All around us, we hear slogans like: Do something . . . Be engaged . . . Change the world . . . Dare to Care. These slogans, adopted by various people and organizations, are an effort to stir up zeal for their movement. If you're passionate about being actively helpful, you might be inclined to commit yourself to some form of activism. I was.
Several years back, the Christian Science Sentinel started a series titled “Anyone Can Be a Healer.” Where did I sign up? I loved that idea. I was serious about this healing stuff and I definitely wanted in.
Like any zealous activist, I started to plan. I decided to move to Tacoma, Washington. Why? It seemed like a place that needed a lot of help. So many people were homeless, in gangs, using drugs, disabled, and diseased, and I was going to heal them. I was so enthusiastic. I told everyone that I'm going into “the practice" (jargon for “I am going to be a Christian Science practitioner"). I rented an office, and the building manager posted a sign outside saying, “Christian Science Practitioner.” Life was good—I mean, I got a sign! What could be better?
My plan: Save Tacoma. It was official. I was an activist. If my activism worked, people would seek me out for healing and I would heal them. I’d be responsible for helping my community and strengthening the Christian Science movement. I believed it would work because it was a good plan—I mean how could helping people be bad? And since it was a good plan, I knew it had to be right. Right?
It didn’t work.
About a year later, I moved out of my office. The building manager removed the sign, and I was left to rethink my strategy. I prayed. I prayed hard. I asked God why it wasn’t working.
I began a search to figure out where I fell short. I started by picking up the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy—which explains how to heal as Jesus instructed. I went to the definition of zeal in the Glossary. Perhaps you’ve studied this definition before. I hadn’t.
It was totally new to me. Did you know there are two diametrically different definitions right there, one after the other? It’s a pretty marvelous and arresting definition: “ZEAL. The reflected animation of Life, Truth, and Love. Blind enthusiasm; mortal will” (p. 599).
I thought about this definition for a long time. I realized that there is a single similarity between the two opposing definitions. Both definitions describe what moves us to act. The first one is being animated by Life, Truth, and Love. The other is being animated by blind enthusiasm and mortal will.
It took a while—longer than I wished—but I recognized my whole plan to save Tacoma was based on blind enthusiasm and human will. This probably doesn’t surprise you. But it surprised me. I couldn’t believe that such a good motive to help people could get so messed up. So I began to work on recalibrating my zeal—to the one that’s animated by God, by Life, Truth, and Love.
I realized that part of what was driving my zeal was a self-serving ambition. I was enjoying the thought of being spiritually powerful and the possibility of being recognized for it. I had the gold-star syndrome. This was so far removed from Jesus’ humble words: “I can of mine own self do nothing” (John 5:30). This is when I began to see that true humility is the key to real zeal. After all, when we are rightfully zealous, we are simply expressing the one Spirit in all our thought and activity. To be animated by the one Spirit, we have to stop trying to lead—and be willing to follow. After learning this I realized that I needed to give up all beliefs related to self-importance and self-will. Selfishness in any form or degree, I learned, obscures the true spiritual foundation that would otherwise bring success.
Continuing my prayer to completely reform—transform—my methods, I found another statement in Science and Health that helped: “The Christian Scientist has enlisted to lessen evil, disease, and death; and he will overcome them by understanding their nothingness and the allness of God, or good” (p. 450). One dictionary definition of enlist is “to participate heartily” (Merriam-Webster.com). Mary Baker Eddy clearly saw vigorous and enthusiastic activity as very important—but she included a qualifier. Christian Scientists are to participate heartily in lessening evil, by understanding its nothingness, and the allness of God, or good. The original premise to move to Tacoma was to solve the apparent problems in the community, but I worked to overpower the evil with blind enthusiasm and mortal willpower. This was the opposite of lessening evil by understanding its nothingness.
During this time of falling and picking myself up, I noticed that my prayerful work had been quite spasmodic. In another one of her books, Retrospection and Introspection, Mrs. Eddy uses the word spasmodic in order to help her students understand what’s needed to be an effective healer. She writes, “Experience has taught me that the rules of Christian Science can be far more thoroughly and readily acquired by regularly settled and systematic workers, than by unsettled and spasmodic efforts” (p. 87). My efforts were spasmodic and irregular because the wrong kind of zeal was driving my activity. The source of my action was inconsistent, so the action itself was inconsistent. Interestingly, as honest humility, or real zeal, has become more consistent, so has my “regularly settled and systematic” work. I’m not less motivated and enthusiastic, but I’m able to wait patiently and pray more persistently. I enjoy watching things work out based on God’s design. My personal activism has dissipated.
I realize now that the public practice of Christian healing must come from a deep spiritual fitness, to heal in a Christianly scientific way. Achieving this fitness takes unwavering dedication and a willingness to untangle the web of false beliefs that are in human consciousness. This fierce devotion to the Christian Science movement takes real zeal. Someone might argue that this is still activism, but I have a hard time calling it activism or calling myself an activist. In fact, now I try to avoid those terms entirely.
Obedience seems to be a much better term. Obedience to “the reflected animation of Life, Truth, and Love” is honest humility. And that’s being enlisted with real zeal.
Ian Gudger lives in Tacoma, Washington.
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