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Clear the mental atmosphere

From the February 2011 issue of The Christian Science Journal

Many people around the world are striving to be better neighbors relative to the environment—from the simple act of not littering, to using less fossil fuel for transportation, to the development of advanced technologies for energy conservation. But while individuals and organizations work to improve the physical environment, there is a great demand to bring a mental purification to all that we do. This purification leads to actions that make for a cleaner physical environment.

Mary Baker Eddy discovered the Comforter promised by Jesus for all humanity (see John 14:16, 17, 26; 15:26; 16:7). This “Spirit of truth” comforts people by showing them what God truly is. It gives us the tools to prove that peace and health belong to us all because each of us is God’s child. It gives us the tools to practice a higher environmental care. This Comforter lifts humanity from the perception that existence consists mostly, or even exclusively, of material things, people, and situations—a perception that everything revolves around humanity—to the true sense of things, according to which the universe manifests infinite God, Spirit. 

That the universe is God-centered, not in a literal, but in a spiritual sense, is an over-arching theme of the Bible. For example, though each of the Ten Commandments (see Ex. 20:3–17) is essential, together they illustrate a spirit of living that recognizes God as the basis of everything, and that the purpose of living is to glorify Him and bless others by living consistently with God’s laws. The Ten Commandments correct the notion that humanity is the center of the mental universe, the distance from which we measure God. This God-orientation, this orientation toward divine Love, has profound environmental implications. 

Frequently people believe that they can think what they want—including what they want to think about God. They often take the point of view that they are autonomous, therefore able to act independently for good or evil. In many cultures independence is seen as an almost supreme value. But God is not one more “thing” that the human mind can consider. God stands as the source, condition, and foundation of every inspired thought.

Both the Old and New Testaments emphasize freedom—not freedom to do whatever one wants, but freedom from that which might prevent a whole-hearted consecration to God. The Bible stresses freedom from selfishness and fear, a liberty that allows one to find oneself in service to others. 

The environmental implications of such freedom, which comes about as a radical mental adjustment, are profound. Beyond shifting from dependence on fossil fuels to renewable, cleaner energy, or a shift from cars to public transportation, this more fundamental shift moves us from self-centeredness to God-centeredness—not just from fossil fuels, but from fossilized, selfish ways of thinking to a spiritual, pure manner of conceiving of oneself, others, and the universe.

Many times poor environmental practices are based on lack and limitation. A limited sense of ourselves, based on a finite sense of God, is a kind of mental pollution. For example, a limited sense of good leads to fear of want and to its outcome, greed. A limited sense of enjoyment can lead to consumerism and excessive consumption. A limited sense that separates what’s good for one person or species from what’s good for another leads to poverty, injustices, and environmental degradation. But understanding God as infinite Love frees from selfishness and fear. And as we awaken to God’s nature, the concept of environmentalism itself is uplifted—making all efforts more effective because the thought at the root of environmental problems has been transformed. 

To base one’s thinking and living on the Comforter is to be a healer, a purifier, or you might say, an environmentalist, in a wider sense of the word, just like Jesus called Peter and John to be fishers, but in a far wider sense—to be “fishers of men” (see Matt. 4:18, 19). One heals as one is unselfish and devoted to God as infinite good, devoted to seeing each individual as God’s free, spiritual reflection. This devotion separates selfishness, carelessness, and ignorance from an individual, showing those approaches to life as neither belonging to God nor to His reflection.

Here’s an example of this mental purification—from Second Church of Christ, Scientist, in Brazzaville in the Republic of the Congo. Waste from the factory next door to the church was polluting the neighborhood, interfering with church services, and constituting a hazard, particularly for Sunday School students. Though all efforts to have the pollution stopped had come to nothing, the members continued to pray on the basis that one infinite Mind, God, constitutes the only real atmosphere of the universe, enveloping all of its ideas in perfect purity and safety. They understood that no impure element can ever enter God’s creation. The church members felt that their prayers had borne fruit when the factory, with no explanation, closed its doors. The church and the neighborhood are now free of that source of contamination.

To base one's thinking and living on the Comforter is to be a healer, a purifier, or you might say, an environmentalist, in a wider sense of the word, just like Jesus called Peter and John to be fishers, but in a far wider sense—to be "fishers of men." 

An analogy: A scrubber—a varied set of devices designed to lessen harmful emissions from industrial exhaust—minimizes pollution. In a sense, to have one infinite, universal God, to base one’s thoughts and actions on purity, is to be a scrubber. A letter that Mary Baker Eddy wrote to one of her students indicates the importance of this in regard to healing: “Pray daily, never miss praying, no matter how often: ‘Lead me not into temptation,’—scientifically rendered,—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. With this altitude of thought your mind is losing materiality and gaining spirituality and this is the state of mind that heals the sick” (Robert Peel, Mary Baker Eddy: Years of Authority, p. 101).

The reference to sickness has relevance here. Her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures teaches that sickness—like all discord—is not real, because it is not created or known by God. Rather, the human mind seems to conceptualize itself and experiences discord. “If you believe in inflamed and weak nerves, you are liable to an attack from that source. You will call it neuralgia, but we call it a belief” (p. 392). Just like illness can only be dealt with as a concept of the human mind, environmental problems can only be effectively dealt with as belief. If we think of an environmental problem as created by, real to, or allowed by the Mind that is God, then we’re actually engaged in the limited thinking that is part of the problem. The solution lies in understanding that “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31), and thinking and living consistently with this spiritual fact. Knowing that God’s creation is good and perfect doesn’t make us ignore environmental problems, but gives us the wisdom and intelligence to deal with them—not from the standpoint of fear, but with love and devotion to others, and so in a truly sustainable way.

Divine Love calls us all to be purifiers, healers, environmentalists—in our own lives, in our families, in our communities and in our world. To do this is to follow Jesus and to prove that the Comforter is here for all humanity.

Lyle Young is a Christian Science practitioner and teacher in Ottawa, Canada.

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