Rita Dove, when named to be poet laureate of the United States, talked about her writing in an interview in The Christian Science Monitor. "I keep coming back to the community," she said. "What will always keep you going is that sense of being buoyed up by others, others who understand, others who care, who are maybe going through the same things." Steven Ratiner, "Rita Dove: a Chorus of Voices," The Christian Science Monitor, May 26, 1993, p. 16
What a good feeling it is to be supported by a caring group. Family and friends often provide this feeling of being understood and cared for. As I read the poet's words, I also thought of another way this caring is shown—through the prayers in Christian Science churches. In the Manual of The Mother Church, Mary Baker Eddy writes, "The prayers in Christian Science churches shall be offered for the congregations collectively and exclusively." <i>Manual</i>, Art. VIII, Sect. 5
On the surface, this By-Law may seem quite modest in scope, relating to a certain group of people sitting together for an hour twice a week. Yet the healing potential of praying together is measureless. The Bible recounts many examples of what such unity of purpose achieves. Think of the children of Israel following God's direction, shouting together at Joshua's command, and Jericho's wall falling down flat before them. See Josh. 6:1-16, 20 Or the apostles gathered "with one accord in one place" on the Day of Pentecost. The divine inspiration was so clearly felt that each individual in the multilingual crowd that gathered about them could understand what was said "in his own language." See Acts 2:1-6
Such startling results could not spring from superficial unity—outward togetherness without inward commitment to one God. Nor could they arise from mere intellectual agreement to a personally crafted agenda. Don't these results point instead to a unity so pure that it must originate in the oneness and omnipotence of God? This spiritually based unity doesn't serve material goals. It fulfills God's purpose of perfect good for His creation.
We experience this unity, which is central to effective congregational prayer, as we lay aside personal viewpoints and programs. This may sound like adjusting one's own practices to conform to the group. But it's actually very different. Unity derived from Spirit doesn't require that we give up any of our true individuality. Nor is it achieved through dogged personal effort.
In reality, unity—seen in the oneness of God and in the unity of God and man—characterizes all creation. It is the fact of being. We recognize this unity of being as we yield to the divine influence, the ever-present Christ. The Christ reveals man's sonship with God. It awakens us to discern more and more that spiritual selfhood is man's only true identity and that material selfhood with its idiosyncrasies and conflicts is an unreal, mistaken view of who man is, who we are. So, in turning to the one divine Mind, setting aside at least somewhat the notion of material personality, we're not losing our identity. We're understanding more fully man's true nature as the idea of God.
To unite in prayer in church is surely to express something of the spiritual oneness of God, divine Principle, and man, God's idea. Yet, while these prayers have a common purpose, how each of us prays for the congregation is individual. In accord with the perpetual newness of divine Mind, everyone can expect spiritual inspiration to unfold freshly each time he or she prays.
Certainly, though, our prayers might include a recognition that nothing can obstruct the power of God, good, from being felt and expressed by the congregation. Nothing can interfere with anyone's ability to call directly on ever-present Love. Nothing can prevent the congregation from witnessing to the reforming and healing mission of the Comforter, divine Science. In reality, there is no power, existing somewhere outside of God's all-power, that can either draw or drive man away from his Maker and the healing Word of Truth. In God's infinitude, where man truly dwells, there is no opposition to divine Science, the law of divine Principle governing the universe, including man.
Prayer in church does represent a special time during the week to commune with God. Yet this prayer isn't separate from our ongoing spiritual progress. It's a natural continuation of what we're learning spiritually during the week. If we had a sun-loving plant, we wouldn't let it languish forgotten in a cupboard, remembering to bring it into the sunlight only one or two hours a week, and then expect the plant to flourish. It needs regular care and ample light to reward us with blossoms. So, too, the more sunshine, or consistent prayerful attention, we give during the week to the healing purpose of Church, the more fruitful we can expect our prayers to be during church services.
The carnal mind, the supposed mentality that claims that life is in matter, argues aggressively that we're too busy during the week to pray about Church. It denies the healing efficacy of Christian Science and would persuade us that a church service is a ritual where nothing significant happens. But these are suggestions, not facts. And refuting them is a joyful part of preparation for church services.
Through spiritual sense, we can bring consistency and conviction to this preparation. In reality, Mind is Spirit, the one supreme governor of man. The carnal, or mortal, mind is a myth, the suppositional opposite of immortal Mind. It has no authority or power to subvert the healing mission of Church. This mission is divinely empowered. It expresses God's great love for the world, and it's important to realize that nothing can truly separate mankind from the genuine progress and satisfaction that come from learning more of God's love.
A congregation united in the purpose of reflecting the one Mind and recognizing Mind's government of man heals. As the individuals in the congregation look to the one divine source of good, the mental atmosphere in the service can't help but become less cluttered. The dulling notion of separate personal minds yields to the joy of spiritual understanding. Preoccupation and distraction give way before God's reassuring love for man.
I witnessed a small example of the effectiveness of congregational prayer. One time during silent prayer, I felt specifically led to realize that the congregation was conscious of God's love. Later someone remarked that while in church, he had been afraid he was losing consciousness. During the service this feeling had gone completely.
Fears and ills healed during church may not always be mentioned. So firsthand knowledge of healing needn't be our only assurance that spiritual advancement is going on during church. It's a law of good that unselfed prayer brings progress. Thus we can be confident that our prayers help the congregation move beyond just hearing words to feeling the healing message provided by the impersonal pastor. Then the transforming influence of the Christ is more clearly felt in new insights and strengthened healing ability.
This spiritual illumination isn't left behind when the congregation leaves the service. Through the ever-operative law of Christ, our spiritual light continues to shine, enabling us to bring a more healing perspective to what we do and to what is going on in our community and the world. Thus the beneficial effect of prayer for the congregation can't help embracing the community.
Isn't a congregation a group of spiritual learners, as were the apostles? Christ Jesus prayed to his Father for his apostles "that they may be one, as we are." The Master foresaw that many would come to the Christ, Truth, through the apostles' healing ministry. And his prayer reached out "that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." John 17:11,21 Doesn't our uniting in prayer in church express something of our part in this continuing spiritual progress?
Because our prayers for the congregation are affirming the truth of being, those prayers are powerful. And we can carry our work further to realize that that healing effectiveness is irreversible. Mrs. Eddy writes, "Be 'of one mind,' 'in one place,' and God will pour you out a blessing such as you never before received." Miscellaneous Writings, p. 134 What an opportunity for healing our praying together in church represents! As we embrace this opportunity, we can expect to witness now to the redeeming power of our prayers.
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