Growing up in a devoted family of Christian Scientists, I resonated positively to this call to duty—to love God with all my heart, to faithfully follow the Leader of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, to serve The Mother Church and my branch Church of Christ, Scientist, consistently, and to embrace the healing practice of Christian Science.
In her writings, Mrs. Eddy repeatedly refers to “duty”—10 times in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, 32 times in her Prose Works, and 34 times in the Manual of The Mother Church. 34 times! It might be said that the Manual’s major theme is that of duty.
And on top of these direct references to duty, there are clarion calls like this one: “Will you give yourselves wholly and irrevocably to the great work of establishing the truth, the gospel, and the Science which are necessary to the salvation of the world from error, sin, disease, and death? Answer at once and practically, and answer aright!” (Mary Baker Eddy, Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 177). My love for Christian Science as the very Science of being, the absolute truth of life in and of God, has made me thrill to these statements and long to answer, Yes!
And yet, I have at times felt as though I am falling short of this call to duty, and, accordingly, I have struggled with a sense of guilt about this gap between my desire and my ability to fulfill the call.
In time, I came to see this struggle as a symptom of scholastic theology and not the genuine practice of Christian Science. Scholastic theology starts from a concept of God’s creation, each one of us, as a material mortal who has fallen from grace and is finite, limited, and incomplete. Evil assumes a role as a power opposed to God, good, and is constantly challenging us. This premise is illustrated in detail, in chapter 2 of Genesis, with the story of Adam and Eve.
In this view, the task of the fallen mortal man is to try to earn his way back to the kingdom of heaven, with the inherent problem of starting from finite ability and trying to achieve oneness with the infinite. Even if one approaches this conundrum by accepting salvation through supposed unmerited divine grace, the tendency of the human mind is to feel a persistent sense of the gap between getting to salvation and not quite deserving it. On top of that there can be a feeling of blame and self-condemnation that goes with one’s supposed inability to “get there from here.”
Through the years, as I have been alert to this pervasive belief, I have felt something very precious moving me to see how better to fulfill the call to duty.
The big breakthroughs have come as I’ve gained a more spiritual sense of what that means. A common definition of duty includes the legal and moral obligation to get something done, a responsibility to perform a task that accomplishes a mission. But Science and Health brings new light and a diviner sense to duty. In warning of the distrust of one’s ability that would lead to failure, it says, “Science reveals the possibility of achieving all good, and sets mortals at work to discover what God has already done; …” (p. 260).
What a relief this is to the problem of yearning to fulfill our duty and the feeling that we lack the ability to get the job done. It moves us from a sense of duty to get things done to the duty to see that God has already eternally gotten everything done. We take on duty, then, as a steadfast commitment to the work of seeing the perfection and completeness that God, the divine Mind, sees and maintains in His own creation.
There was something I was being urged to see beyond mere human efficiencies and management of responsibilities.
One Saturday morning, as my husband and I read the Christian Science Bible Lesson aloud together, he mentioned some inspiration he was having about the passage from First Corinthians 15:58, which encourages, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” My husband said that it struck him that our steadfastness was in the work of seeing what God has already done, that healing is always here, and that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. I told him how helpful this was to me since I had been praying diligently to see a refreshed model for how to do my work as a Christian Science practitioner.
For more than thirty years I have been available 24/7, most weeks of the year, to calls coming in from people for help in prayer, and I continue to feel deeply dedicated to and genuinely love this work. I also find time to take breaks to enjoy my family and to find time for spiritual refreshment for myself. But sometimes I hear myself thinking, “All those around me are retiring and enjoying a well-deserved break from the ‘daily grind’ of work—but what about Christian Science practitioners and teachers—when do they get a ‘break’?”
I’ve recognized that this is an age-old, not-so-subtle suggestion of the carnal mind, claiming that everyone at certain points in their experience inevitably gets tired and wants to stop contributing. I am well aware of Mrs. Eddy’s statements about how divine work is restful and not depleting, such as this one from Science and Health: “Whatever it is your duty to do, you can do without harm to yourself” (p. 385). But still, I felt there was something I was being urged to see beyond mere human efficiencies and management of responsibilities.
A wonderful answer came to me as my husband and I continued to read the Lesson together that morning. I saw so clearly how Christ Jesus taught, lived, and healed from this standpoint of “done.”
We got to the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead (see John 11:1–44). Jesus did not rush to the scene when he was first notified that Lazarus was ill. In fact, he waited to make the journey to his friend’s house. When he arrived, Lazarus’ sister Martha expressed regret that Jesus had not gotten there sooner, but she still said she was confident that Jesus could bring Lazarus back even though he had now been dead for four days.
Suddenly, I thought of the story of Mary and Martha, when Jesus had visited their home (see Luke 10:38–42). Martha complained to the Master about her sister just sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to him preach instead of helping with serving the meal. Even though Martha’s hospitality was good work, Jesus did point out that Mary had the right idea regarding priorities.
We are practicing seeing the wholeness or done-ness of all creation.
Wow, I thought, Jesus didn’t treat his ministry as simply being “on call,” responding to all kinds of demands coming at him from without. His life was about staying in self-conscious communion with God, and his recognition of God’s allness healed. He was always recognizing God’s messages, just as Mary had been doing when she recognized the Christ message as she sat at Jesus’ feet. Jesus’ work was wholly outside of the sense of success and failure in a mortal story. As we read in Science and Health, “Truth, Life, and Love are the only legitimate and eternal demands on man, and they are spiritual lawgivers, enforcing obedience through divine statutes” (p. 184).
This new glimpse lifted a burden off of my shoulders. I hadn’t realized how weighty my concept of duty had become. I realized that this had to change and I had to practice thinking more consistently of my duties in an entirely “done” way.
I can’t tell you how grateful I am for an improved concept of duty—for waking up each morning, not to what feels like an onslaught of demands, problems, and unfinished business, but to a renewed sense of sitting at the feet of the Christ. A new definition of the practice of Christian Science and of my duty was springing forth in line with what The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany points out: “To live so as to keep human consciousness in constant relation with the divine, the spiritual, and the eternal, is to individualize infinite power; and this is Christian Science” (Mary Baker Eddy, p. 160).
At the end of the chapter “Science of Being” in Science and Health, there is an interpretation of Scripture that has always thrilled me, but had new meaning now; it reads: “This text in the book of Ecclesiastes conveys the Christian Science thought, especially when the word duty, which is not in the original, is omitted: ‘Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.’ In other words: Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: love God and keep His commandments: for this is the whole of man in His image and likeness” (p. 340).
Going forward, it is becoming easier for me to see that no matter whether one is a student in college, a parent with children, a business person with clients, a church member with many hats to wear, or a practitioner and teacher of Christian Science with healing and teaching work to do, it is possible and vital to be approaching our work from the standpoint of seeing what God has already done. We are practicing seeing the wholeness or done-ness of all creation.
Since this is the joyous job we have to do, the work is sustainable and fulfillable. In some ways we are even more consistent than ever before in being helpful to others, because we are less distracted by the burden of personal effort or the need to worry about making room for time off. We sit reverently at the feet of the Christ with our whole attention to the Word of God and follow God’s direction. And we are abundantly blessed.
In a letter to one of her students who was in the public practice of Christian Science, Mrs. Eddy gave counsel on how to practice Christian Science more restfully and sustainably. She wrote: “The healing will grow more easy and be more immediate as you realize that God, Good, is all and Good is Love. You must gain Love, and lose the false sense called love. You must feel the Love that never faileth,—that perfect sense of divine power that makes healing no longer power but grace. Then you will have the Love that casts out fear[,] and when fear is gone doubt is gone and your work is done. Why? Because it never was undone” (Yvonne Caché von Fettweis and Robert Townsend Warneck, Mary Baker Eddy: Christian Healer, Amplified Edition, p. 167).
To realize our work “never was undone”—now that is a duty we can perpetually fulfill!
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