Living Totally in the Spiritual Context

 

Gertrude Bayless, C.S.B., of New York City

Member of the Board of Lectureship of The Mother Church,

The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts

 

Centering her message on what she calls "the spiritual context of living," Gertrude Bayless, C.S.B., of New York City lectured on Christian Science Sunday afternoon, April 27, 1980, in Faneuil Hall, Boston. Mrs. Bayless is a member of The Christian Science Board of Lectureship. Her lecture, "Living Totally in the Spiritual Context," was sponsored by the members of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston.

The lecturer, a practitioner and teacher of Christian Science, was at one time assistant to the dean of the School of Architecture of Columbia University and served on the board of the League of Women Voters of the City of New York.

Mrs. Bayless was introduced by James Jordon, a local member of The Mother Church. The following is an abridged text of the lecture:

 

We're starting on a spiritual adventure today, and we'll be exploring some new "kingdoms of thought" together. I'll be talking about how we progress by finding ourselves in ever larger contexts, about how we can live every aspect of our lives in one infinite context, and about how the understanding of this context heals the world.

 

The context of God

Our first point is that it's natural for us to progress by finding ourselves in ever larger contexts. We might think of the way a baby progresses naturally by coming into the context of the family circle, and then into the still larger contexts of the nursery school, grammar school, and high school. And as he progresses out into his career, he finds himself in ever larger contexts. We all progress this way, don't we?

A similar thing happened in religion. One way we progressed in religion was by recognizing ever larger contexts there, too. The context of God is His kingdom. Do you recall how the pagan god had a tiny kingdom, confined to one place, like the Sphinx in Egypt sitting on his pedestal? In Old Testament times, Jehovah's kingdom was much larger, extending from the heavens to the earth. And broadly speaking, it was believed that He ''traveled around with the ark of the covenant, wherever the Israelites went. Unlike the Sphinx, Jehovah wasn't confined to one place, but it did appear that He was confined to one group of people, the Israelites.

 

New Testament progress

But what about the progress brought by the New Testament? Christianity expanded our concept of the kingdom of God beyond the tribal group to include everyone.

Remember how Jesus expanded our concept of the kingdom of God by his parables . . . the leaven expanding till the whole was leavened, the tiny mustard seed growing until it became a bush, the talents doubling?

And where did Jesus send that small band of followers on the last day he was with us? "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature," he told them (Mark 16:15). These imperative words are still with us.

So Christianity expanded our concept of the kingdom of God outward to include everyone.

 

Concept advances inward

But Christianity also expanded our concept of the kingdom of God inward. Before Jesus came, people obeyed the commandments mainly through external actions. "Thou shalt not kill" was obeyed mainly by not killing others and just getting along with them - but perhaps having murderous thoughts. But what did Jesus say? "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time. Thou shall not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment" (Matt. 5:21, 22). No longer was it acceptable merely to be at peace with others, to just get along with them, and perhaps have murderous thoughts inside. Here Jesus is expanding our concept of the kingdom of God inward to include our inmost feeling; we can't have one angry feeling. That's the kingdom of God within, as he said. What a love this must be - not to have even one angry feeling in it anywhere.

 

No dividing up love

So here in the New Testament, the kingdom of God becomes the kingdom of Love, without one angry feeling in it. In fact, Jesus' disciple John tells us that God is Love and that we live in God.

Since God is Love and God is All, all love must be God's love. God's love is the only kind there is. God cannot be divided up, so love can't be divided up.

Fighting comes from the notion that each person has his own box of love. He can open it up and give out love, or clamp down the lid and give out nothing at all. When a person clamps down the lid and gives out nothing at all, we call it coldness or hate. But it's really nothing at all. Hate's not a thing, it's simply the absence of love. An absence of something is nothing. So don't be afraid of it or react to it. Because hate is really an absence, never a presence.

 

The natural way

How natural it is to carry out Jesus' rule about loving our enemy! God loves everybody. You may be saying, "Only God could love the person I'm thinking of." But God does love everybody, without one angry feeling. So we don't have to manufacture love. All we have to do is express God's love. This is the natural way to love. I've seen marriage fights healed, parent and child relations harmonized, bitter in-law quarrels settled, through the practice of God's love this way.

Practicing God's love makes all our relations unselfish, sweet, and vigorous. If this practice of God's love is all you take home with you this afternoon, the whole lecture will be worthwhile.

So far, we've talked about how our concept of the kingdom of God - the context of God - has expanded from that of the fixed pagan god, to the traveling Jehovah, to the universal Love of the New Testament. What about today?

 

Breakthrough in Christianity

Christianity today is witnessing a consummate breakthrough: the recognition in Christian Science that this kingdom of God, this kingdom of Love, is our only context, our only real environment.

What's the point of exploring this context, this environment? Our spiritual environment, the kingdom of Love, is what gives you and me our special worth. How? Well, maybe an example will help.

What makes the needle of a compass point north? It doesn't have anything to do with what the compass is made of, how big or how small it is, or even how we hold it, does it? The needle always points north because of a larger context - the environment of Earth's magnetic field. That environment directs the compass - we might say it gives the compass its special worth and value and usefulness. Separated from that context, that magnetic field, the compass would be worthless. But that can't ever happen.

 

'In him we live, . . .'

We can think of man in a similar way. His environment is the kingdom of Love, as Jesus showed us. Separated from this context, man wouldn't have direction or worth. In fact, he wouldn't even have life. As St. Paul says in the Bible, "In him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28). So our relationship to God, our life in God's kingdom, gives us our special worth, our individuality. In God's environment we have direction, and our unique talent just bursts forth.

Now sociology says that a human being is largely shaped by his material environment - that is, by the way his family and community treat him when he's growing up. For example, if somebody else in his family gets more attention than he does, he may grow up feeling that others are worth more than he is and his individuality is suppressed. If he lives in a home where TV commercials surround him with sleek men and women speaking reverently of their personal gratification, he may grow up feeling that self-fulfillment is about all that counts.

 

Peter's impetuosity transformed

And he will be imprisoned in this limited, narrow context until he breaks free from the environmental conditioning by finding himself in the kingdom of Love that Christ Jesus showed us. It is this spiritual action that sets him free from environmental conditioning. And his real individuality bursts forth.

That's what happened to Peter, Jesus' disciple. He probably grew up in an environment where he was rewarded for being first in everything. He was impetuous, remember? But Peter's impetuosity was corrected and transformed when he found himself in the kingdom of Love that Jesus was showing him. His impetuosity was transformed into spiritual eagerness. How do we know this? After Jesus ascended, Peter became spokesman for the group. And his real talent wasn't suppressed in the kingdom of Love. It just burst forth.

Probably each of us longs to break free, the way Peter did, from some conditioning, some personality trait, that holds us in a kind of mental prison. Maybe it's a bad temper we think we can't control, or maybe we're afraid to stand up for what's right, or maybe we procrastinate, put things off. But none of these things are true about the man that God creates and loves.

 

Spontaneous expressions

The absolute, spiritual truth about environmental conditioning, as taught in Christian Science, shows us how to progress out of the faulty context of humanly circumscribed thinking into the infinite context of God's ideas.

The two main theses in environmental conditioning are, first, that the trait starts in early childhood, and second, that it becomes a habit. But the absolute truth is that God makes all the conditions for man. God is our Mother and Father, and the true Mother and Father of everyone we know. Our only real family is the family of God. In God's family there's no sibling rivalry; brothers and sisters don't have to compete, for God's love is unlimited.

Women and men in God's kingdom cannot be conditioned with bad habits. God's children are spontaneous expressions, and so cannot be automated or habituated. In the infinite context of God's kingdom, where we really live, our development is good, healthy, and progressive.

When we realize these powerful, spiritual forces of truth clearly enough, they contradict and demolish the false conditioning.

 

Seeing life whole

But sometimes when we look at our lives and see how our experience seems to be broken into separate parts - how we have a family life, a career life, a social life, a church life, and a public life linked to world events - we're tempted to think, "Christian Science says there's only one real environment, the kingdom of God. But can there possibly be one context in which we live our whole life, every part of it, both private and public?"

The Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, asserts that there is such a context, so infinite that there can't be any other. Let me read what she says in her textbook, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures": "God is the infinite and infinity never began, will never end, and includes nothing unlike God" (p. 249), Doesn't that give us the idea of one context - the infinity of God, the all-inclusive kingdom of God?

 

Love's forces all-embracing

This brings us to another point: that the ultimate context, the only context there really is, is this spiritual kingdom of Love that Jesus showed us. And Christian Science invites us to live our whole life in this one spiritual context.

What is our spiritual environment, this kingdom of God, like? Well, it's filled with powerful, spiritual forces of good. Let's think about our example of the compass again. Just as the forces of Earth's magnetic field are all around the compass - we can't see them, but we know they are at work directing the needle of the compass - so, in the kingdom of God, God's powerful, spiritual forces are all around us. We can't see them, but they are at work, guiding and governing our inmost feeling and thinking and action. These powerful forces of Love are all-embracing. They embrace us with their strength, with their intelligence, and their warmth. Love, God, is all around, is All-in-all. This allness is spiritual, and in this spiritual context we can practice Christian Science healing every day.

 

Healing seen as correction

What is Christian Science healing? One way to look at it is as a correction. In daily healing we let the Christ, the true idea of God, correct everything we do. Christ expresses the power of God which Jesus manifested, and that's why we call him our Saviour. He corrects and saves us from all error. This correction of our thought, feeling, and action is always needed. Even the best human thought has to be corrected.

Let's consider our compass again. As we know, the needle on the compass points north, to the magnetic north pole. But that's fourteen hundred miles from true north. True north is in the direction of the geographic pole, not the magnetic pole. And unless we correct the error in our compass we can go off course as much as a quarter mile for every mile we hike. We'd never get to our destination that way.

 

Something to sight on

Fortunately, there's something we can sight on to correct the error in our compass. What is it? The North Star, Polaris, of course. You see, the North Star aligns with true north, so by taking a bearing on the North Star, we can correct the error in our compass and head exactly for our destination.

In hiking, then, we look to the North Star for true north, to correct the error in our compass. And similarly, in healing, we look to the Christ, the true idea of God, to correct the errors in our thinking; and our thinking affects our whole experience, including our bodily health. The Christ corrects such errors as the environmental conditioning we've been talking about, as well as hurt feelings, sickness, and sin.

 

The Christ always with us . . .

The Christ is always with us, as near to us as our thought, to show us what is actually going on right here in the spiritual kingdom of God. We can always listen to the Christ to learn the truth about whatever it is that we're doing. No area of our life - however intimate; or sensitive, or small, or big - is outside the healing power of the Christ. Why, we can even brush our teeth in this environment of the kingdom, and jog, and set the table, and take an exam, and drive a car. We carry on our biggest business transactions and our deepest social relationships in this infinite spiritual context.

How? There's a Christly way of doing everything constructive. The Christ erases every error and replaces it with the understanding of God's goodness. Take jogging, for example. Maybe we're jogging for the wrong reason. Maybe we're doing it to improve our bodies. But the Christly way to jog is to do it in order to express God's marvelous nature in freedom of movement, and in endurance.

Mrs. Eddy tells us about Christ here in Science and Health: "Christ is the true idea voicing good, the divine message from God to men speaking to the human consciousness" (p. 332).

 

. . . showing the way

So Christ is the spiritual truth and life that Jesus manifested so fully and completely. Jesus showed us how to live our lives, and the Christ continues to speak to human thought today - and for all time - showing us what is actually going on right here in the spiritual kingdom of God. We experience healing in Christian Science by listening to the Christ and letting the Christ, the true idea of God, correct everything we think and do.

I know a woman who really works at living totally in the spiritual context. She was traveling in Mexico not long ago and woke up one night in a remote mountain inn, sick with nausea and pain. She got out of bed and went down to the bathroom, where she crouched on a little rug, faint, sick, and afraid. She was determined to work it out in Christian Science.

She leaned her head against the cool and prayed. And the first thought that came to her was a reassurance she had heard as a child: "God goes with you wherever you go." Then perhaps the Christ corrected her thought, because a verse from the Bible came to her: ". . . whither shall I flee from thy presence?" (Ps. 139:7). And it slowly dawned on her that God had not followed her to Mexico. She was not the presence, with God following her around. God is the presence, and she was in God's presence. She thought to herself: "Everything that takes place, takes place in the presence of God, good. Evil, fear, disease, can't be going on in the presence of God. So fear and disease are not going on. Sickness is not going on here in God's presence where I am now."

 

Thinking and feeling united

The woman was thinking clearer, but still feeling awful. Gradually she began to feel the presence of God that she had been thinking about. Thinking and feeling united and her body responded. Within a few minutes, and without any symptoms, she was well enough to go back to bed and sleep for the rest of the night. She had proved that she lived totally in the presence of God.

But how is it that God, Spirit, who knows nothing about the human body, healed a bacterial invasion of the body? Let's go back to the compass again. The North Star knows nothing about our compass, but its true north corrects the compass. Similarly, God, Spirit, knows nothing about the human body, but His true idea, the Christ, corrects our thought -and therefore our body - and heals us.

Once in a while the question comes up: Doesn't Christian Science teach people to deny their bodies, to deny stomachs, kidneys, and even human reason? No. Like the compass, human reason and the body are useful, and we want to keep them in good working order. Nobody's going to throw his compass away when he's hiking through a trackless forest. But we do have to correct the compass if we expect to get to our destination. Human reason and the body make mistakes, too, and we call these mistakes sin and sickness. But the Christ is always present to correct these mistakes and heal us.

 

A working environment

Another point I'd like to consider today is that the kingdom of God is a working environment where we gain scope, unity, and direction for everything we do. More important, it's the only healing environment, the only context, in which to heal the world.

To me, as one individual, world problems have sometimes seemed almost overwhelming. And yet in my own community work, I have found Mary Baker Eddy's experiences encouraging. Her accomplishments were worldwide, and her interests ranged from supervising her rural estate in New Hampshire, to foreign policy in China.

One pressing issue in her day was Darwin's theory of evolution. This theory challenged people's faith in the Bible. To some, it seemed to threaten to wipe out their religion. The public was confused.

 

Single frame of reference

But her understanding of God and His Christ helped Mrs. Eddy to break through this confusion and reach conclusions on Darwin's theory of evolution which are amazingly relevant today. As you may know, at least one state in the United States has legislation pending to include the creationist theory along with the theory of evolution in the biology textbooks used in public schools, and another state is deciding the question in the courts.

Mrs. Eddy didn't think of her religion in one context and world problems in another. She reached her conclusions on Darwin's material theory of evolution in the healing context of the kingdom of God. Christian Science enabled her to get a clear evaluation of Darwin's theory. There were some things she agreed with, and some things she couldn't agree with.

 

A key distinction drawn

Mrs. Eddy thought Darwin's theory, starting from a material basis, was consistent - as far as it went. But she saw evolution as a "history of mortality," and she drew a big distinction between this history and "spiritual development." She writes in Science and Health, "The true theory of the universe, including man, is not in material history but in spiritual development" (p. 547).

The theory of evolution didn't cause Mrs. Eddy to lose one whit of faith in the Bible or in her understanding of spiritual creation - and that may be a helpful point for us to consider. For many thinking people today, the great despair seems to be how to reconcile impressive scientific discoveries with what the Bible says about life and creation. But isn't the Bible a history of spiritual development, a record of living in the infinite context of God that we’ve been talking about.

 

Forces aren't 'out there'

From this vantage point in the infinite context, we can make our own spiritual breakthroughs. We can break through public confusion today and get a more spiritual idea of economics to help heal inflation, or a more spiritual idea of the “big bang” theory in astronomy, which is sending astronomers back to study the book of Genesis in the Bible.

In our spiritual adventure together, today, we're now arriving at our destination. And where do we find ourselves? In the infinite context of the kingdom of God. So our destination is really our beginning. Remember that Mrs. Eddy says, “God is the infinite, and infinity never began, will never end, and includes nothing unlike God" (Science and Health, p. 249).          

Haven't we discovered today that we're no longer reaching out for the powerful forces of God - that we have them already, where we are, in the kingdom of God?

 

In His presence   

Stretching past the North Star - bigger than what we'll discover the material universe to be - is this infinite kingdom of Love; the spiritual kingdom of God. So vast it includes every sphere, so intimate it's as close to us as our thinking. In this warm, supportive context, we live deeply. We live totally in the spiritual context.

As we leave this hall, we're not walking out into another sphere. The kingdom of Love takes in our whole experience and embraces each one of us. Infinite Love is ever present, and we are at work in God's presence.

 

 

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