I remember a psychology course I had in college, where I was introduced to the idea that humans, when threatened, choose between two primal responses: They either stay and fight with the intent to conquer their foe, or else they turn and flee in hope of evading the threat. But I’ve found a third approach in my study of the Bible. Christ Jesus overcame threats directed at him with neither of those two options. He chose instead to shine the light of the Christ on the situation and let God guide toward a solution that blessed everyone.
In the first chapter of the Gospel of John, the author equates “the Word” with “Christ.” He writes that the Word “was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9). The Christ can be considered as the Word of God, enlightening and uplifting thought to the perception of infinite possibilities far beyond the limits of the fight or flight response. The light of the Christ brings inspired solutions to whatever challenges we may face.
Sometimes in church work we are faced with issues that try to evoke one of those two responses in us and in our fellow church members. But when we seek a prayerful solution, the light of the Christ can bring harmony to those challenging situations.
Jesus gave us a marvelous example when he faced the Pharisees, who brought to him a woman taken in adultery (see John 8:1–11). The Pharisees were in charge of enforcing the rules of the church—all 613 Levitical rules that had been added to the Ten Commandments that God gave Moses. The Pharisees tended to be merciless in their enforcement, and Jesus, in his healing and teaching, condemned that level of thought, even going so far as to call them hypocrites (see Luke 13:15) when they objected to his healing on the Sabbath. By bringing the woman to Jesus for adjudication of her violation of their law, they were setting a trap for him. On the one hand, they insisted she be stoned, even though they were altering the Levitical overlay of Leviticus 20:10, which stated that both parties in an adulterous relationship should be put to death (the Pharisees brought only the woman). On the other hand, the Romans explicitly forbade the carrying out of death sentences by the Jews (see John 18:31). Whichever solution Jesus chose, he would be condemned by one side or the other.
Yet Jesus didn’t get into a theological discussion, didn’t point out the error of the Pharisees’ interpretation of that particular law, thus engaging in a war of words (fight). Neither did he try to run away from the encounter (flight). He found a third option. His prayerful approach led to an inspired solution (the light of the Christ) that brought blessings for everyone. After quietly writing on the ground for a few minutes, Jesus asked that the one without sin cast the first stone. One by one, the crowd dispersed. The woman was blessed by a reprieve from a death sentence. The Pharisees were blessed by being shown a higher sense of the law, which helped them avoid an unjust act. And Jesus was blessed by avoiding the trap set for him.
I found this example helpful a number of years ago when I was doing a lot of praying about the “rules” of my branch church, rules not found in the Manual of The Mother Church, but instituted by church members sincerely trying to help everyone do things the “right” way. I had adopted these rules, and was one of the leading proponents of doing things according to them—even adding to them on occasion. (For example, if Mary Baker Eddy wrote to the Board of Directors of The Mother Church that “it would be a good thing” for one of her hymns to be “read and sung about every Sunday” [L00326, March 3, 1903, The Mary Baker Eddy Collection] in The Mother Church, then wouldn’t singing one every Sunday in our branch church be even better? Then we’d be sure we weren’t skipping too many.)
Around this time I began to suffer from what appeared to be the beginnings of arthritis in one of my fingers. It was rigid and painful each morning, and I wouldn’t regain freedom of motion in it until around lunchtime. Praying diligently about this, I found myself thinking about the connection between rigidity in my hand and rigidity in my thought regarding church rules. The message that came to me very specifically as I prayed was “Stop being such a Pharisee.” The light of that Christ-message made an instant change. I never again had a stiff finger or any other signs of arthritis. And I actually found it easy to distinguish between rules made by well-meaning folks and the By-Laws that govern the Church through the Manual. I realized that each branch church is democratically run and must adopt bylaws that reflect the highest demonstration of its members—but that some of these traditional rules, which were not in our bylaws or the Manual of The Mother Church, were keeping our church in a straitjacket of the letter, missing the Love that heals.
One of the rules I had been carefully taught concerned the proper way to do a benediction at the end of a Sunday church service. The rule, as it had been explained to me, was that a proper benediction is always a blessing, that it should come from the King James Version of the Bible, that it should be no more than two verses long, and that those two verses must be consecutive. This was not a rule that was written in the Church Manual, but it was written in a handbook for Readers we had on hand, which had been passed down from Reader to Reader as the proper way to do things. As I prayed about this rule on benedictions, it came to me clearly that this handbook could be seen as the equivalent of the 613 Levitical rules added to the Ten Commandments.
The Christ can be considered as the Word of God, enlightening and uplifting thought to the perception of infinite possibilities far beyond the limits of the fight or flight response.
After the healing of the rigidity in my finger, I tried to remain open to fresh guidance from God in all of my church activities. At one point I was asked to be substitute First Reader for a Sunday service. I spent a lot of time studying the Christian Science Bible Lesson for that week, praying for guidance in picking out the hymns, the scriptural selection, and, yes, the benediction. All of it came together beautifully except for the benediction. I could find only generic benedictions in the Bible, nothing that seemed to really put that final closing stamp of blessing on that service. As I searched, I came across a line that Eddy had penned to one of her churches in a letter that was reprinted in The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany. It was beautiful, heartwarming, uplifting, and it tied together all that the Lesson had taught in two sentences.
I was, however, reluctant to use it. We had one particular church member who seemed to generally resist change, and I genuinely did not want to upset (fight) her as the last act of this healing service. I kept praying, marking the benediction in Miscellany and also a generic one from the Bible. I was prepared to flee (flight) to the Bible benediction if this woman was in attendance. And when I saw her there, I was pretty sure I would go with the Bible one. But as the message of the Lesson-Sermon spoke to my heart, I just knew (the light of the Christ) that it was right to use the one that tied the entire message together so completely. I read it from Miscellany, with some trepidation but feeling humbly that it was the loving thing to do for the entire congregation.
When I returned home from church, I noticed the message light blinking on my answering machine. I was still partially in flight mode. I just knew it was this church member calling to inform me of the error of my ways for breaking this traditional rule in our church. I turned from the room until I could pray and prepare myself for the message. When I felt calm and sure that I had been led by God to read that specific benediction, I pressed play on the machine. It was indeed this church member, who said simply: “This is ____. You don’t have to call me back. I just wanted you to know that I came to church needing a healing, and I was healed.”
I had often thought of some church members, including myself, as being somewhat unbalanced in their expression of Love and Principle, two names that Eddy gives for God in Science and Health (see p. 587). It seemed to me that some church members were geared to fight, to stand up for their highest sense of Principle. Others were geared to flight, to avoid anything that seemed less than the expression of Love. I’ve since realized that we can’t separate these two synonyms for God, or their expression in us, any more than we can separate the ocean from the sea. It is principled to be loving, and loving to be principled. No need for fight or flight.
Church bylaws can reflect the spiritual fact that every law of Principle is a law of Love.
Jesus showed us how this is true in his dealing with the Pharisees and the adulterous woman. That light of the Christ can show us the way as well. We’ll find our churches warmer, filled with the healing presence of the Christ, radiating with God’s glory—the unity of the divine Principle, Love.
Sarah Hyatt is a Christian Science practitioner and teacher from Charleston, South Carolina.
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