The Touch of Spirit
Gordon R. Clarke, C.S.B., of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Member of the Board of Lectureship of The Mother Church,
The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts
Spirit's touch causes all things to become new in our lives. This idea was central to a lecture given by Gordon R. Clarke, C.S.B., in Boston on Sunday afternoon, Dec. 11. The title of his lecture was "The Touch of Spirit."
A member of The Christian Science
Board of Lectureship, Mr. Clarke spoke in The Mother Church, The First Church
of Christ, Scientist, in
Suzanne Leitch, a local member of The Mother Church, introduced Mr. Clarke.
An abridged version of his lecture follows:
A longshoreman I feel privileged to call my friend had wrestled for years over a contradiction he saw in life. How could there be a good, wise, intelligent, loving God - the only Creator - and yet there be so much sickness, pain, poverty, fear in the world? It didn't make sense.
The deep-down confusion this contradiction brought about first made him afraid, then made him mean and ugly, - all out of his confusion and frustration. The hell this produced in his experience finally resulted in his becoming an alcoholic, apparently incurable.
But while he was in a hospital for alcoholics another patient simply mentioned he was going to try Christian Science. Shortly thereafter my friend found himself in another deep drunk.
But at this point he turned to Christian Science for help, and was dramatically healed in a matter of hours. All desire to drink left him and never returned. He was completely healed. "Something" reached into his life and awesomely made everything new and beautiful.
A wonderful 'something'
I propose that we examine more deeply two questions: First, what was that "something" that moved in the life of my longshoreman friend? And second, how does that wonderful "something" make itself known and felt in your life and mine?
First, what was that "something"? Why, what that man experienced was the very presence of God becoming real to his consciousness. He no longer felt so terribly all alone. God, Spirit, not only saved that man from believing he was an all-alone mortal; it saved him also from believing he was a bad mortal, hopelessly, helplessly caught up in a materialistic creation.
And that's significant for you and for me. For while it seems quite the opposite most of the time, the fact is, in the sight of God, you and 1 are not mortals. We don't really reside in a materialistic creation, hopelessly, helplessly subject to material laws and unjust human conditions. Why, you and I are the very offspring of God. We really do live, and move, and have our being in God, in Spirit.
Spirit, God, communicated just such ideas as these to my longshoreman friend through his spiritual sense, his spiritual intuition - not primarily through his eyes and ears.
And that's significant for you and for me. Do you realize, the only time we believed that discord - that so often seems to surround us - is when we looked with our eyes and listened with our ears? And that's the only time also we came to believe that we were helplessly caught up in this hopeless contradiction called material life.
What do 1 mean by material life? I mean life which is based on material values only: life which leaves God, Spirit, and spiritual ideas out of all consideration - as if they don't even exist; life which depends heavily for its happiness or its unhappiness on what those eyes and ears have to say.
And yet, all through human history thinking men and women have come to the conclusion that those eyes and ears are not to be trusted. That there is a source of information to go to, but it is not the eyes and ears. All through the Bible we have individuals coming to the awesome realization that they did not need to trust those eyes and ears. And when that dawning came it just absolutely revolutionized their lives.
Often they were impelled to comment on what they realized. For instance, listen to what Paul has to say about the eyes and cars: "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God" (I Cor. 2:9, 10).
And another thinker who lived about a hundred years ago, Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, came to the same conclusion and said substantially the same thing in her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." She writes: "Spirit imparts the understanding which uplifts consciousness and leads into all truth." She goes on to say, "This understanding is not intellectual, is not the result of scholarly attainments; it is the reality of all things brought to light" (p. 505).
Why, that's what my longshoreman friend needed. He needed to glimpse reality. He needed to begin to see the Creator as Spirit and creation as it really is, spiritual. He needed to begin to disbelieve what his lying eyes and ears misrepresented life to be, material.
And that's everyone's need. For every human problem, regardless of what fancy name is attached to it, and regardless of what fancy symptoms it comes dragging along behind it, is made up of nothing more than some "not-knowing" of God, Spirit, believing instead something those lying eyes and ears misrepresent life to be.
Yet Jesus told us the answer to every human problem. He said. "It is the Spirit that quickeneth" (John 6:63). ("It is the Spirit which gives life" - J. B. Phillips translation.) "The flesh profiteth nothing." ("The flesh will not help you.") "The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life." ("The things which I have told you are spiritual and are life.")
Sooner or later we've got to come to one absolutely fundamental conclusion, and this is it: all good originates in and flows to us from Spirit, God. Good can be found nowhere else.
If you're lacking good right now - in any way - it's because you've been looking to matter to find it. And matter is the 180-degree opposite of Spirit. But don't just think of matter as things, as objects. Unless we get behind that mere manifestation of matter to the real essence of what makes it up, we'll never really be free of it.
Try a different definition. Think of matter as: the overall term for all the wrong ways to think; the overall term for all the wrong ways to find good; the ways that do not work; the misconceptions of life.
Yet James told us what brings good into our lives. He said, "Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you" (James 4:8). Now drawing nigh means coming closer. Thank goodness, that's a step-by-step process! Thank goodness, none of us are asked to take any step beyond which we are next ready and able to take. And, thank goodness, there's a step just waiting for each one of us to take regardless from what beginning we start.
But this is certain: any step that any one of us takes to come closer to God reveals two basic facts. The first I've already mentioned - that God, Spirit, is the only source of good. But the second is just as important - that God, Spirit, is always present bestowing that good.
Spirit is reaching into your life and my life all the time. We may not realize that fundamental fact, even when it's happening. And yet, we need to. For only as we begin to recognize and acknowledge those touches of Spirit that absolutely transform our whole lives do we also become able to recognize and dismiss those damning notions which otherwise our senses just go on dropping on us.
So what was that something that moved in the life of my longshoreman friend? Why, it was Spirit, God. Yes, but has anybody ever seen Spirit? No! And none ever will. You can't see a principle. But you can know unmistakably that Principle exists by its manifestations in your life. And that's why we should now talk of that second question we raised earlier: How does that wonderful something, Spirit, God, make itself known and felt in your life and mine? And the answer, the wonderful answer - by the grace of God.
Paul had much to say about that word grace, for instance, he said, "And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work" (II Cor. 9:8). For years I had difficulty understanding that statement. It was that word "grace." I couldn't seem to get my hands on it.
The dictionary says, "the grace of God is the kindness of God, or the mercy of God." But that didn't touch my heart. I felt there had to be something more to that word than I had as yet seen.
Then I found the definition of the Greek word "charis," and that's the word translated "grace" in our King James New Testament. It reads this way: "The divine influence upon the heart and its reflection in the life" (Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible).
Oh, that definition just opened up that word "grace" for me gloriously! Why the grace of God is simply and wonderfully this animating, divine influence of Spirit bringing illumination into your life and my life in just the way our lives need it.
But I'm not speaking now of mere emotional ecstasy. I'm speaking of spiritual enlightenment. I'm speaking of increased spiritual understanding. Why it's the dawning of how things really are, by the hand of God.
And it may come, this grace of God, in any number of ways. For instance, it might appear in your life and mine as a still, small voice directing our decisions. Isaiah, that seer of deep spiritual things said, "And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left" (Isa. 30:21).
Has it ever struck you that indecision, indecisiveness, uncertainty, confusion, bafflement certainly can't be spiritual qualities? They must be human inventions. Why, God, Spirit, is naturally decisive, eternally knowing. And because you and I image that Spirit, that must be our natural state of consciousness as well. Decisiveness, certainty, knowing, without qualifications, without reservation. I had an experience that bore this out in my life. It's been a milestone ever since.
I had a major decision to make. It would not only affect my life deeply. It would affect every member of my family. It just had to be right. So, to find our way, Mrs. Clarke and I began by lining up the "pros" and the "cons." And you know what happened. We went in circles. For every "for," there was an "against." We got nowhere.
Then a friend pointed out to me what was wrong with that approach: it left out the direction of Spirit. Why, of course, that's what was wrong! It left God out of the decision.
And then the most lovely realization dawned on me. I saw that what I really needed and really wanted wasn't just the answer to that decision, as important as that seemed to be. What I really needed and really wanted was to not feel so alone. I needed to feel the presence and the operation of Spirit in my life once again.
And with that realization I immediately felt at peace. I still didn't know what to do! But that didn't bother me anymore because now I knew how I would know.
It was lovely. Mrs. Clarke and I stopped all debating with ourselves and each other on the "pros" and the "cons" and instead we each turned with all our hearts to hear individually what God, Spirit, wanted us to know, whenever and however Spirit wanted us to know it. And even though we waited for two months, we never lost our peace because we were so sure that Spirit moves with a precision that is unimprovable; never too early, never too late, never too much, never too little. Always precisely right.
'This is the way'
When the answer came, it came in a most unusual way. Mrs. Clarke and I were in a large room separated by a number of people. We could see each other, but we couldn't speak. And all of a sudden, I knew what we were to do. I just absolutely knew it! I looked across the room at my wife and I could see that she knew it, too! And 25 minutes later when we finally could speak, that was the case.
We each had been brought to the same conclusion at the same moment. Yet we hadn't talked each other into anything. Nor had anyone else said anything to prompt that particular conclusion. Nobody had done anything. No event or circumstance had come about to propel us in that direction. Well, what happened then?
We heard a word behind us saying, "This is the way, walk ye in it." Why not? Why wouldn't Spirit, the source of all intelligence, direct us unerringly?
Another lovely way that the grace of Spirit is felt in your life and mine is as a sudden, clear, awesome glimpse of reality. Mrs. Eddy writes in Science and Health, "Become conscious for a single moment that Life and intelligence are purely spiritual, - neither in nor of matter, - and the body will then utter no complaints. If suffering from a belief in sickness, you will find yourself suddenly well" (p. 14).
And that's exactly how Christian Science came to be discovered. Before her discovery Mary Baker Eddy experienced a good deal of suffering. Yet even during this first 45 years of her life she had a growing feeling there had to be a better way, a way of leaning entirely upon Spirit for everything she needed. Yet before the discovery actually jelled, some deep and significant healings came about, healings which at that point Mrs. Eddy didn't even entirely understand.
About 1860, for instance, a little child suffering from badly inflamed eyes - an inflammation that was threatening blindness for him - was healed. In 1862, a badly crippled man was enabled to walk. In 1864, a woman suffering from consumption was healed. You see, all during this time the grace of Spirit was affording Mrs. Eddy these glorious glimpses of reality which inevitably led to healing.
But in 1866 it all came together. Through all those years of yearning, burning desire to feel the nearness and dearness of Spirit, God, at a particularly desperate time in her own life, Mrs. Eddy was healed. And out of that healing the whole picture began to come into focus. "The grace of Spirit had finally brought Mrs. Eddy to the most significant conclusion any human being can come to, a conclusion, I am increasingly convinced, every human being must come to. And this is it: matter, with all of its held-out promises of good, - which it never makes good on, - and all of its overhanging threats of evil, is not even temporarily true! All that really exists is Spirit and its infinitely beautiful creation.
Universality of Truth
Mary Baker Eddy immediately began to prove this universality of the Truth with a multitude of healings of every kind of a problem you can name. Those healings were very soon performed not only by her, but by those she began to teach, - which proves that spiritual healing isn't a human talent that someone might or might not have. Anyone can heal through spiritual means. How? Through intense-enough blind belief? No! For the healings that Mrs. Eddy and her followers ever since have been bringing about were not faith healings. They were not the result of an emotional appeal to God to change an evil condition into a good one. These healings were the inevitable result of someone coming to see more clearly than they'd ever seen before that Spirit, God, could never have created or allowed sickness.
Solid, understanding-based healings like these have been going on ever since. How? Through spiritual understanding. Yes, but how do you get spiritual understanding?
There's a little phrase that tends to keep surfacing in the various biographical accounts of Mrs. Eddy that I think answers this question magnificently. It will read something like this, "And she lifted her thought to God."
"Draw nigh to God" - remember? In the book of Jeremiah, God says. "And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13).
Oh, that's the way to be healed! To open one's heart wide for these touches of Spirit, this grace of God, that inevitably brings into view, reality. And together with that vision of reality comes healing.
But notice: when you're healed like that, don't think that's the big thing that just happened to you. For what Mary Baker Eddy discovered is not only another way to get your body fixed. What Mary Baker Eddy discovered - think of it! - is reality, the truth of God and man. And the true and genuine significance of every Christian Science healing today, as indeed was the significance of every healing Jesus brought about, is that they indicate someone is on the right track. Someone is finding the truth of God and man. Someone is finding reality.
Yes, but wait a minute. What about all the good and all the beauty that so seems to be based in matter: a beautiful flower; a happy friendship; a lovely home? These just can't be
written off as insignificant, unimportant, unreal, untrue."
Of course, they can't. And this is what helps me answer those questions: Two people stand before a magnificent tree. One individual is deeply moved by the beauty he sees. The other individual walks right on by completely unimpressed.
Now, if the beauty seen was in or of that material tree, both individuals would have been moved by it. The beauty that one individual saw and felt was neither in nor of that material tree. It was due to the quality of his thinking.
I've come to see, and the evidence just mounts day by day, that in the direct proportion I am yearning to understand God better, that I am deeply striving to receive and cherish spiritual ideas, the first thing that happens is, I become better than I've been. And simultaneously, the world around me grows more beautiful to my gaze.
The opposite is true, too. In the direct proportion I am not particularly striving to receive and cherish spiritual things, I do not become better than I've been and the world around me grows progressively more ugly.
Why? Because of the quality of my consciousness. All the beauty and all the good I experience in ordinary, everyday living is determined directly by the spiritual things I am conscious of. My consciousness is not necessarily determined by what I humanly appear to experience.
All the heaven, all the harmony that you and I have seen, we've experienced through some reaching up for a higher sense of what life really is to that wonderful something called Spirit, God.
The opposite is true there also: All the hell, all the discord you and I have seen we've experienced through some attempt to find our life in matter. Through some manipulating of material persons or places or things around us to find happiness, to find fulfillment, to find life.
Every looking thus to matter to find life causes us to miss our way. And that's all that sin is. Sin is simply every missing of the way that inevitably results from looking to matter to find life. Every attempt to live without leaning upon Spirit and its sweet saving grace is sin.
Paul had something to say about that: "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. ). Yet for the most of us at least, the death of the body sounds like a very-far-off thing.
Oh, but Paul wasn't speaking only of the death of the body. Paul was speaking of the death of happiness, the death of health, the death of peace, the death of well-being, the death of success - and on and on. But most of all, I believe, Paul was speaking of the death of one's sweet sense of the presence of God. And that's the sweetest sense anyone can have.
But if the wages of sin is death, the wages of sinlessness must be life! Life abundant! And the man who lived the most gloriously abundant life ever seen came saying, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" (John ). And then Christ Jesus proceeded to live the most glorious example of life as it is meant to be, a life filled with meaning, with significance, with purpose, with direction. It was filled with power not only to bring about good, but to rule out evil. And he did it entirely by leaning upon Spirit.
He said that over and over again: "I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise" (John ).
Do you know what Jesus did for us? He lived for us. He showed us how to live by pointing us to Spirit as the source of everything we'd ever need. And he did it by leaning entirely on the Christ.
But what's the Christ? The Christ is not a person. It's not a certain individual. The Christ is the animating divine influence of Spirit, causing you and me to understand what God and man are really like, - the Truth.
Jesus so depended upon this Christ, this Truth, for everything that he thought, said, and did, that his life became synonymous with it. And so we call him Christ Jesus, or, Jesus, the Christ, meaning, Jesus: the man who lived the perfect example of the Christ, the truth of God and man.
But the Christ was present before Jesus' time. All through the Old Testament we have healings, events, circumstances, brought about by the touch of Spirit, the grace of God, the embrace of the Christ.
And there's no question but that the Christ is present here today. Why we have hundreds of thousands of Christian Science healings in the last hundred years that prove this beyond a shadow of a doubt.
A grim diagnosis
Come back with me for a minute to my longshoreman friend. Several days after he was healed of alcoholism, he came to me hesitantly yet eagerly, and he said, "If God could heal me so easily and so quickly of alcoholism, could He heal me also of a deformed spine?" And then he told me that all of his life he'd suffered from a deformity of the spine. Why, it had caused him no end of troubles, the least of which was the fact that he'd never been able to bend down and touch his toes.
He'd recently been to a hospital to have the condition diagnosed. And doctors there had told him that while an operation was possible, in all likelihood it would leave him unable to walk.
I assured him that the same loving God who had never caused or allowed alcoholism to be true about him certainly had never allowed a deformity of the spine to be true for him either. And he and I agreed to pray about it.
Several nights later he was again alone in his room, and all of a sudden he knew that if he could but overcome his fear of that deformity he'd be healed of it. And so, he went to his Bible and his Science and Health to gather spiritual ideas, because he'd come to a momentous conclusion: Only spiritual ideas would destroy his fears - nothing else could do it.
He told me later after three hours of that kind of wide-open, heart-yearning to hear whatever God wanted him to know, he suddenly became aware he was no longer afraid. That deformity had become preposterous to him. It had become just unthinkable to him that God in all of His goodness could have created or allowed such a thing to be.
And he knew he was healed. And he was. The next morning he mustered an incredulous wife and son to watch while he bent down and touched his toes for the first time in his life. All traces of the deformity were gone. They never returned.
Why not? Why should we think such a thing incredible? Why, to catch even a glimpse of the reality that is afforded us through the grace of Spirit actually heals us of our physical problems.
Oh, but the grace of Spirit does so much more than that. The grace of Spirit causes all things to become new in our life. That longshoreman friend of mine: Why, he lost so much more than alcoholism, so much more than a deformity of the spine. He lost all those fears, all those confusions, all those dreads, all those anxieties, which had made him a tightly coiled steel spring of a man, ready to strike out left and right out of his fear, out of his frustration. Why, that rough, tough character became a lamb.
But can't you see this must be true for anyone regardless of what his life has been like? Mary Baker Eddy says, "Correct material belief by spiritual understanding, and Spirit will form you anew" (Science and Health, p. 425). And Paul said, "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (II Cor. ).
And why can we expect that in our lives? In the J. B. Phillips translation of the New Testament, Paul says, "For it is God who is at work within you, giving you the will and the power to achieve his purpose" (Phil. ). His purpose! Not yours, not mine. We live by divine decree, for a divine purpose more awesome than anything you or I could ever dream up.
At another place in the Phillips' translation Paul says, "For you have finished with the old man and all he did and have begun life as the new man, who is out to learn what he ought to be, according to the plan of God" (Col. 3:9).
And what ought you and I to be according to the plan of God? Are we miserable sinners, the latest in a long line of miserable sinners? Why certainly not. This all-wise, all-loving, all-intelligent creator, who alone is responsible for every fiber of our being, who made us precisely what He meant us to be, could never have planted even the slightest seed of evil in us, later to ripen into a sin, which then he would punish us for.
Well then, are we sick? Helpless victims of sickening material laws and unjust human conditions? Why, certainly not. The same God who conceived us and brought us forth, walks with us - keeps us what He made us to be. And there are no other laws, no other conditions to press us out of shape even one iota.
Well then, are we dispensable? Unneeded? Over the hill? Too old - or its variation, too young? Why certainly not. Each one of us is utterly unique, forever indispensable. You will see God and show Him forth in a way I will never do! And I will do the same for you.
Can you imagine what must happen as you and I receive spiritual ideas like these, come to us through the touch of Spirit, the grace of God, the embrace of the Christ? Why, a whole new life opens up, whole new possibilities, whole new expectations, a whole new reason for being.
And that's why it seems to me that you and I should turn and listen and follow with all our hearts as God, Spirit, says, "Look to me and be saved, all you peoples from all corners of the earth, for I am God. There is no other" (Isa. 45:22 - New English).
[Published in The Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 12, 1977.]