Stuck to my refrigerator with a magnet is a precious scrap of paper with seven words written in a childish scrawl. When my granddaughter learned to write, her Sunday School teacher asked her to list the seven Bible-based synonyms of God found in the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy. Whenever I’m praying diligently about something, I lean on these powerful words that clarify God’s nature: Principle, Mind, Soul, Spirit, Life, Truth, Love.
One day it came to me that in Christian Science we have seven terms that are commonly used for man (meaning the true, spiritual selfhood of each one of us). They define our individuality, as God created it: image, likeness, idea, representation, reflection, expression, and manifestation. Each of them highlights our loving relationship to God and hints at a selfhood inseparably linked to the Supreme Being.
Pondering these terms helps us get beyond the mundane facts by which the world identifies us, such as those details listed on one’s driver’s license: date of birth, gender, color of eyes, height, address, etc. Likewise, the summary of one’s hobbies, talents, and life accomplishments, however positive, is a human view that would leave one vulnerable to ailments or limitations associated with age, environment, and fluctuating circumstances. So what’s the higher view?
Eddy’s concept of man is spelled out in the Glossary of Science and Health. There she defines man as, “The compound idea of infinite Spirit; the spiritual image and likeness of God; the full representation of Mind” (p. 591). The terms image and likeness are borrowed from the first chapter of Genesis: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. . .” (verse 26). Added to these familiar scriptural words are idea and representation (of Mind, God). With relief we can take our thought off of physicality and material selfhood and know ourselves as a divine idea.
This concept points us in the direction of Spirit—and of man as a spiritual idea, an idea in the infinite Mind that is God. When we contemplate representation, we can see ourselves as re-presenting (presenting again) our Maker to those around us, showing forth lively spiritual qualities. The concept also suggests that each of us is a representative of the kingdom of heaven, serving our community as an ambassador might serve his or her country.
By working with these terms, I have often felt a holy uplift of thought that has effected a change in me and my circumstances.
Many times Science and Health refers to man as reflection. For example, “Man is God’s reflection, needing no cultivation, but ever beautiful and complete” (p. 527). If we look into the mirror, we see our image or our reflection. It is exactly like us. So man, as the reflection of God, is exactly like Him. If God is at peace, man, His reflection, can’t be in turmoil. If God doesn’t have a stomachache, man, His reflection, can’t be indisposed.
Another term for our spiritual identity that I find particularly evocative is expression. In Science and Health Eddy offers this simple but profound insight: “Man is the expression of God’s being” (p. 470). There is nothing passive about this vision. Whether we’re on the job in our workplace, at home with the family, or on the sports field, God is actively expressing in us all His attributes—intelligence, joy, peace, love, foresight, accuracy, order, and so on. Whenever we are tempted to feel inadequate, this line of reasoning can buoy us up. Instead of having to laboriously shape up a dull mortal personality before we can satisfactorily be ourselves, we can “let go and let God” be more fully expressed through and as us.
Finally, it is a comfort to think of ourselves as the manifestation of the Supreme Being. “God is the only Mind, and His manifestation is the spiritual universe, including man and all eternal individuality,” writes Eddy in her Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896 (p. 361). To manifest God’s nature is to give clear evidence or proof of it, to disclose in a palpable way His power and benevolence. That’s our purpose. This view rips off the label of “miserable sinner,” which traditional theology has pinned on the human being, and empowers us to progressively shed sin and show forth our pure, God-created identity, and behold it in others.
Connecting these seven descriptive terms for man with the seven synonyms for God gives us a solid framework on which to build our understanding and prayers. For example, in time of need one might turn to God with all one’s heart and humbly ask, “Father, enable me to see myself as:
- the idea of divine Principle, evidencing order and harmonious functioning;
- the expression of Mind, including intelligence and creativity;
- the reflection of Soul, having calmness and radiance;
- the image of Spirit, showing forth freedom and strength;
- the likeness of Life, radiating energy and health;
- the manifestation of Truth, full of perfection and integrity;
- the representation of Love, expressing kindness and patience.
Expanding on this prayer, one might choose just one of the terms for man and combine it with different synonyms for God. For example, “I am the expression of Life, the expression of Truth, the expression of Love.” Or, one of the synonyms for God may be related to several terms for man. One might acknowledge in prayer, “I am the manifestation of Spirit, the representation of Spirit, the likeness of Spirit.” By working with these terms, I have often felt a holy uplift of thought that has effected a change in me and my circumstances.
Some years ago I found I needed to redefine—or, really, correctly identify—myself. A blemish had appeared near my collarbone and had continued to enlarge over several months. This was especially worrisome, as I was soon to be married. Children and grandchildren were arriving, and I was concerned that the growth would show above the neckline of my wedding dress.
One day I caught a glimpse of the growth in the mirror and felt afraid. I called a Christian Science practitioner for treatment. This was the kind of healing prayer I had relied on all my life. The practitioner urged me to focus on my spiritual selfhood as described in this line from Science and Health: “Man is idea, the image, of Love; he is not physique” (p. 475). Divine Love’s image radiates warmth, selflessness, purity, and spotlessness. I also kept in view the implications of another identifying statement from the same book: “Man is the reflection of Soul” (p. 249). This meant I must reflect the attributes of Soul—clarity, agelessness, beauty, and flawlessness.
I filled my consciousness with the truth of another passage I had once memorized: “God creates man perfect and eternal in His own image. Hence man is the image, idea, or likeness of perfection—an ideal which cannot fall from its inherent unity with divine Love, from its spotless purity and original perfection” (Mary Baker Eddy, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 262).
After several talks with the practitioner, I no longer felt impressed by the physical condition and was able to finalize the wedding plans without concern. I trusted the biblical promise, “And thine age shall be clearer than the noonday; thou shalt shine forth, thou shalt be as the morning” (Job 11:17). I also trusted this promise in Eddy’s book Unity of Good: “This false sense of substance must yield to His eternal presence, and so dissolve” (p. 60). One dictionary gives the meaning of dissolve as “to lose definition.” I loved that.
What was gaining clear definition in my thought was my true identity—me as the reflection of God’s perfection. Eddy speaks of false images being “effaced from the canvas of mortal mind” and promises, “thus does the material pigment beneath fade into invisibility” (Retrospection and Introspection, p. 79). Error dismissed! The second week after I called the practitioner, the blemish started shriveling, and by the end of the second week it was gone. The healing came just in time for that joyous wedding event.
As our thought becomes alive with what we truly are—a re-presentation of Spirit, a manifestation of Soul, an idea of Love—as we define ourselves correctly, divinely, we enjoy the health, harmony, and joy natural to God’s beloved creation.
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