In the midst of a move some years back, I came across my handmade sixth-grade diary. Reading some of the entries, I chuckled when I got to the parts about being overwhelmed with feelings about a boy who barely acknowledged my existence.
I chuckled, that is, until I found myself thinking that I could have written some of the very same things the previous week about a man over whom I had been obsessing.
And I felt sad when I realized I had not yet shed some of my earlier insecurities and habits of thought that by now I’d hoped to have outgrown.
I kept feeling that the change I desired to see in myself might be best achieved through some sort of behavior modification. I wondered if, among other things, I needed to be more assertive in my personal interactions. I felt that this was a skill I had somehow never learned.
I looked online for assertiveness training programs and found very little that seemed appealing or affordable. A female friend whom I considered to be a model of the perfect balance between grace and strength recommended a few books that were somewhat helpful. They were moving my thought in some productive directions, but I was still longing for an answer.
It finally came to me that what I needed more than anything was to feel the sense of completeness that a spiritual understanding of true womanhood brings. I knew of only one place this could be found.
Having grown up with Christian Science, and having found it efficacious in meeting all my needs, I went to the foundational books of its teachings: the Bible and the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, as well as to Mrs. Eddy’s other writings. These are the best “self-help” books, because they turn us for answers to the one God, or Spirit, our creator, the source of our identity and happiness.
Over the next few months, I looked up references to woman and womanhood in these books and pondered their meaning and application to my life. As I was reading an essay by Eddy called “The New Birth” in Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896 (see p. 15), a paragraph caught my attention. It explains that to follow what Christ Jesus said means to obey the first and great commandment, to love God, and the second, to love our neighbor as ourselves, recognizing Spirit, not matter, as the Mother-Father of all, and our inherent completeness as God’s child. She writes: “These commands of infinite wisdom, translated into the new tongue, their spiritual meaning, signify: Thou shalt love Spirit only, not its opposite, in every God-quality, even in substance; thou shalt recognize thyself as God’s spiritual child only, and the true man and true woman, the all-harmonious ‘male and female,’ as of spiritual origin, God’s reflection,—thus as children of one common Parent,—wherein and whereby Father, Mother, and child are the divine Principle and divine idea, even the divine ‘Us’—one in good, and good in One” (p. 18).
This concept of “the divine ‘Us’ ” was revolutionary for me. It shifted my thought in a whole new direction.
While I had always understood that God created us spiritually, as it states in the spiritual account of creation in Genesis 1, and that woman was not created materially from man, making her the “lesser half,” as the account in Genesis 2 falsely suggests she is, I began to see something more: that I included the full complement of masculine and feminine qualities as God’s reflection. In other words, I was a complete idea of God, lacking no essential quality for happiness and progress. As a spiritual idea of our Father-Mother God, I expressed the strength and assertiveness of my Father, as well as the gentleness and discernment of my divine Mother. I included not just the qualities generally associated with the female sex, or half of the human race, but all the qualities constituting true womanhood and manhood, our spiritual identity as God’s compound idea. Each of us reflects both the fatherhood and motherhood of God in a unique way, as Love’s ideas are distinct and individual.
I also saw that we are all encompassed in the love of our infinite creator and express that love. In Matthew 5:48, we are urged to be “perfect”—to recognize and demonstrate our true perfection as children of God—even as God is perfect. One of the translations for “perfect” is “complete.” As the Common English Bible puts it: “Just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.”
Each of us reflects both the fatherhood and motherhood of God in a unique way, as Love’s ideas are distinct and individual.
Although there’s no record that Christ Jesus ever had a life partner, he was the best model of completeness because he saw in himself the perfect Son of God, and in others the perfect son (or daughter) of God, which enabled him to heal. There are many examples throughout his ministry of him showing others both the compassion and tender care generally associated with women, as well as the strength and assertiveness associated with men. For example, in Luke 13, Jesus lovingly heals a woman who has struggled for 18 years with a debilitating illness. When the ruler of the synagogue then challenges Jesus for healing on the sabbath, you could say Jesus was assertive in his response, speaking to the ruler firmly and with authority, assured of his divine right to carry out God’s purpose by healing this “daughter of Abraham.”
Eddy defines man, the generic term for men and women, as the “compound, complex idea or likeness of the infinite one, or one infinite, whose image is the reflection of all that is real and eternal in infinite identity” (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 239). Identifying man as spiritual, reflecting the one “infinite identity,” frees us from the common stereotypes, expectations, and limitations associated with a particular gender. Doing so has a practical, healing effect in our lives, as Christ Jesus demonstrated.
In response to a question about whether people would need to wait for “the ultimate of the millennium” to reach this spiritual understanding of our identity as made up of both masculine and feminine qualities, Mary Baker Eddy explains that the millennium is “a state and stage of mental advancement” that has been going on since the beginning of time. “Its impetus,” she writes, “accelerated by the advent of Christian Science, is marked, and will increase till all men shall know Him (divine Love) …” (Miscellany, pp. 239–240).
As I thought about these spiritual ideas in relation to my own sense of self, I realized that what needed to be dislodged from my consciousness was not a human weakness (what I had identified as passivity) but the mistaken belief that one’s identity can be fragile, and that we are inherently incomplete beings needing someone, or something, to make us complete. This seems to be a general belief that impacts men and women on a large scale. And I realized that in refuting the belief that my identity lacked any quality of God, I would be helping to free others from this imposition. As my understanding of our oneness with God in “the divine ‘Us’ ” deepened, I was seeing more and more that we can never for a moment be impeded, stunted, or hindered from feeling and expressing the completeness of our spiritual identity and recognizing it in others. Nor can we be intimidated into believing that we lack any qualities that we perceive and appreciate in those with whom we interact. In fact, we are drawn to those qualities because they are native to us, not because we need to get them through associating with someone else. “The divine ‘Us’ ” includes every quality in the motherhood and fatherhood of God.
Affirming these spiritual truths in my daily prayers has been invaluable in supporting my efforts to discern the essence of true womanhood, which I now see is completely inseparable from true manhood. I still have plenty to learn about my true, God-given identity. But I am so grateful for the progress I’ve made. Divinely guided prayer in Christian Science has made me much better equipped to relate to men and women in a fulfilling and constructive way. Every day I have lots of opportunities, as we all do, to see the full expression of God’s identity—the union of the masculine and feminine qualities—in the people I encounter.
In our diary of spiritual progress, we can always begin the next page with the understanding of our perpetual wholeness and oneness with God, and let a beautiful new chapter unfold.
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