Many questions come to The Mother Church from Christian Scientists seeking guidance on reading in branch churches. "Conversations with Readers in Christian Science churches" comes in response to these questions.
With a By-Law in the Manual of The Mother Church written in 1894, Mary Baker Eddy ordained two books—the Bible and her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures—as pastor of her Church. This pastor, she writes,...will continue to preach for this Church and the world" (Art. XIV Sect. 1). Each week in Christian Science churches around the world, two lay Readers deliver a Lesson-Sermon at Sunday services, and the First Reader reads selections from these two books for the Wednesday evening testimony meetings.
Over the next several months, the Journal will publish excerpts from conversations with current and former Readers. In this first feature, participants were asked how the Manual By-Law entitled "Moral Obligations" (part of "Article III, duties of readers of the mother church and of its branch churches") guided their work as a Reader.
I remember when I first read this By-Law after being elected. I was thunderstruck enough to be faced with the assignment of pulling together readings for Wednesday meetings and for conducting the Sunday services. And then to read that I had to be "unspotted from the world." ...It really seemed like a tall order, and I thought, "Oh my goodness, how do I ever measure up to this?" At first I thought of it in terms of my behavior—my code of behavior—away from reading. You know, does this mean I should be more selective in the movies I go to and the books I read? Well, my behavior and activities, even my conversations, were increasingly governed by the spirit of this By-Law. As I got into the reading, however, I saw more clearly how the By-Law applied to the reading itself.
I viewed myself, as a Reader, as a transparency for the Word, and it was very important to me that I be clear about that. I was a window for the Word. The congregation was coming to hear the Word, and it was important that I, as that window, not be smudged with spots, the smudges of fear and pride and of self-depreciation. This wasn't just for the sake of my own little "comfort zone." I prepared my thought before each service with that desire to be a window, to be as pure and clear a transparency as possible, to not contaminate the Word with my own sense of responsibility or personal interpretation. I found often that I would read a passage in a way I had not thought of before.
Soon after I had begun reading, I began to get calls for Christian Science treatment. It had been a desire of mine to be in the healing practice....I remember the first time someone called me for help through prayer. After I hung up I thought, "Well, isn't this natural? If I am to some degree being successful as a transparency for the Word in reading, I can certainly be an effective transparency for the Word in healing." I felt that it was God's way of pushing me onward....So for me, becoming a practitioner was the direct result of reading.
When Christ Jesus stood up in the synagogue to read the words of the prophet Esaias, undoubtedly everyone in the congregation was familiar with those words and had heard them read many times by many people. But the Bible says that after Jesus finished reading those words, they "all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth." I think these "gracious words" were the result of his intimate acquaintance with the Word of God and his understanding of God. These gracious words don't come free of charge. There is a price to be paid, and I think that price is a moral and spiritual investment. It's the kind of sacrifice that John the Baptist told people they had to be prepared to make in order to accept and understand Jesus. They had to repent, reach a certain level of morality. It's the same kind of moral investment Elijah had to make to see that God was not in the earthquake, wind, or fire. It's the kind of investment that allows that "still small voice" of Truth to be heard above all the noise and confusion of daily life. When the Reader is willing to make that moral investment, which comes from obeying the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount—both the spirit and the letter—then the Word of God, that "still small voice" of Truth, becomes the voice of God to him and is reflected in his reading.
What a tremendous priority-setting By-Law this is! At the time you're elected Reader, of course, you see how much more there is to do in your life now—what you might need to learn and research. This By-Law is just like that voice to Moses —God speaking so clearly— saying, I am with you and I'll put the words in your mouth. It helped me to go about those needed human activities, doing them in a natural way with spiritual assurance, not getting mixed up in the to-dos of the world. That's what "unspotted" meant to me at that time.
All of our activities really should follow this By-Law....I got elected Reader at a time that, from a human standpoint, would be one of the worst. Lots of business travel and big projects and career considerations. I remember very clearly being in a company meeting and it was running long. I was not going to get to church for the Wednesday meeting unless I left. I just knew where I had to be. I said, "I'd love to stay for this meeting and see it to completion, but I have another obligation." One of my sidekicks said, "Well, it's your career if you want to walk away" I was at that time working for a real "company man," and he just said, "What's up?" I said, "I'm conducting a service at my church tonight, and they're expecting me to be there." In an unheard-of way, this guy said, "Well then, we'll pick this up tomorrow." He closed his notebook and left. Everyone stood around with their jaws loose. They'd never seen him do anything like that.
But I could just feel that sense of not being contaminated by the world or taken in by it, that sense of knowing where my right place was that enabled me to speak of it with assurance. That was played out over my whole term as Reader in many different ways.
So often when we think of preparing to read the Lesson-Sermon, we think solely in terms of what you might call the scholarly preparation. In other words, we'll read it, we'll look up any difficult words, and we'll look in the Bible commentaries. All of that is important. We need to know the Lesson well to have the message get through. To me that doesn't necessarily mean having a formal education. It indicates a willingness to really probe and study, to research, to work on pronunciation, on phrasing, and to be diligent about it.
But in addition to that kind of careful preparation, probably what we don't sometimes realize fully is that if we are imbibing the spirit of each Lesson-Sermon and those ideas are becoming alive to us each day, then we are thinking of those ideas and using them in our healing practice, and that is the really crucial preparation for the reading on Sunday. It seems to me, if you heal with the ideas in that Lesson, you are prepared to read it in the way Mrs. Eddy intended.
Readers need to be exemplary Christians because in order to convey the Word of God, you have to be living it yourself. Otherwise you would just be reading it as you would read a grocery list. But the more you are actually living daily the Word that you are reading, you are healing with that Word. Then you are really going to be a good Reader. We have to stay unspotted from any criticizing of church members. Because if you get up there on Sunday, the first thing when you look out there, you see certain people...and you don't care for their behavior...how they are conducting a committee or something. All of a sudden you're spotted....You're no longer a pure transparency for the Word if personal sense is interfering.
I've included in my own metaphysical work part of the advice Mrs. Eddy gave to her student James Neal, in which she asked him to pray regularly " 'Lead me not into temptation,' ...Lead me not to lose sight of strict purity, clean pure thoughts; let all my thoughts and aims be high, unselfish, charitable, meek,—spiritually minded" (quoted in Robert Peel, Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Authority, p. 101)....One of the things that has been healed is a residual resistance to studying. I teach art and am not a man of words. I'm more a man of pictures....I feel that recently this resistance has been healed, and study is much more of a joy to me.
When I started reading, I found a lovely passage in Retrospection and Introspection by Mrs. Eddy. It's on page 93, where she writes, "The best spiritual type of Christly method for uplifting human thought and imparting divine Truth, is stationary power, stillness, and strength; and when this spiritual ideal is made our own, it becomes the model for human action." I found so helpful the idea of stationary power, the fact that God is here and His power is here, and we don't need to rush around to find the inspiration we need. It's right here, and we can be still, upheld with His strength, and He will provide the inspiration that we need through the Christ....It is the Christ that will heal and comfort and inspire the congregation.
"Moral Obligations. section 1. The Readers of The Mother Church and of all its branch churches must devote a suitable portion of their time to preparation for the reading of the Sunday lesson,—a lesson on which the prosperity of Christian Science largely depends. They must keep themselves unspotted from the world,— uncontaminated with evil,—that the mental atmosphere they exhale shall promote health and holiness, even that spiritual animus so universally needed."
Article III, Section 1, Manual of The Mother Church by Mary Baker Eddy
Speak thou the things which become sound doctrine....
For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,
teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts,
we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;
looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing
of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us,
that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself
a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
Titus 2:1, 11-14
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