EDITOR’S NOTE: In the following article the author shares his experience of a clarity of spiritual vision that, in turn, led him into a deeper study and practice of Christian Science, and to years of service in the Christian Science movement.
In his popular book Proof of Heaven, Dr. Eben Alexander shared his story of a near-death experience (NDE). The neurosurgeon is among many who report experiences of being on the verge of death and rising up out of their bodies into a universe of love to gain a whole new perspective of life beyond material existence.
While these compelling NDE narratives certainly have their critics, they raise many profound questions, beginning most basically with: What is our life? Is our life or existence solely material, or is there something more? Could these NDE reports even encourage us to consider the possibility that our existence isn’t actually material at all? And if our existence isn’t material, what is it? What is reality? Is it spiritual? If so, do we need to be clinically “dead” to experience this spiritual reality, this realm of love? An experience I had while very much alive tells me that the answer to this last question is, No, we can experience spiritual reality here and now.
One morning in the 1980s, while hurriedly walking across my university campus to my morning class, I was thinking about a wonderful healing of a medically diagnosed case of strep throat that had occurred on the previous weekend.
During that weekend, despite great discomfort and being unable to eat or speak easily, I had been praying with the Bible passage: “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me” (Psalms 139:7–10).
I can still remember chuckling to myself when I read the line, “if I make my bed in hell,” thinking, “Yeah, I have pretty much arrived at that destination!” But immediately this thought was followed by the realization that even in “hell” God was still with me, that God was comforting me and awakening my consciousness to what was already true of me.
As a result of this spiritual realization, the throat condition vanished immediately.
Back to my campus walk, then, where I was mentally expressing gratitude to God for all the good I had experienced and for the insights into my inviolate spiritual perfection I’d gained from this healing. I rejoiced in the fact that I, along with everyone else, lived, moved, and had my being in God, as Paul assures us in the Bible (see Acts 17:28).
What happened next was almost indescribable. I was walking along the sidewalk, when I was stopped by an overwhelming and all-powerful sense of love that permeated my being. I was more than just embraced by this feeling of being loved, I felt “at one” with Love, God—as though I had just stepped into the middle of a universe of love, where the only existence, the only consciousness, the only power, was Love. And in that moment I knew that God knew me, loved me, and was disclosing these facts to me.
It was so assuring, calming, beautiful, and absolutely holy to see God’s loveliness and feel the omnipotent power of Love.
At that point, my surroundings were suddenly illuminated with light. The light was not coming from an external source like the sun, yet every object I was seeing was lit up by it. In Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, writing about the reference to “light” in Genesis 1, verse 5, Mary Baker Eddy notes: “This light is not from the sun nor from volcanic flames, but it is the revelation of Truth and of spiritual ideas. This also shows that there is no place where God’s light is not seen, since Truth, Life, and Love fill immensity and are ever-present” (p. 504). I stood there in amazement as this scene of illumination, of Love filling immensity, was being revealed to me.
Then, while observing other people on campus, I had a clear vision of man’s beautiful spiritual individuality, enveloped in this loving light, and shimmering with love. And I heard a voice say loudly in my consciousness, three times, “This is what I am,” and then, “You are mine.” There was not a shred of doubt in my thought that it was God speaking directly to me.
Now, some may think I am describing an optical illusion, but that would be inconsistent with the experience and with this consciousness of the embrace of omnipresent Love. I felt that God was showing me a clear glimpse of man’s true spiritual nature—a concept of man that was not material. When Science and Health says, “Man is idea, the image, of Love; he is not physique” (p. 475), to me it is characterizing what I saw, and what I am convinced we all can see.
I later found an article in an earlier copy of this magazine that beautifully articulates what I felt that day. The author wrote, “The landscape seen from the observation post of inspired thought is wholly spiritual, radiant with the beauty of holiness and filled with perfect, living identities through which divine Science unfolds the majesty and splendor of being” (Julia Johnston, “This world of infinite Love,” Journal, August 1955).
The author goes on to describe how “Love’s nearness is felt in perfect peace; its power is expressed in music of the spheres.”
That was the experience I had, and it wasn’t just fleeting. Over the next few days, the consciousness of God’s loving presence stayed with me. Or I might say, I lived within it. I felt a oneness with Love, God, and I couldn’t let it go.
In fact, I gained a new appreciation for the Bible story of Jacob, who, as Eddy explains in Science and Health on page 308, was “wrestling with error” until he discovered the light, the new understanding of God. And once he did so, he refused to let the light go until it blessed him. During those days, I felt this powerful and assuring presence of Love abiding with me morning, noon, and night; and it was so powerful that I didn’t need to sleep for days. I just sat in my bed at night and contemplated the allness and almightiness of God. As I went about my activities day to day, I was so full of joy that I could not get the smile off my face—and I kept telling my new girlfriend (now my wife) that “God knows me and told me that He knows me!”
I am deeply grateful for this experience and have frequently looked back on it throughout my life and professional career to remind me of the unassailable fact that God’s creation, including man, is spiritual and perfect—and remains so.
Immediately following this experience, I had an urgent desire to know more about God. I felt that my years of attending a Christian Science Sunday School and reading the weekly Bible Lesson had given me a solid foundation for this experience to happen, but I really needed to understand God. I resolved to read through Science and Health entirely over the Christmas break, which I did. Soon after, I took class instruction in Christian Science to understand how to better practice the system of healing described in Science and Health. And over the next decade, I read through that book on an annual basis to learn more about God and to better understand this experience.
I also found that when I interacted with people both as a student, and then as a professional, I could more easily see past false human personality traits by recognizing the individual of God’s creating, as I had done that morning when I so vividly glimpsed the illuminated individuality of man.
This experience enlarged my love for humanity and has especially inspired in me the vast vision that everyone can potentially feel the power of divine Love, just as I did, through reading Science and Health and applying its ideas. As a result of this experience and the spiritual growth that followed from it, I devoted 15 years of my life to working for the Christian Science movement in a role devoted to removing the obstacles that might prevent those who know little about Christian Science from open-mindedly exploring these ideas for themselves.
As I have grappled to understand this powerful experience over the past few decades, I’ve been helped by Eddy’s writings, which reveal everyone’s unbroken relation to God. We can each glimpse this spiritual reality in our own unique way, as we open our hearts to God. As Science and Health notes, “The Revelator was on our plane of existence, while yet beholding what the eye cannot see,—that which is invisible to the uninspired thought.”
The passage continues: “This testimony of Holy Writ sustains the fact in Science, that the heavens and earth to one human consciousness, that consciousness which God bestows, are spiritual, while to another, the unillumined human mind, the vision is material” (p. 573). That “unillumined human mind” is not the true mind of any of us. As Christian Science makes clear, there is but one divine Mind, God, which we all reflect equally.
More recently, on reading a stanza in a poem by Violet Hay, I realized that she captured the essence of what I experienced in four short lines:
I reach Mind’s open door, and at its portal
I know that where I stand is holy ground;
I feel the calm and joy of things immortal,
The loveliness of Love is all around.
(Christian Science Hymnal, No. 64, © CSBD)
There are many ways in which to experience God’s closeness and to know we are standing on holy ground. In this experience, it was so assuring, calming, beautiful, and absolutely holy to stand at this portal and see God’s loveliness and feel the omnipotent power of Love embracing everyone and everything.
That’s what I felt. And the best part of this experience is that it has given me a glimpse of the infinite “depth, breadth, height, might, majesty, and glory” of God (Science and Health, p. 520) that is there for everyone to experience through the application of Eddy’s discovery of Christian Science.