The Answer to Despair


Norman B. Holmes, C.S.B., of Chicago, Illinois

Member of the Board of Lectureship of The Mother Church,

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


Acknowledging God as the source of all true being brings release from limitation and despair, Norman B Holmes, C.S.B., of Chicago, stated in a public lecture in Boston Tuesday.

"No notions of life in matter, limited and despairing," he said, "no deceptive material senses, no fables of evil can keep us from acknowledging God's presence, and working out the grandeur of the life He is developing."

Healings in Christian Science of deafness and heat prostration were related by Mr. Holmes.

A member of The Christian Science Board of Lectureship, he spoke in The Mother Church, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts. "The Answer to Despair" was the title of his lecture.

James M. McGrew, C.S., of Boston, Mass., introduced the lecturer who spoke substantially as follows:


'Don't look down'

Some years ago when I was sailing in the Pacific, one of the crew was painting the top of the mainmast. Suddenly the line supporting him gave way. He avoided a fall by quickly grasping the rigging into which he was thrown. Looking down at the sea below, he was unable to move, paralyzed with fear. The first mate shouted to him from the deck, "Don't look down. Look up, look up." Looking up, the man was soon able to make his way through the rigging to safety.

When we're confronted by some desperate set of circumstances, how often do we find ourselves looking down, fixed on the problem, paralyzed with fear. It may be illness, insecurity, unemployment, loneliness that hypnotizes us. But at such times many have found a sure way out. Instead of being immobilized by the problem, they've learned to look up. They've learned to place their reliance on a higher power, on the infinite goodness of God as the great first and only cause.

Look at the Apostle Paul. Through following the teachings of Jesus he learned something of the nature of God as infinite cause. He learned to understand and rely on this infinite power. At one time, when Paul was traveling through Greece, he found the Athenians had thrown up altars, all over the place, to many gods or forces, both good and evil, they thought were governing their lives. They had altars to the god of the sea, of fire and water, of war and of the harvest. You may recall they even had an altar "to the unknown god."

One day, in talking to a group of Athenians, Paul pointed out to them that this "unknown god" whom they ignorantly worshipped, was the one God, the only real creator - a God who is good, and always at hand, not far off and distant. But a God whose presence is with everyone, the one true God, the all-inclusive, infinite cause. This is how Paul put it: "For in him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28).

This is the answer to any problem confronting us. Find that we live and move and have our being in God. Stop looking down, deep into some problem. Look up. Look to the one cause, the infinite power of the almighty God. Find our basic spiritual being in the infinite goodness of all-encompassing Spirit − always unfolding man in perfect harmony, in perfect health, in perfect wholeness, with certain, unerring direction.


God acknowledged as cause

Many years ago I found the value of learning to know God as cause, and of relying on this one cause, the infinite power of almighty Spirit. At this particular time I was on duty with the Navy at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. It was a good assignment offering independence and considerable involvement with the personnel in their work. But suddenly I was transferred, to act as office manager for one of the district offices at Pearl Harbor.

The captain in charge had the reputation of being a difficult person to work with, unpredictable in his actions, a stormy character. This was the last place I wanted to be assigned. Well, once on the job, I pointed out to the personnel that we'd best expend all our efforts at making the boss happy. And we worked at this for about two weeks.

Everything got worse. But then I woke up. Instead of looking down deep into the problem, I began to look up, and away from the problem. Look up to the infinite power of God as the only cause. As a student of Christian Science I knew something of God's causative power. I began to dig deeper in my understanding of God.

Now, Christian Scientists have a book that helps us to understand God better, a book that explains the Bible and its promises. This book is "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." It is written by a woman, Mary Baker Eddy, who is the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science.

One day, when I was studying Science and Health, I came across this statement, "Divine Mind is the only cause or Principle of existence. Cause does not exist in matter, in mortal mind, or in physical forms" (p. 262). I began to see that I was being just as foolish as the Athenians. I was throwing up altars to false gods, and bowing down to them.

Why, I had one altar to a disagreeable, unwanted assignment, another altar to some mentality I thought I had to please, and, a third altar to my own personal, material mentality. I felt that somehow through self-reliance I would develop the grit and know-how to please that captain.


Material senses unreliable

But, after I began to look up to God, and away from the problem, I began to see that God alone is cause. As Science and Health states, "Divine Mind is the only cause or Principle of existence." My work was not self-reliance but God-reliance: not pleasing person but pleasing God. And each day I worked to rely on God. Worked to please Him, the one God. Each morning I prayed to understand that the only power governing my work and the work of those around me was the power and authority of God's goodness.

In a few days' time we had a smooth-running office. I still remember, a few days later, the captain came storming into the office, barked out a few commands. And then, he stopped in his tracks. And said, with a laugh, "Why, you fellows aren't afraid of me any more." I said, "That's right, captain. We love you." This puzzled him even more.

But the love that I was speaking of is the love that comes from God. Love is another name for God. When we're relying on God who is infinite Love, this does something to our lives. It helps us to reject the shortcomings and limitations of materiality we see in ourselves and others. We can look beyond the testimony of the material senses to discern the man and woman of God's creation, spiritual, beautiful, and complete.

From this experience I learned that God who is the one basic cause of man and the universe is always acting. God is pouring forth energy, spiritual power, divine intelligence, limitless resources. God is pouring forth His energies, His qualities, His characteristics as the basic nature of every one of us. Therefore, man created by God, created of God's spiritual substance, exactly represents and embodies the characteristics and resources of the one infinite cause called God. Infinite Spirit is causative power in operation.


Man the result of God's power

Rightly viewed, man must be the effect of the one infinite cause unfolding itself. Man is the result of God's power. Man, in his basic nature, emanates from God. Consequently, man is the developing activity of all that God is doing, the outcome of His intelligence, of His order and harmony, of His health and wholeness.

Jesus proved this. The Founder of Christianity knew God as cause. He knew God's power and presence so well that he is called Jesus the Christ. Jesus knew that God is always pouring forth true substance, strength, and freedom for everyone of His creation.

This true idea of what God is doing, of God's power and presence, is the Christ. It is the motivating power of Jesus' teachings and of his healing works. He knew that the Christ is God's power and presence, working with everyone. Jesus taught man's Christly nature as the emanation of God, the outpouring of God's goodness.

One day in speaking of God, Jesus put it this way, "The glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one" (John 17:22). In a very real sense Jesus taught that man, in his basic nature, is God's glory appearing. He taught that God and man are inseparable.

A good analogy of the oneness of God and man is found in the familiar illustration of the sun and the sunlight. The sun pours out sunlight. The sunlight doesn't receive its brilliance from a source external to the sun. Nor does the sun give its sunlight permission to go out and get mixed up with darkness. You never saw a dark sunbeam. The sun alone is the power behind the sunlight. And sunlight exactly embodies the power and energy of the sun.

Do you know that to reach the earth from the sun the sunbeam travels 93 million miles? But all the way it's pure sunlight. Not one shred of darkness. But so powerful is the energy propelling the sunbeam that it takes only eight minutes to arrive.

Now, this power of the sun is just an echo of God's majestic, immeasurable power. God's power is almighty. It's all-power. It doesn't take eight minutes. It's "now-power." And God doesn't give man authority to go out and get mixed up with the darkness of despair or frustration, limitation, or ill health. The acknowledged inseparability of the sun and the sunlight is so clear that the sunbeam is often called sunshine because it's the sun's shining.

By the same token, man is basically so inseparable from God, that, in a certain sense, each of us is God's shining. The wind blows. The sun shines. And God causes. So, man, in his basic nature, is the result of God's causing.

But how often do we act as though we were separate from God, floundering about, all mixed up in the darkness of limitation and despair? I remember one day when I was acting like a storm cloud.

One weekend, during a very hot summer, I'd been playing tennis for hours in the broiling sun. Monday morning I woke up miserable. One look at the beautiful sunshine nauseated me. Apparently, it was prostration from the heat. I began to pray. I began to insist upon the power of God, His allness. I affirmed that right where nausea and discomfort claimed to be, right there were the presence and power of God's causative energy developing spiritual harmony and freedom.

God creating only good, I reasoned that nausea and discomfort were powerless to measure my life. God being Spirit, He had never created matter with its limitations. Therefore, limited materiality must be unreal, without divine authority.

I was, figuratively speaking, climbing out of the bed of materiality into heaven, the heaven of Soul. Throughout my prayer I held to the spiritual fact that there was only one cause, the infinite power of Spirit. I acknowledged that I, in my basic nature, was the spiritual emanation of infinite Love, omnipotent Life, ever-present Truth.


Christ's call to mankind

Shortly after getting down to the office I was completely free and well. That afternoon I was out in the sun again for a couple of hours without the slightest ill effects.

From this experience and many others I have found that instead of looking down into a problem, the answer lies in looking up, in mentally lifting thought to an understanding of God as ever-present good, the only cause. Like the first mate calling to the man stuck in the ship's rigging, Jesus presented the Christ call to men everywhere to wake up. Through Jesus' teachings the Christ calls, "Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest" (John 4:35).

Every one of us can look up. We can begin right here and now to learn something of God's causative nature as the only supreme, governing power in our lives. Learn something of the nature of God's goodness, of His intelligence, of His presence ever active in our lives, causing man to be whole, to be healthy, to be complete.

Such understanding awakens us to the divine fact that we live, move, and have our being in God's kingdom where we can find reliance on a power-source that never fails.

Although God, Spirit, is the only cause, how often do evil, discord, limitation seem to be all-powerful in our lives, and claim to hold us tight in the vise of despair.

Well, what about evil? Where does it come from? God is the only cause. He has created everything good and perfect, like Himself. Therefore, God is not the creator of evil. The Bible says, "God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions" (Eccl. 7:29). Evil is one of the inventions of mortals. It's a fable.

One explanation of evil is found in the fables of antiquity. There's an old Greek fable, similar to legends everywhere. According to this story, many years ago the gods created man on earth, and man was all alone. So the gods created a beautiful young woman, and brought her down to earth to be a help to man.

Once in his home this girl, whose name was Pandora, found that she could have everything she wanted − with one small exception. There was one room in the house lined with mirrors. In the center of the room there was a large oaken chest embossed with fine gold. Pandora was not to open that chest.


The true story of creation

Well, you know what curiosity is like. After a day or two Pandora ran into the room, and flung open the lid of the chest. And, according to the fable, out of the chest flew all the ills now present in the world − plagues, pestilences, diseases, poverty, wars − and evil's various mental qualities: envy, spite, revenge, hatred, fear, selfishness, greed, and despair.

A story somewhat similar to this fable about the origin of evil is found in the Bible. Of course, the Bible, in the first chapter of Genesis, sets forth the true story of creation. Here we find expressed in poetic language the spiritually scientific facts of being. God is described as good, the only creator, and man, in God's image and likeness − male and female spiritually perfect and complete − both created at the same time.

What a beautiful creation. But in the very next chapter creation is done all over again. And it's such a poor job it must be a fable. Now we have a Lord God who is the creator.

He creates man out of the dust of the ground. And man is all alone, just as in the story of Pandora. And, once more, a beautiful woman is created to help man. Once in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve find that they can have just about anything they wish − with one small exception.

No, it isn't a chest that's off-limits. It's a tree, a tree that symbolizes the knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve are forbidden to eat the fruit on that tree. But this is where the trouble begins. As one wit explains it, the trouble was not so much the apple on the tree as the "pair" on the ground, at the foot of the tree.

Now, Christian Science doesn't ignore evil. Christian Science is based squarely on the teachings of Jesus and the Bible that God is good and is all, and that God is the only cause. So, in the face of God's goodness and allness we can reject evil.


It is possible to reject evil

But popular opinion insists that you can't reject evil. The material senses insist that you can feel evil when you are sick. And that you can see evil with your eyes. Do you always believe everything you see? Many times a day we reject and correct what we see with our eyes.

Go to the airport and watch the people going aboard a plane. Watch the plane take off in the sky. As the plane gets farther and farther away, your eyes will tell you that the plane is getting smaller and smaller. What happened to the people? Did they shrink? Of course not. Our intelligence corrects what we are seeing. We know those people haven't shrunk a bit.

Thousands of years ago the Greeks knew how unreliable, how deceptive, were the material senses. There was a Greek scientist, named Strato, a follower of Aristotle. He headed up the Lyceum in Athens. One day Strato illustrated for his pupils how deceptive were the material senses. He took a glass and emptied everything out of it. He pointed out how empty the glass looked. But then, he pointed out that the glass was actually full, filled with invisible particles of matter called air.

To prove this he took a large basin of water. Turned the glass upside down, and plunged it vertically into the water. Water came up around the sides of the glass. But the pressure of the air filling the glass prevented the water from entering the glass. Strato then said that this is how the material senses deceive us. Don't believe them.

We're all willing to reject the optical illusions of the material senses. But let these same material senses get personal with us, and start talking about our sick body, our unhappy family, our poor business. And we'll search out and find reasons to agree with this false testimony.

Sometimes our life looks futile, hopeless, empty. But right where we are, there is a full and purposeful life ordered by God. Right there God forms us all with the abundance of His substance, with the health of God's glory.

All of us can learn to rely on God. Accept the spiritual fact that God is good, all-power, man's only real creator. We can find life, perfect and complete, in and of God. In Science and Health Christian Science states it this way, "The notion that mind and matter commingle in the human illusion as to sin, sickness, and death must eventually submit to the Science of Mind, which denies this notion. God is Mind, and God is infinite: hence all is Mind" (p. 492).

So, we learn that in the face of God's allness, evil is worthless, unreal. No notions of life in matter, limited and despairing, no deceptive material senses, no fables of evil can keep us from acknowledging God's presence, and working out the grandeur of the life He is developing. The Bible is filled with examples of spiritually minded people who have proved this. We can, too.

People in Bible days were just like us. They struggled with disease, and lack, with all kinds of limitations. Many of them learned to rely on God and prove His power. At one time the prophet Haggai was faced with all kinds of limitations. But God spoke to the anguish of Haggai in these words, "Be strong, all ye people of the land. . . . and work: for I am with you, . . . my spirit remaineth among you" (Hag.2:4,5).

To rout despair we must be strong in God. We must learn to rely wholly on Spirit instead of matter. We must work at putting our understanding of God into effect. By work I mean we must pray. No, I don't mean the prayer that looks up, helplessly to some God we don't understand, and says, "God give me this or that." I mean the prayer that is acknowledging what God is already doing for us. The prayer that is seeking daily to understand God better.

We can all pray the prayer of spiritual understanding. Learn to know God. Recognize there is a divine power and presence always with us.

In our age we have a contemporary example of such prayer − one who worked long and tirelessly to rely on God. I'm speaking of Mrs. Eddy. Christian Scientists love to turn to the example of this dedicated woman who discovered and founded Christian Science, because Mrs. Eddy is our friend.


Mrs. Eddy overcame despair

We know her through her writings. Her life of love and fidelity in following Jesus, and her developing spiritual sense inspire and encourage us. No matter how despairing were life's problems, she was consistent and persistent in her prayerful work − relying on God. Her fidelity and persistence won her the joy of overcoming.

Look at her life prior to her discovery of Christian Science in 1866. Her early years were marked by frail health, by despair, and by unfilled hopes. She was married at 22 and widowed seven months later. Because of continuing frailty, her small son was taken from her by well-meaning relatives when he was six years old.

Four years later a subsequent marriage offered the hope of reuniting mother and child. But this hope was never fulfilled. The following 13 years were stalked by financial reverses, by loss of home and possessions, and by the infidelity and desertion of her husband.

It's no wonder in those despairing years that Mrs. Eddy writes, "Hope and despondency are the twin sisters of earth, and the smile and tear follow each other in quick succession" (Peel, "Years of Discovery," p. 111). From the standpoint of the material senses life looked promising one day, and distressing the next.

But in her 45th year when suffering a major health crisis, Mrs. Eddy, as was her custom, turned to God in prayer and to her Bible. This prayer awakened her to the reality of spiritual life. She discovered that all real being is in God. She was healed. She knew her healing had come from God. She wanted to find the Science that lay behind it. So, for several years, she researched the Bible day after day.

In 1875 she published the first edition of Science and Health. With the spiritual growth such momentous steps indicate, one might conclude that Mrs. Eddy had grown so much spiritually that she would have no more problems. But Mrs. Eddy had learned that as long as we seem to live in matter, the fables of evil would try to convince us of trials and challenges from time to time.

So it was, when Mrs. Eddy was divinely impelled to found a church for the whole world − a church based on the healing method of Jesus. As in most pioneer work there were periods of struggle and despair. It was nearly 20 years from the first simple services in Lynn, Massachusetts, to the dedication of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts.


Battle plan for victory

At these dedicatory services Mrs. Eddy set forth her battle plan for victory over discords of all kinds; her conviction of life immaterial and indestructible, of life and identity in and of God.

She puts it this way, "The real house in which 'we live, and move, and have our being' is Spirit, God, the eternal harmony of infinite Soul." And then, she adds, "Such being its nature, how can our godly temple possibly be demolished, or even disturbed?" ("Pulpit and Press," pp. 2, 3).

How often does material existence confront us with loneliness, some business problem, lack, or ill health? We can be undisturbed when we are learning that all real being is in God.

Your immortal being is enshrined, is held secure in God's substance. The underlying substance of your business, your family, your body, your health is ever unfolding − an emanation of God, the one and only Cause. As we pray and study diligently and faithfully − as we work at relying on God, we can prove this.

The understanding of the goodness and allness of God, divine Mind, and of the consequent nothingness of matter routs despair of every kind. Let me tell you about the experience of some friends of mine, students of Christian Science. They've learned the value of relying on God, and they've learned to work at this reliance − through prayer.

One day the principal of the school where their son attended called them in for a conference. She told them flatly that their son was hard of hearing, and, unless he received medical assistance, he would be handicapped. Obviously his schoolwork would be affected. He would be a dullard when he grew up.

Returning home, my friends turned prayerfully to their understanding of divine Mind to help them. The big question was: Could they trust their child to God's healing power? But, as they talked things over together, they recalled the many times in which God's healing power had been proved effective in their lives.

The young mother recalled a problem of defective vision when she was in grade school. And how her mother had stood firm with God, calling on a Christian Science practitioner to help her through prayer. And how she was soon healed. She recalled that some years later when she went into military service, a physical examination showed that she had perfect vision.

The young father recalled an experience he had had with a painful ear condition that kept him out of high school for more than two months. And how his mother had the courage to stand with the healing power of Christian Science. She, too, had asked a Christian Science practitioner for help. And through prayer alone a fine healing had been effected. When he later went into the military service, the physician examining him remarked at the physical reconstruction that had taken place in his ears.

Recalling these and many other proofs of God's healing power through prayer, these two young people became renewedly convinced that Christian Science heals. They knew they could trust their child to the healing power of the one cause, divine Mind.


Impaired hearing healed

Instead of looking down, getting absorbed in the prevalent conviction of mankind that life and hearing are in a material body, and, therefore, restricted by material conditions, they looked up. They insisted that God's faculties are spiritual and perfect. Therefore, they acknowledged that the basic senses of God's man must forever be unimpaired and unimpeachable.

About two weeks later when the boy was out in the car with his mother one day, he turned to her and said, "Mommy, you're not whispering any more. I can hear you plainly." The healing was complete. And today that boy is a fine young man. He is very intelligent. His hearing is particularly keen and acute.

Any crisis in our lives, whether little or big, can be solved through a developed reliance on God. When something goes wrong, or a crisis mounts, we won't solve it by looking down deep into the problem − getting immobilized by fear.

Sometimes we get so bogged down in some despairing situation that we drag the problem around with us like an anchor. Or, hang it around our neck like a millstone. A better solution for any problem is to see it as an alarm clock, an alarm clock that is ringing. It's calling, "Wake up. Get out of the bog of materiality into the heaven of Soul. Get back to God."

In Science and Health Christian Science teaches, "We must look where we would walk, and we must act as possessing all power from Him in whom we have our being" (p 264). Look up. Mentally lift thought to understanding more of God's goodness and allness. Reject the fables of evil, the notions of life in matter, the deceptions of the material senses. Acknowledge that you live and move and have your being in God.


[Published in The Christian Science Monitor, Oct. 17, 1973, under the headline " 'The Answer to Despair' is always at hand".]