of researching and then putting the fruits of that research into writing feels like stress and struggle, followed sometimes by joy, sometimes by failure. Often fear and the yearning to have a safe job hinders the joy of discovery and learning and makes studying a heavy obligation—just following directives without the lightness of childlike trust. Leave open the door to unimpeded new ideas, and never let the adventurous spirit in your heart be stifled by the dullness of witless reproduction of what others have thought before.
Study = sculpting thought
Study can be likened to sculpting. Picture a sculptor's workshop, for example, Michelangelo chiselling his famous David in the city of Florence. Blocks of marble, a variety of instruments, and a model stand before the sculptor. Before the day's work begins, a sacred quiet pervades the workshop The difference between Michelangelo and you as a student of academics or metaphysics lies only in the nature of the material you work with. Your marble, model, instruments, and workshop are all mental, but the process is quite similar to the sculptor's creative process.
Michelangelo is said to have been unafraid of making mistakes, because he knew the form was already inside the marble. That kind of certainty applies to the study/discovery process. In order to know "the form inside," you must have a model. Viewing the model informs, corrects, and supports the process of outlining. But simply observing the model without carving the marble doesn't forward the artist's work.
Mary Baker Eddy explored the relationship between models and action: "The sculptor turns from the marble to his model in order to perfect his conception. We are all sculptors, working at various forms, moulding and chiseling thought. What is the model before mortal mind? Is it imperfection, joy, sorrow, sin, suffering? Have you accepted the mortal model? Are you reproducing it? Then you are haunted in your work by vicious sculptors and hideous forms. ...
"To remedy this, we must first turn our gaze in the right direction, and then walk that way. We must form perfect models in thought and look at them continually, or we shall never carve them out in grand and noble lives" (Science and Health, p. 248).
The way to outline spiritual models and progressive ideals in our own experience is to be alone in our mental workshop and be sure that "vicious sculptors"—among them, fear of failure and fruitless efforts —do not enter, Growth and progress are what study time is all about.
Surprised by divine guidance
When I was writing a PhD thesis on late-Medieval and early-Renaissance culture in Italy, I had to study manuscripts from the 14th and 15th centuries in various Italian libraries and archives. On each trip I took from Germany to Italy, I stopped in Basel, Switzerland, to use the best library in Europe for my field and to meet the head of the department, who had expressed an interest in what I was doing.
On one trip I was surprised when this professor handed me an unpublished manuscript on a certain aspect of my topic that I would have to deal with in the future. He told me to leave it on his desk at the end of my stay. This book proved to be a treasure trove for my argument—I was able to quote from it before the book was published, which occurred shortly before my own thesis was to appear. During the same trip I discovered another previously unknown manuscript and was able to decipher certain text passages that launched the outline of the theory that later became the core of my PhD argument. I couldn't prove this theory then, but after I formulated it as part of my PhD thesis it was proven two years later by another scholar from the United States.
Prior to this unexpected development, I had been praying for God's clear guidance and that there be "no wasted effort." My heartfelt desire was to remain free from the detours and dead ends that can trouble research efforts. Consequently, I spent more time quietly listening to God, being willing to be guided, rather than rushing around, looking, and hunting. I felt surrounded and protected by divine Love. Because I believe that we are able to be receptive to what God knows, I attempted to catch at least a glimpse of this fact. Study and research often seem linked to trial and error. But doesn't the immediacy of God as infinite Spirit point in another direction? Wouldn't a growing understanding of the divine Mind naturally find expression in an effortless unfolding of good? When tasks pile high, time seems in short supply, and demands are rising, I like to remind myself to be surprised by divine guidance. This one step has always proved to be a timesaver and a joy-maintainer along the way.
As much as exams seem to be times when we need a lot—information, insight, inspiration, energy—they're really times to give a lot. Exam time calls for ample compassion, for ourselves and others. Unselfishness and kindness inevitably lead thought toward a larger understanding of Spirit, and as one grows in grasping God's nature, an expanding awareness of others' needs can never be sidetracked. Science and Health explains that the test of prayer lies in answering some fundamental questions, the first being, "Do we love our neighbor better because of this asking?" (p. 9).
When I graduated from high school in Germany I had to face oral and written exams. A school friend of mine had missed school because of illness for six weeks and was returning to take the same exams. I found it natural to put my own learning curve on hold and to spend many days with him to share all we had learned the previous weeks. This wasn't helping me to deepen my own understanding of the material I had to learn, and some classmates tried to discourage me from helping my friend. Yet at this point I already understood that we never gain anything from moving ahead without supporting everyone impartially in our immediate circle—anyone who has a place in our consciousness. It was so supportive to find this statement in Science and Health: "Whatever holds human thought in line with unselfed love, receives directly the divine power" (p. 192). Not only did I pass the exam with a good grade, but my friend did also.
Sincerity is perhaps the quality most needed at exam time. The word Sincerity comes from the Latin terms "sine ceris" and means "without wax." This definition hints at the purity of honey, so deliciously free of any part that might hinder the sweet experience. Sweet as honey, pure and undefiled, is the basic meaning of sincerity, which can also mean uprightness, honesty, and clarity. Sincerity is pure spiritual individuality, not hiding nor anxious nor boasting—it is the humble expression of Godlike qualities, the outcome of an undefiled and honest endeavour.
Whenever I feel short on inspiration, those four terms—observation, invention, study, and original thought—remind me that inspiration comes in different ways.
As important as one's regret over a poor past performance may be to better understand where we are in our progress, it is only a steppingstone to moving forward. Even if there are no good reasons to explain why you haven't done better in the past, God is good now and a reality now. I've found real balm in something Mary Baker Eddy once wrote: "To do good to all because we love all, and to use in God's service the one talent that we all have, is our only means of adding to that talent and the best way to silence a deep discontent with our shortcomings" (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 195).
There were times when, for a variety of reasons, I couldn't deal with all the academic material I hoped to cover. My first and second PhDs were achieved while my husband and I started a family, and other obligations often crowded in. But whenever I humbly leaned on God, my trust was justified as my grasp of Mind's infinite wisdom and intelligence gradually strengthened.
"Thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory" (Ps. 73:23, 24). I've long kept these words in a note on my desk to remind me of this truth: There can be no failure when you trust divine Love to lead and support your way.
Annette Kreutziger-Herr teaches at the University of Music, Cologne, and lives with her family in Berlin.