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Writing and editing—letting the Christ lead

From the March 2017 issue of The Christian Science Journal

The world is awash with print and online magazines, from venerable titles that have been published for well over a hundred years to dynamic new web-based startups to publications foisting so-called fake news on the public via social media. But there’s a long-established set of magazine titles, including this one, that have a unique role amid the millions of words circulating. The subject of these publications—both in print and online—is Christian Science, and their authors and editors are listening for, and bringing to light, the Christ that lifts and enlightens receptive hearts ready to be transformed and healed.

I recently spoke with Barbara Vining, current Editor of these unique magazines, about the role of the Christ in writing for, and editing, the Christian Science periodicals.

Well Barbara, in 2015 there were over 7,000 magazine titles published in the US alone, and that’s not even counting what’s online that isn’t in hard copy. So, how would you describe what it is that the magazines produced by The Christian Science Publishing Society have to offer that makes them stand out in the crowd?

Yes, they do stand out, because they have a purpose like no other publications. The articles and testimonies in these periodicals come from individuals throughout the world who have been listening to the voice of the Christ, the voice of the Comforter, Christian Science, in their endeavor to follow the truth taught by Christ Jesus and put it into practice so they can be healers. 

When Mary Baker Eddy discovered the Christly laws of God that heal, and wrote down what she discovered, she said she was a “scribe under orders” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 311). That’s huge! She knew the revelation had come from God, and that she had a God-given responsibility to record what God was telling her. 

So, she was listening, praying, to know exactly what she had received and how she could transcribe it in a way that other people could grasp its meaning and demonstrate it in healing as she had been doing. And as she wrote the textbook of Christian Science, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, and as she went through the different steps of building up the Christian Science movement, this was always what was guiding her thought—that she was a scribe under orders. And when she started the Christian Science periodicals, one by one, she prayed to understand their purpose.

It’s just about listening to God and letting Him increase us in wisdom and understanding—so, in a way, you could say, we also are scribes under God’s direction.

After she started The Christian Science Monitor, the fourth and last periodical she established, she included in its first edition an editorial titled “Something in a Name,” which was later included in her book The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany on page 353. It defines the purpose of each one of the periodicals. She said The Christian Science Journal is “designed to put on record the divine Science of Truth.” No other magazine has that purpose. The Sentinel, she said, is “intended to hold guard over Truth, Life, and Love”; those are synonyms for God. I’ve thought about that. How do you hold guard over God? Well, actually, the Sentinel holds guard over the clear presentation of Truth, Life, and Love to show how God brings healing to humanity in all areas of human need. And then there’s The Herald of Christian Science, which goes out in many language fields “to proclaim the universal activity and availability of Truth”; and that broadens the whole scope of this message coming from God, showing Christian Science to be practical and demonstrable universally. And to complete this healing outreach of Christian Science to all humanity, the Monitor’s purpose is to “spread undivided the Science that operates unspent. The object of the Monitor is to injure no man, but to bless all mankind” in its daily coverage of the world’s news. So, the periodicals have those very unique missions, and everyone working for them is mandated to forward those missions. 

And it’s really remarkable that the religious articles one reads in the Journal, Sentinel, and Herald, and in the “A Christian Science Perspective” column in the Monitor, have come not from professional writers, but from individuals throughout the world who have been studying and practicing this Christ, Truth, in their daily lives. They are simply gifting their inspiration and experience to help others in their quest for spiritual understanding and healing.

One of the things I’ve found very special is a quote from Mrs. Eddy in Science and Health that’s guided the way I’ve thought about and written for the periodicals. She says, “Spirit, God, gathers unformed thoughts into their proper channels, and unfolds these thoughts, even as He opens the petals of a holy purpose in order that the purpose may appear” (p. 506). The periodicals are channels for God’s thoughts to reach readers. So, each contributor to these periodicals is listening to the Christ, the spirit of God, listening for the thoughts God is presenting for them to understand, put into practice, and share with others in these publications. 

Each author, just like each one of God’s children, is a representative or a witness to God and His truth. And we each have a very unique voice—a unique way of expressing the ideas we receive from God. And so, there isn’t a single person who wants to contribute to the Christian Science periodicals who doesn’t have a unique voice, an understanding that has come to them through their love of Christian Science, their study of it, and their practice of it. So, they each have something very special to share. It’s a gift each one is giving. It’s not a personal thing; it’s not, “Well, will they like my writing?” It isn’t about that. It’s about God loving each of us enough to give us the opportunity to see something clearly, to understand it, and to learn how to share it in writing with others in a way they can understand it. That’s such a lovely gift to give.

I love that expression you’ve quoted from Science and Health about God gathering “unformed thoughts into their proper channels,” because in a way, as you’ve said, the periodicals have been given to us through Mary Baker Eddy’s vision for her Church, as “proper channels” for reaching humanity with the healing message of Christian Science.

That’s right. As we receive ideas and understanding—as we listen to God and let Him gather those unformed thoughts into our consciousness—then we can bring those ideas into the “proper channels” of the periodicals.

That’s great. And when we’re, if you like, entrusting our gift through the periodicals, we have the governing By-Laws in the Manual of The Mother Church,where it sets up The Christian Science Publishing Society for many purposes, including the periodicals. And it asks that the Christian Science Board of Directors ensure that the periodicals of the Church are “ably edited and kept abreast of the times” (Mary Baker Eddy, p. 44). So, when people are giving that gift, what does it mean that they are going to be “ably edited”?

I like to think of all of us, authors and editors, as being willing to be edited by God—willing to have our consciousness be brought into accord with God’s love, His truth, His goodness—in our lives, and in our writing and editing, as well. We are all learning together. 

I was reading in Adam Dickey’s memoirs of Mary Baker Eddy; he was her secretary for a number of years, and she had a habit of editing all the time, including letters that he would be writing on her behalf. And she kept calling him back into her study and saying that she had to edit a letter over again, and add something to it, or correct something in it. And he writes that one time, after this one particular “letter had been finished, and even signed by her, she called me back again, and said, ‘Mr. Dickey, I must apologize to you for calling you so frequently, and troubling you so much, but won’t you kindly bring that letter back to me?’ ” After making her final edit, she wrote this on the top of the letter: “Remember that the so called human mind is expected to increase in wisdom until it disappears and Divine Mind is seen to be the only Mind” (Memoirs of Mary Baker Eddy, p. 85, © The Mary Baker Eddy Collection). I loved that, because it takes all that personal sense—“Can I do this? Is it going to be acceptable?”—out of it. It’s just about listening to God and letting Him increase us in wisdom and understanding—so, in a way, you could say, we also are scribes under God’s direction.

I remember as a contributor, I had a time when I submitted an article, and I got some suggestions back, which I kind of balked at, and my prayerful process was exactly what you’re saying. It’s like, “Well hold on, as a Christian Scientist, my whole life is about allowing my thought to be edited by God so that I come more and more into alignment with the Christ, the true idea of God’s man”; and it suddenly seemed so natural to accept this process of working with the editors, and saying, “You know, we can find the right thing that’s meant to be said here, and we can work together.” And so, it brought out that humility, and I was very grateful for that.

That’s lovely. So, what we’re really talking about is our approach and attitude to contributing articles or testimonies to the periodicals; it’s about listening to God, letting the Christ correct our thinking to bring out the clear metaphysical truth, along with the Christianity of Christian Science; and that’s what Mrs. Eddy did. 

So we want to be sure we are setting aside time for writing. I’ve done that for many, many years, and it doesn’t mean you’re always actually writing, but setting aside time to listen for ideas and how they relate to human needs with healing. 

You know, Mrs. Eddy wrote Science and Health, and she said it was a complete explanation of Christian Science—its divine Principle and rules for practice—but in the Preface she says something to the effect that she couldn’t possibly include all of its application in that book. She said: “The author has not compromised conscience to suit the general drift of thought, but has bluntly and honestly given the text of Truth. She has made no effort to embellish, elaborate, or treat in full detail so infinite a theme” (p. x). 

No matter how experienced you are in writing, or not, the sharing of it is what matters.

So, that’s what the periodicals are for—to show how students of her textbook on Christian Science are proving that the Science of Christ applies to the whole vast multitude of human needs. It’s a gift we’ve received from God, and can share through the periodicals. And yes, we have to represent and express the letter, the truths of Christian Science, correctly; that’s vitally important, essential. But it’s the Spirit that heals. It’s that selfless purpose, the humility, that brings out the voice of the Christ in the unique way that our voice can express these ideas—our own experience and understanding, our practice and proof of Christian Science, and also the diverse cultural backgrounds that we come from, because we all come from different human kinds of experiences. 

It’s so rich that we can share our different voices. And in doing so, the aim is for a clear presentation of spiritual truth regarding the topic at hand, to write so that anyone can understand it whether they have had any previous knowledge of the teachings of Christian Science or not—to just make it so clear. And, what happens when you do this is that it clarifies your own thought. 

When you come to the writing not with, “I know what I want to write about,” but with, “I have an idea of something that needs healing, or a metaphysical point that will help readers, so I’m going to listen to God and let Him clarify my thought, let that Christ, Truth, make my thought ready for healing, and for writing”—in that way, the author, the editor, the readers, those seeking healing, they all get inspired by the Christ. And the reader may think, “I want to read something else that author has written,” but what they’re really saying is that they love the voice of the Christ that’s come through. 

It reminds me of something from Science and Health on page 504 that’s guided me in writing. Mrs. Eddy says, “The rays of infinite Truth, when gathered into the focus of ideas, bring light instantaneously ….”

That’s beautiful, and isn’t that saying that although we don’t write for the reward, it’s an amazing reward of writing that, in effect, you’re the first person who gets the gift of that clarity, because you’ve turned to God, and through the Christ your understanding, and actually your own experience, gets better because you’re beginning to see more of the spiritual impetus behind the subject. And then you’re sharing it, which is what you want to do, but you’re the first one who’s getting the benefits, in a way.

That’s right, and no matter how experienced you are in writing, or not, the sharing of it is what matters. So, then, there’s healing that’s going on with the writer, and it reaches anybody who comes into contact with that individual, because the writer’s consciousness has been lifted to let the Christ shine through, and the love of God is felt. And it’s felt by the editors, too.

I had one lovely experience of that when I wrote an article, and it went through the editing process, and it was published. When the Sentinel was delivered by mail, I was suffering with something, and I opened the Sentinel, and it was my article, and they pull out a few words from the article to say what the article will be, and I was healed by that sentence.

That’s beautiful, and that shows that it wasn’t personal, it was from the Christ, and it meets the human need, right?

Exactly! That was exactly the situation there. And, Barbara, I did a little search on your name in, where you can search the archival collection of articles that have been written for over a hundred years, and you’ve had several hundred articles published, and so you can suitably be called “experienced.” So, how do you approach writing an article and bringing it to the point of being ably edited?

I wrote a little piece about my approach to writing in the August 1992 Journal, which you can find on JSH-Online. It’s called “Writing: making oneself available to God.” A humble approach to the writing process lifts one’s thought, and makes it an inspiring learning process. 

Everybody has a different method, of course, but here are some of the elements that I find consistently helpful: I choose a topic and search in the Bible and Mrs. Eddy’s writings to see what I can find relating to it. I write out a one-sentence central idea to develop the article around and give it focus. The article may include an example, a healing, or a Bible story to illustrate a point. And to make it a distinctly Christian Science article, it needs to reference Christ Jesus and Mary Baker Eddy and include metaphysical explanations that give clarity to the message. It helps to write to the spiritual sense every reader has that enables them to understand spiritual ideas. 

Quite often, I need to set the whole thing aside for a bit, prayerfully trusting God to give me new inspiration—something I’ve not actually thought of that way before. When that happens, I know God is guiding the writing, and I feel so joyful in this newfound understanding. Then the writing begins to flow. I love that spiritual discipline. 

What’s important is for God’s message to come through to readers in a way they can understand. 

When a contributor gets to that stage where they’re feeling that they have a completed article, and they want to submit it, we are charged in the Journal, Sentinel, Herald, with ably editing. So what does that process entail?

I think the first thing is, as a contributor, you’ve given it a lot of attention, you’ve prayed about it, you feel that it’s come through inspiration, but maybe you want to come to it with the idea, “I love being edited.”

That’s great, yeah!

Yes, rather than thinking, “I just hope they like this.” Because someone else reads the article now—an editor, who might say, “Well, what did you mean by this?” And so, we need that input—from a Staff Editor, an Associate Editor, and finally, the Editor. And there will be communication back and forth between the editors and the author. 

We love our authors. We treasure them, because without them we would have nothing to publish. So, we strive to encourage them in every way we can.

There’s usually some back and forth between the editors and the writer, and it’s important to realize that nothing is actually final until it goes out the door to be published, either in print or on the web. A couple of days before that happens, the Editor looks at the issue in printed-out pages, and sometimes there are minor edits that still have to be made. Occasionally, something more major may come up, and so, you know, writers have to realize that we’re not promising publication, even when we’ve been editing an article and have scheduled it for an issue. We’re responsible for being sure each article is fulfilling the intended mission of the periodicals, and that we are letting God edit us—correct our understanding—throughout the process. This is all part of assuring that the periodicals are “ably edited.”

Well Barbara, last but not least, the second part of our Church Manual mandate is that we are to keep the periodicals “abreast of the times,”  and that’s a very specific instruction. So today, of course, that involves not only content, but new means of publishing—online publishing, social media, apps. How are we seeing that developing for the Christian Science periodicals?

Indeed, this is important, but we need to go forward in a prayerful, listening way. It’s something we are cherishing. And we’ve been utilizing the web to some extent, but we want to do more, and with social media, and so forth. But just as with writing an article, you can’t just rush into it, and let it be just sort of stream of consciousness. It has to be this listening to the Father, to the Christ, and being humbly willing to know which directions to go with these new opportunities. And we welcome suggestions from our readers as we go forward.

We do, and just one little point from me. There’s something called crowd sourcing today, where everyone gathers ideas, voluntarily from other people, so that they get the culmination of the good, and in a way, the periodicals have been doing that for a long, long time. It’s always been written by the readers, hasn’t it?

Yes, it has. In fact, you know, Mrs. Eddy once said she was getting all these wonderful letters from members of her Church, and she said from now on she was going to forward them to the periodicals (see Miscellaneous Writings, p. 155). That is the basic channel, isn’t it?

It is, and it’s a wonderful channel. It’s all about the Christ—it’s the Christ working through each of us to contribute and work together.

It’s wonderful, and, you know, one point I didn’t make is that we don’t like to use the word rejection. We aren’t ever rejecting an author when an article doesn’t work out for publication. We deeply value their input, and we’re looking for opportunities to learn and grow together. Even if an article or testimony isn’t chosen for publication, it has healing in it—inspiration that gets into the mental atmosphere—and it heals us as we’re reading it.

Yes, one of my fellow editors said very recently that they had one of these articles that didn’t make it for publication, but they were healed by a thought that was shared in the article.

Yes, that happens all the time.

That’s lovely. So, we’re one big team, aren’t we, the writers, the editors, and the readers?

We are. It’s like no other publishing activity in the world.

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