In this Sentinel Watch podcast, adapted for print, David Brown talks with John Biggs, a Christian Science practitioner from Maryland Heights, Missouri. To hear the podcast visit jsh.christianscience.com/stillness.
David: What is stillness? When we talk about stillness, I think of peace. That’s probably the word that jumps to my mind. Yours?
John: Stillness can seem like a word that’s very hard to latch hold of. For me, peace seems so out of reach sometimes. But something that’s really helped me think of stillness in a more approachable way has been to think of what athletes think of as being “in the zone.”
I like the idea of the stillness of a surfer who is just under the curl of the wave, or the stillness of the mountain climber who is looking for that perfect route, or the snowboarder who is on that perfect carve in the snow, flying up in front of you. There’s so much activity happening all around you. But being “in the zone” means that you are still, and it means that you’re focused, and it means that you’re aware of everything going on. You’re entirely present, and it lets you be nimble and flexible.
That’s what’s been really helpful for me in thinking about stillness recently, because my home is often filled with excitement and adventure, since I have a young child! So stillness can often be hard to find, but we’ve got to be able to be still, and stillness has to be more than circumstantial.
Let’s dive in a little bit deeper right now, because I think there are so many distractions these days—things that try to grab our attention. It’s like, Go, go, go! The stillness that you’re describing, though, doesn’t mean inactivity. What you seem to be saying is, as you put it, stillness is sort of being “in the zone.” Why do you crave that? I mean, why is it that stillness is so important in the first place?
I’ve been reading a book by Thomas Friedman called Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, and he’s trying to help lay out why so many people, as you say, are feeling so caught up in seemingly unexplainable activity and chaos. He’s explaining that there’s a mismatch between the accelerated pace of change in the world and our ability to get the most out of this change.
And so we’re always feeling so caught up in things we don’t understand. He’s got hundreds of pages talking about trying to sort this out, this chaos that seems to be all around us. It’s so important to sort this out for our health. It’s so important for our sense of purpose and validity to feel that we’re able to know ourselves, to stand still in the midst of what seems like the storm.
Throughout the Bible, we’re shown consistently this basic instruction: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalms 46:10). The Bible is a very important book to me, and I like to do what I can to follow the instructions and the teachings given there. The Bible helps us know that it must be possible to be still, to find that stillness irrespective of circumstances around us.
This idea of stillness really came home to me last summer. I was playing raucously with my son out in the yard, and I stepped in a mole hole or something and fell while my foot was still in the hole, and felt and heard loud cracking sounds from my ankle. I’ve played enough sports to know that this wasn’t good. I could hardly walk.
As a longtime practicing Christian Scientist, I’m quite used to healing being a pretty normal fact of my life, and I sort of desperately shouted out, “It’s OK, I’m OK! I can have a healing right now.” But oh gosh, then I didn’t, and it was painful. I was debating what I ought to do and my son noticed I was in distress. He said, “Dad, why don’t you just come sit down under the tree here?” I said, “OK.” And it was an interesting thing. It hurt so much that I almost didn’t know what I could do about it. And I realized that maybe I shouldn’t try to “do something about it” and should just really listen for what to do.
And in that moment, the only thing I could think was that I know that God is here. I know that God is right here, and I am able to choose to rest my thought on God. This was really interesting because I wasn’t trying to make the pain go away. I wasn’t trying to do anything. I knew that God is here, and was able to choose what I did with my thoughts. And that was practically all I could do. I just got so engrossed in that. I got so still.
Well, about ten minutes had passed, and I heard my son call up from a gully below, “Hey, Dad, I found some raccoon tracks. Can we go track them?” I said, “Well, sure.” And I hopped up and started climbing down the gully, and there was not a trace of pain. Not a weakness, not a wobble. You know, I didn’t even think about it until I was halfway down the gully and I said, “Well, here I am. I may as well keep getting muddy!” I couldn’t tell you when the pain stopped, but as you can tell, it’s really stuck as an amazing example to me of just admitting my right to choose how I conduct myself—not of self-hypnotism and not just trying to make something happen because of my clever prayers.
For me, that’s sort of the activity of what being still is, to admit that I’m able to choose how to respond, how to think, in any given moment, regardless of circumstances going on around me.
What a powerful experience. But what I’m trying to understand—and I think maybe a lot of listeners are probably asking a similar question—is, what role do you think that conscious effort to be still plays? What factor did that play in this healing experience?
Sure. I discovered how it was a factor a little bit later through some conversation with friends who are physics professors at nearby universities. I wanted to get a better understanding with them of what the “second law of thermodynamics” is, about what entropy is. And I’m not going to go off in a long lecture here. But basically what they were able to share with me, according to a material view of the universe, is that that’s a law, a fundamental law of physics, that basically states that things tend toward disorder.
We have chance and disorder—not disorder in a moral sense, necessarily, but just disordered states. So breaking a vase is much easier than fixing a vase. Well, breaking an ankle, twisting, injuring an ankle, is much easier than putting it back together according to a material sense of things.
So the role that my active stillness played in this healing experience was that I was consciously unwilling to admit that disorder had to be the way things were, and I was casting all my weight, as it were, on the side of order, on the side of Principle, which is a synonym for God, as I’ve learned in my study of Christian Science.
That’s a wonderful thing, that God is not just a powerful being somewhere. God is the Principle of the universe, and this Principle is Love and Life, as the Bible tells us, and allows for no disorder.
Now, that seems like a big bridge to cross. But I take heart from Christ Jesus’ parable in the Bible, where he points to the importance of being “faithful over a few things” (Matthew 25:23). Be faithful in little things, be faithful in the day-to-day. I’m paraphrasing a bit, of course, but as we keep seeing how to be faithful in little things, we’ll see more and more how we are masters over many things. Masters over our lives entirely. And so although, sure, it’s just my ankle, at the same time, it was a very poignant example of how powerful it is to consciously throw my mental weight on the side of Truth, admitting that Principle is the law of life, not disorder.
I’m struck by how you went to this idea of stillness. I can think of a friend right now who might not be a student of Christian Science tapping me on the shoulder and saying, “Hey David, make sure you ask him, How is this different from, say, psychologically talking yourself into not feeling the pain?”
All I can say is I wasn’t trying to make the pain go away. I wouldn’t say that I lived with the pain, but I would say that I refused to have it be the center of my orientation. I stopped trying to figure out what to do about a badly injured ankle. And I stopped fretting about the pain. It wasn’t just willpower, because willpower is still an awful lot of human activity, and it’s an awful lot of energy, and it’s not a sustainable thing. You know, willpower in the sense that sometimes you try super, super hard at stuff and eventually you’re going to give in.
But in my case what I could admit was that God is here, the fundamental fact that God is here, and that I am therefore able to choose what I think. And that was literally all I was contemplating for those ten minutes. It was like I was being fed.
In the Bible, we hear the stories of the children of Israel who are fed with manna every day and they’re given all that they need. We also have the Lord’s Prayer, in which Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). During this moment, this prayer time, I felt like I was just being fed with that idea of God being there with me, and there was nothing else I could come up with. There was very much, you would say, a yielding. You know, when I go skateboarding, when I’m going down a big hill, longboarding, I just have to be right there and I have to be aware in each
What you’re saying, it really speaks to me as someone who rides motorcycles, too, because there’s that place where you have to be in that moment. You can feel that presence and it is a stillness. But I want to get back to something that you were saying a little bit earlier. You were talking about how it was so important to you and it seems to be an important theme in the Bible, where we hear, “Peace, be still.”
That phrase is from the Gospel of Mark, in a story about Jesus being on a boat with his disciples (see chap. 4, verses 35–41). The storm is throwing the boat around, and they find Jesus in the back part of the ship asleep, right? And they wake him. And he rises up and he rebukes the wind, the Bible says. And he says to the sea, “Peace, be still.” And in that sense, this idea of stillness isn’t just a wish for peace. It’s an imperative. It’s a command. It’s a declaration of independence, of a sort, from all of those rules that you were talking about, entropy and that sort of material leaning toward things falling apart.
I’ve got that Bible story open here. And I love that. If you think about the whole context, it’s sort of a funny thing. I mean, those little fishing boats are not like a fancy pleasure yacht. And so for Jesus to be able to be asleep in the first place is impressive. And then the disciples say, Don’t you care that we’re drowning? And Jesus just rebukes the wind. I love the phrasing that the King James Version offers us. He rebukes the wind and says to the sea, “Peace, be still.” And there’s a great calm. What I’ve come to see and to so deeply appreciate is that what happened there was God’s protection. Principle was expressed.
The Bible talks about the carnal mind, or the worldly, human mind, that seems so magnetized, you might say, to chaos. And this, again, is an effect of that insistence on entropy, on disorder being the primal thing. But the protection that happened, the calming of the storm that happened there, my healing that I had, and many other healings I’ve had that revolve around the same sort of topic, is not God setting aside bad stuff and now coming in because someone prayed. The point of Principle is that it’s the Principle of the universe, and when we pray, what’s revealed is the goodness of God’s creation that actually always has been and always will be the fact.
You know, this Science of Christianity that Jesus presented, and that Mary Baker Eddy was faithful enough to explain and share with all of us in its full explanation, is for everybody. It’s the Science of Life that’s available to us regardless of our background, and that’s the way Principle works.
I think a lot of times we think that it’s all about just contemplating, say, peacefulness. But where’s God’s role in all of this? I’m wondering if you can explain what’s going on there. You mentioned that this isn’t like reshaping your own thinking so that you can ignore the pain. Clearly, there is some other force at work here, and stillness allows you to recognize it. Can you say more about God’s role?
Sure. God is the one who not only made life but is Life itself, and He is constantly expressing Himself in the newness of Life. In the Bible record of creation we read, “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). And that’s the simple model I love to look to for what creation is really like. So God being good is not about Him making life and then hoping we sort it out. God is Life, always expressing Life in order and love and care and purposefulness and health. And although what we call “real life,” which isn’t divine Life, seems opposed to that wonderful view, what being still allowed me to do is to admit that God is true power and that I am willing to be open to the possibility, the promise of this; I am growing to see the presence of God.
You know, as a Christian Science practitioner, I’m quite used to getting calls or texts or emails from people who need some help. And I suppose one broad statement I could say is, everyone I talk with in a professional capacity is having trouble remembering that God is right there. I don’t say that blaming those dear people at all. No. But, you know, having trouble remembering God is here is common. But that doesn’t mean God isn’t here just because we’re not feeling like we’re experiencing that. Just like the disciples in the boat—it doesn’t mean God isn’t here. And so our role is to admit that there’s another way we can look at things. There’s another way that we can conduct ourselves that admits consciously that God is here. It’s not me making it happen.
So, if you can take us into that zone for a minute; when you’re in it, what is that experience and what is it that you’re looking for, listening to, sensitive to? What’s happening?
For me, being still is not meditating or “zoning out,” it’s insisting on the presence of God. Let’s just think about good. Good is here. Love is real. And because Love is real, Love is not just something I feel toward something else or that is dependent on certain things. Love as an entity—God—is real. And I am allowed to rest my thought on the nature of Love and to let Love speak to me.
Mary Baker Eddy was so insistent that God is the healer. She once explained:
“How is the healing done in Christian Science?
“This answer includes too much to give you any conclusive idea in a brief explanation. I can name some means by which it is not done.
“It is not one mind acting upon another mind; it is not the transference of human images of thought to other minds; it is not supported by the evidence before the personal senses,—Science contradicts this evidence; it is not of the flesh, but of the Spirit. It is Christ come to destroy the power of the flesh; it is Truth over error; that understood, gives man ability to rise above the evidence of the senses, take hold of the eternal energies of Truth, and destroy mortal discord with immortal harmony,—the grand verities of being” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, pp. 96–97).
And then a little later she continues, “Christian Science is not a remedy of faith alone, but combines faith with understanding, through which we may touch the hem of His garment; and know that omnipotence has all power” (p. 97).
You know, I’m struck by an anecdote I heard recently about a woman in another country who is learning the Lord’s Prayer. And she was taught “Our Father,” the first few words, and she stopped the person and said, “Well, if that’s true, then that’s all I need.” I’m so touched by that. And as Mary Baker Eddy has illustrated for us in Science and Health, of course, we can think of Him as “our Father-Mother God” (p. 16). If God, our Father-Mother, is here and everywhere, then God is All.
What’s that thing that puts me in that place of stillness? For me, I think the most fundamental thing I do that helps me with that stillness is to be willing to admit that God is All, is my Father-Mother, and is here. To admit this and consciously stand up for that, so I won’t accept anything opposite to that. You’ve got to stand for something, right? You can stand up for the allness of God as our Father-Mother.
The more we learn about things, we see them more clearly. And it stands to reason that the same is going to be true with letting our thought be filled with the nature of God. It’s God’s power that heals. It’s not us trying to manifest something into existence. It’s not a personal power. When I’m skateboarding down a hill or just cruising around, I’m not trying to make fun happen. I’m just agreeing to participate.
Right. That’s right.
I want to get back to something that you said—and it certainly is a comforting thought—and that’s this idea that God, good, is my Father and Mother. It seems like you’re saying something else, too, about your own nature?
Yeah, that’s a great point. Well, to be a Father-Mother, God has to have children—there’s an outcome, right? I love the way Mrs. Eddy puts it. In Science and Health she says, “Man is not God, but like a ray of light which comes from the sun, man, the outcome of God, reflects God” (p. 250).
If we were on a video chat, you’d be seeing my face all smiley and everything. I’m so happy. The smile happens because I’m happy, right? The happiness is the cause, and the smile is just what happens because of that. In a similar way, the sun is what it is, and it sends out its light as a function of its being. So God, Father-Mother, divine Mind, Principle, being real, expresses Himself, and His expression is who we are. All reality, including us, is the outcome of the fact that Love is real, that God is real.
It’s just as natural as can be.
That’s right. And that’s the fundamental thing—the naturalness of it. You know, it’s really important that this not drift off into something abstract.
I’m feeling that stillness right now. And if you could see my face, you’d see me smiling too. But this brings us back to the beginning, because we began by talking a bit about the apparent rules of materiality, such as they are, all of the claims that
are made about what we are and those rules that we all are supposed to live by.
It seems to me that part of what you’re saying here is that stillness makes it possible to listen and be watchful for the presence of God, and this ends up bringing out the very nature of our own existence as not being material.
That’s right. That’s exactly it, because it’s entirely participatory and relational. The crucial thing is that we’re not making deals with God. It’s not, “Be still for ten minutes and then you get a healing.” It’s not a transaction. God is not eBay. We’re not making bids with our prayer. What we’re doing is admitting who we are as intimately, forever unified with God. And because He is here, we’re not trying to fix something, but rather admitting that God must be here. And so this means I will see what I need to.
There’s an amazing story in the Bible, which to me helps illustrate in a different way what I’m talking about. This is in Second Chronicles, chapter 20, and the children of Israel are in another mess and people are coming to attack them again. And there’s this beautiful, beautiful promise and message directly from God to the people of Israel, and God says, “Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the Lord with you, O Judah and Jerusalem: fear not, nor be dismayed; to-morrow go out against them: for the Lord will be with you” (verse 17). I love that this is not my thing to fight. I am to “stand still, and consider the wondrous works of God” (Job 37:14). This opens the door for us to be willing to admit that there’s another way. And as we all know, when you open the door, you see more views. We open a window. We see more views of what’s already there.
I don’t draw back a curtain to make the forest appear. I see what’s out there when I look out the window. And so this is just admitting our right to participate in life as it was meant to be lived, as the expression of God.