Your Right to Be Right
Jessica Pickett, C.S., of Chicago, Illinois
Member of the Board of Lectureship of The Mother Church,
The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts
Shortly after I began lecturing a young girl came up to me one night and asked: "How can you know when you're really right? How do you tell right from wrong?"
1 can't recall now just exactly what I said to her. But as she turned away I had a feeling I hadn't done too good a job. And I've been working on a better answer ever since ‒ not only to clarify it for myself, but also to share it with others. There've been so many asking the same question.
In my search I remembered a significant experience from when I was a very small child. My mother and I had a secret society. We were its only members. And we had a secret sign, too, the letter "S." It stood for "Silence!" And this meant each of us quietly held to what we felt was right.
I was next to the last in a family of six children, and our home was often a very lively place, as you can imagine. Our neighborhood was lively, too. Sometimes I was embroiled in situations I had no business in. Sometimes I got pretty confused about what was right and what was wrong. Then my mother would catch my eye, lay her finger on her lips and say, "Remember S." Our mutual secret would always put me right back where I belonged.
As I think back upon this close relationship between my mother and me, I realize it was here I first learned something about a wonderful asset we all have ‒ "a peace core" I call it, C-O-R-E. A deep inner core of unshakable peace ‒ a place of strength from the most trying and difficult circumstances, a mental refuge where right ideas can appear.
You might say this talk today is an invitation to you to join our secret society. To accept the secret sign "Remember S." And what's more important to find within this center of strength and peace the difference between right and wrong.
Many of you already belong to it. I'm meeting new members everywhere I go.
I had an interesting encounter like this not long ago in Florida with a bellhop in a big hotel, a fine looking young man. He'd carried my bags down, and we were talking while I waited for someone to pick me up.
I asked him if he'd been in Vietnam. He said he had. So I asked about the drug situation there. Was it as bad as we were hearing?
"Yes," he replied. "It's even worse." "But," he went on, "1 can understand in a way why this is so. You know, when that order comes to move out into the jungle, it's a pretty frightening thing to face. Then someone may say, 'Well, come on! Let's just take a shot and get on with it."
"But you know," he added, "I just never could go along with that. The thought always came to me, If this is the time for me to meet my Maker, I want Him to see me like I really am!"
What a thought! See me like I really am!
"You must have had a wonderful upbringing to have a thought like that," I said.
"Oh, no," he told me. "I grew up in the worst part of this city. There was nothing but knifing and stealing and mugging ‒ nothing but crime and drunkenness and drugs!"
"But," he said, "that just wasn't for me. The more I saw as a kid, the less I wanted to be like what I saw. Yeah, I like to have a good time just like everyone else but not with alcohol and drugs. If I'm going to have a good time I want to know it's me that's having it."
How logical and convincing this young man was! I marveled at his insight, his integrity and his moral courage. He had a built-in sense of right! And he knew how to protect it! It was easy to see that in his own way he had found his "peace core!"
Your Right to be Like You Really Are
What was this young man's secret? His sense of being right to be "like I really am!" as he put it.
Just what does it mean to have a built-in sense of right ‒ in short, "to be right"? Certainly, it doesn't mean it's your prerogative to be on the top of the heap over everybody else! It doesn't mean you have the wit to outwit everybody who stands in your way. It doesn't mean you've got everything going your way. As far as I'm concerned, it means you have to be right with yourself.
As sure as you're alive, you already embody this sense of right. It's the truth about you. It's what you really are. Anything contrary to this is the untruth about you. It's what you really aren't.
Ask anyone how he knows right from wrong. Almost invariably he'll say, "You just know it. It's a matter of conscience."
But many of us don't listen to conscience. Just look how some warp what conscience is saying to them! It's a matter of integrity, isn't it?
Conscience in itself isn't enough. We need to listen to it.
I like this definition of "integrity" given in Webster's: "an unimpaired or unmarred condition; entire correspondence with an original condition." Now from that basis you can begin to deduce what you really are! Your original condition is really you as you exist in the eyes of your Maker. It's seeing yourself just as He made you. A total being ‒ unadulterated by the world's misconceptions about man ‒ about you! It's pure you.
No, conscience in itself isn't enough! A human sense of integrity isn't either. What we need is conscience plus integrity plus something else. Plus what? I've already mentioned it. Plus the truth about you. The spiritual truth of what you really are.
Conscience and integrity, then, impelled by the truth of what you really are ‒ spiritual ‒ correlate you with your Maker ‒ that divine First Cause and Creator, the Principle of true being. And in Christian Science we acknowledge this Principle to be Spirit, just as Jesus pointed out: "God is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). And Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, says in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, "Spiritual causation is the one question to be considered, for more than all others spiritual causation relates to human progress" (p. 170).
Your true integrity, then, is understanding yourself spiritually. It separates what you are from what you are not. And it gives you the authority to make decisions on the side of God ‒ of what is wholly good. When this divine Truth speaks to you through the voice of your conscience, then you can be sure you're right. You know it. How? By true inner peace you feel. You're standing then on your spiritual integrity ‒ what you really are.
I think of spiritual integrity as what the tent pole is to the tent, figuratively speaking ‒ a deepset, central, stabilizing force that remains firm and fixed and withstands the storm. The tent depends upon the fixity of that pole. The tent may be buffeted, sometimes ripped and torn, but that center pole stands. Spiritual integrity, our strength and peace, is like that. It stands. Because it's spiritual, it's unrelated to material conditions. Yet, when exercised, it's master of them.
Or you could say this integrity is your spiritual backbone. It holds you intact. It keeps you upright. It gives you the conviction of right as right and wrong as wrong. It gives you the strength to be right and the courage to stand against whatever appears to be wrong with the same conviction Jesus expressed.
Finding the God-Controlled Conscience
Jesus gave us the basis of right judgment ‒ how to know when you're really right. Christian Science accepts Jesus' way as the basis for choosing between right and wrong.
Jesus had to make decisions just as we do. In his last hours he made his most provocative decision ‒ a decision that actually set the basis for all right decisions. We see him struggling in Gethsemane before his crucifixion, when his very life was at stake, praying to be free from the dark cloud enshrouding him. On his knees he pled to be spared the agony of that hour. But, he more earnestly prayed, "Not my will, but thine, be done" (Luke 22:42). He knew that true deliverance from evil rests on the right decision ‒ the decision of what's right with God.
Jesus' decisions were made in his conscious spiritual conviction of being at one with God, and right with God. "I and my Father are one," he said (John 10:30). In this spiritual altitude of thought, his divine consciousness of being and his conscience met and found peace with God. His decisions had one purpose only ‒ spiritual advancement ‒ for himself and mankind.
Jesus gave us the yardstick for right decisions, then ‒ spiritual advancement. "Will the decision I am making advance me spiritually?" This question points up a rule in Christian Science. When we adhere to it, we bless all mankind as well as ourselves.
Experts are calling today a time of "overchoice." We're faced with so many pros and cons in every human question, every decision, what a relief the simplicity of Jesus' rule can prove to be! No multiple choice here! The rule of choice on the side of Truth is wholly spiritual and wholly good. It is the ultimate choice. When you've made your decision according to your highest spiritual understanding ‒ when conscience coincides with true consciousness, with what you know yourself to be spiritually ‒ you can rest your case there.
Furthermore, you can trust the outcome. If your decision is advancing you spiritually, it's advancing your human footsteps as well. It's strengthening you morally and physically. And your actions are within the guidelines of every moral and Christian code. They're bringing you a step nearer to seeing yourself "like you really are." They're bringing peace instead of restless and uncertain groping for the you you'd like to be. Every decision you make on this basis is the Christ-spirit within you, the pure you, reaching out to and claiming its unmarred, divine originality.
I'd like to illustrate this with the experience of a young friend of mine. We'll call him "Bob." He was in my Sunday School class.
For a time Bob had seemed quite mixed up about himself ‒ who he really was ‒ and who others really were. It was his relationship with girls that worried him most. He came in to see me one day. "I guess I'll just have to stop dating," he said. "Every pretty girl I take out just seems to bring out the very worst in me."
"Perhaps you're looking at the wrong girl," I suggested. "Why don't you try a new tack? Instead of thinking of her as merely a physically attractive creature and treating her like that, why don't you try getting acquainted with who she really is? I mean, look for the spiritual qualities she expresses?"
After his next date, he was beaming. "You know," he said, "we had a wonderful time. I found so many of those qualities you spoke of I can't count them. I liked her. I told her so. She was really beautiful, beautiful from within. She was sincere. And considerate, too. And she was fun. We laughed a lot. She liked it when I told her these things. It made me feel good, too. I felt at ease with her."
Dates like these became a common occurrence in Bob's life. And the interesting thing is, he himself completely changed. He began expressing more of the qualities of his true being. He grew more humble and confident, more mature and poised. I would say his spiritual integrity was coming through loud and clear.
About a year later, one of the loveliest young women you can imagine came onto the scene. The expression of grace itself. The kind of girl Bob had always really loved, not merely craved. And now Bob was ready for her. She found in him the qualities she needed. I think you'd call it real love. They've been married for several years now and have a young son. They're very happy.
Bob had surely caught a glimpse of himself as he really was. It became clearer to him as he searched for it and found it in others. The Christ view, the view of man Jesus always accepted, is the true view of each one of us. Because the Christ is the true idea of God and of man's sonship with God.
To see your self as Jesus saw himself, and to feel the impulsion of the Christ directing your steps, is the way into the Kingdom of Heaven ‒ that core of peace ‒ within everybody. It's to be born again ‒ spiritually. It's discovering the you that existed from the beginning of time. It's being reborn and renamed ‒ with a new spiritual name ‒ as a son or spiritual idea of God. It's you in your original condition. Pure you!
What Does it Mean to be Wrong?
But is there really any other you? Is there a right you and a wrong you? Just what does it mean to be wrong?
Doesn't it mean actually that you've accepted the wrong view of the true you, and you're acting on this basis of duality? The mistaken view of yourself, we learn in Christian Science, is a mirage of the physical senses. It's a suppositional view in which everything is turned upside down. The Scriptures call it a fallen state of man.
Have you ever looked through a magnifying glass? Held it up to your eye and looked through it across the room? Everything in the room is upside down. You're looking through and beyond the focal distance of the glass. That's what the physical senses do to the true concept of yourself. They take you outside the focal distance of spiritual consciousness ‒ uprightness. You get an inverted, untrue view of yourself.
Mrs. Eddy speaks of mortal and materialistic evils as a conspiracy against man. Referring to the man who acts on the basis of their false evidence, she says: "He is joining in a conspiracy against himself, ‒ against his own awakening to the awful unreality by which he has been deceived" (Science and Health, p. 339).
She calls this state of deception a form of intoxication more difficult to break than that of alcohol and drugs. When you accept the material view of yourself, like the drunk man, you lose sight of who you really are. You act as if you were an entirely different person. You're bound to be wrong.
Recently a man, facing trial for larceny, was explaining to a reporter how he carried out his criminal acts. "You stop feeling human. You can't afford to have feelings or you won't make money," he said.
In this mentally intoxicated or distorted view of yourself, you're apt to disregard the rights of others. It's an attitude entirely unrelated to Spirit, God. It's the egocentric view of man. It's self-created rather than God-created. Therefore its effects are self-centered and completely selfish.
Displacing the Wrong View
A young woman had overcome the dope habit ‒ after sinking to the very lowest depths ‒ where she knew "the gutters better than any cockroach," as she put it. She said, "On dope you care only for yourself. You are utterly, utterly selfish."
One only has to listen to a personal testimony like this to feel the emptiness and loneliness and isolation of living outside the focal distance of divine authority. Of living under the misdirection of the wrong concept of being with its selfish disregard of others.
You know, it was my own awakening from my selfish disregard of others that healed me of smoking years ago. I'd been trying for some time to break that habit ‒ which I'd picked up in college ‒ but to no avail. Now I'd begun the study of Christian Science. I spent my lunch time in a Christian Science Reading Room each day. I often saw there someone very dear to me. I'd stop and say "hello" as I left.
One day he followed me out. "You know," he said, "I almost wish you wouldn't stop to speak to me in the Reading Room. The smell of tobacco seems so out of place on you there." Now I know he wanted to see me free from this habit as much as I did. His approach may not seem very polite or kind ‒ and I don't recommend it generally. But on this occasion ‒ prompted as it was by a deep, loving concern ‒ it worked.
I can't tell you how hurt I felt ‒ and not just by his approach. The realization that I'd been offensive in a place I really loved and to those I had such respect for was a great blow! As I walked back to my office, I never felt so low. But you know, I never smoked again! You see, someone who cared had seen me as I really was. And his true view of me was a rebuke to the wrong view of myself I was holding on to so tightly. It released me from the conspiracy Mrs. Eddy speaks of and brought me right back into focus with my true being. It set me up right again. It gave me, too, a new sense of peace with myself I'd never felt before. Every wrong moral view overcome, does that. It strengthens your peace core.
What shall we do with this false view? My answer is ‒ bury it!
"The Tomb of the Unknown Sinner"
I want to tell you another experience of my own which bears out just this point. I call this story "The Tomb of the Unknown Sinner."
One day a letter came in my mail. It was signed ANONYMOUS. There was no indication whether it was from a man or a woman. It said the writer had been a Christian Scientist most of his life and had had many healings but "there was a moral problem he hadn't licked." He just couldn't face a Christian Science practitioner with it. So he was writing anonymously for help and explained he wasn't sure I'd accept an anonymous case so he wasn't enclosing payment. But he would know whether or not he was having help by the results and would take care of the payment later.
Most anonymous letters go in my wastebasket. This one did, too. But it just wouldn't stay there. No matter what I was doing ‒ washing the dishes, getting dinner, going to and from the office ‒ Anonymous was always with me!
Then these thoughts came to me: Why, there's no anonymity in true consciousness, in Mind or God. Every one of God's creatures is known to Him. His name is written in heaven, to borrow a Bible phrase (Luke 10:20). He's the creation of God. He's upright and Godlike. He's the beloved of God. The only anonymity, then, must be the anonymity of the sin and the sinner. You may say I was praying, when I thought like this ‒ praying scientifically ‒ as Jesus did when he healed people.
Then, out of the blue, all kinds of immoralities began to pop up around me ‒ even next door where a young girl lived alone. At first I became quite indignant when this problem flaunted itself on my very threshold. Then I suddenly caught myself up.
"How do I know that this girl isn't my 'Anonymous'? She might be the very one who asked me to help her!" How could I condemn someone I was trying to heal? You know, a Christian Science practitioner has to accept the true you as the only you and hold to it. That's what heals.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier flashed across my mind. "What I need," I concluded, "is a Tomb of the Unknown Sinner!' There I'll bury all those false evidences of man. I'll give them their total anonymity ‒ a complete blackout. I'll give back to every man I know his birthright of spiritual integrity ‒ his true name as it's written in heaven."
Some of you will recall Mrs. Eddy's definition of "Burial" in Science and Health (p. 582). It says: "Corporeality and physical sense put out of sight and hearing; annihilation. Submergence in Spirit; immortality brought to light." That definition really gripped me. I began at once to bury every mortal evidence of a sinner. I became submerged in the realization of man as he really is ‒ the spiritual likeness of God ‒ the Christ-idea of God.
I soon received a letter from Anonymous saying the help was being effective. He enclosed a payment.
I continued this scientific praying, and pretty soon there was other evidence of moral healing.
My next door neighbor one day happily told me she was going to be married, and she soon moved away with her husband.
A man whose moral laxity had taken him into strange ways and separated him from his wife and children was eventually implicated in a major crime. He was given a new lease on life by an understanding judge who released him on parole. This new opportunity to see himself as he really was reawakened his self-respect, and restored his integrity. You can imagine his new sense of gratitude for a normal way of life when he was reunited with his family.
A young man who'd been struggling with the painful physical effects of a sense of guilt was completely healed. His true view of himself brought him opportunities and capabilities he'd never dreamed of. They resulted in a fine new job in line with his natural talents. He'd surrendered his sense of guilt ‒ of wrong ‒ for the Christly conscience that's always right. Because this conscience relates to spiritual causation, Principle, or God, it's motivated by divine power. It always leads in the line of human progress as well as spiritual advancement.
My Tomb of the Unknown Sinner has become a very effective way of dealing with every case of "anonymity" ‒ of false selfhood ‒ and of putting an end to the conspiracy of the material senses against man's integrity. And while I never found out who Anonymous was, I later received other letters with payments, indicating that he was finding his way out of that conspiracy against man.
The poet Robert Frost has summoned mankind to what he calls "a one-man revolution." Mrs. Eddy wrote many years before this: "Science is absolute and final. It is revolutionary in its very nature; for it upsets all that is not upright. It annuls false evidence, and saith to the five material senses, 'Having eyes ye see not, and ears ye hear not; neither can you understand' " (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 99).
Attaining the Peace of a Guiltless Conscience
Another statement of Mrs. Eddy's deals with the other side of the coin. It sums up the effects of a conscience activated by spiritual integrity. It reads: "Metaphysical or divine Science reveals the Principle and method of perfection, ‒ how to attain a mind in harmony with God, in sympathy with all that is right and opposed to all that is wrong, and a body governed by this mind" (Christian Healing, p. 14).
We can oppose all wrong without opposing any one ‒ ourselves or others. Mrs. Eddy dealt in a Christianly scientific way with every wrong that confronted her. She herself went through all kinds of trials and sufferings during the years she was founding the Christian Science movement. Indignity after indignity was leveled at her, and innumerable false accusations against her integrity. But these only enabled her later to point out to the world the anonymity of sin and how to resolve scientifically the questions of moral right and wrong in an impersonal way.
Her acceptance and understanding of the divine Principle of innocence ‒ man's true guiltless state of being ‒ enabled her to set forth the rules of this Principle in the Christian Science textbook. It enabled her to found a religion dedicated to restoring men physically and morally by revealing their unblemished spiritual state of being ‒ man's pure and perfect selfhood, created and maintained by Spirit, God.
Her revelation of this Christ selfhood brings peace or harmony to every type of discord. Mrs. Eddy healed the sick. She reversed the evidences of death. But I feel that she must have particularly loved the opportunity to lift the weight of guilt and shame from those struggling with a false view of themselves. She encouraged so many people who came to her with questions of right and wrong to see themselves spiritually ‒ as they really were ‒ and to act in accordance with this high view.
I recall one young man who asked Mrs. Eddy how to deal with a sense of moral wrong. She pointed out to him a statement in Science and Health: "The devotion of thought to an honest achievement makes the achievement possible. Exceptions only confirm this rule, proving that failure is occasioned by a too feeble faith" (p. 199).
Mrs. Eddy never lost her interest in his problems until she saw his faith in his integrity restored.
She certainly gives us authority in that statement for knowing that our smallest desire for spiritual good links us with the infinite divine Principle of all good, God. So you can be sure that if you're doing your best today as far as you spiritually understand it, it will be better tomorrow. And your God-directed choice of what's spiritually right is bound to reveal the practical footsteps necessary to your advancement, and will give you the strength and courage to take these steps.
How Do You Know When You're Really Right?
How can you be sure you're right? Is there a sign? Yes, indeed, there is. As in any battle, the reward of victory is peace. But who can describe the peace that comes with being spiritually right ‒ with a victory over a wrong decision? It's really beyond description. It's the "peace of God, which passeth all understanding," as St. Paul puts it (Phil. 4:7).
Spiritual integrity always wins this prize, for real integrity goes hand in hand with peace. It's the peace core I spoke of earlier ‒ the very nucleus of your being, the heart and soul and essence of true selfhood. This is the kind of peace the whole world's trying to find. It's the peace of the Christ that Jesus lived and taught and established. This peace was Jesus' bequest to all who followed him, as he indicated when he said, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you" (John 14:27).
Basic, inner peace. Unshakable and indestructible peace. It's not contingent on material conditions. Nor on the material senses for authority. It's not contingent on trial and error. You can't buy it. You can't negotiate for it. And certainly you don't find it by going "on a trip" with drugs, or alcohol, or any material stimulant, as the young bellhop intuitively knew.
The world has tantalized us with a hope of peace ‒ always just out of reach ‒ to be fought for, or protested for, or bargained for. But wars, protests, even armistices haven't given us peace. The world can't give it because peace isn't of the world. Yet when peace is recognized as spiritual, as stemming from the divine Principle, God, the source of man's integrity or true selfhood, this spiritual recognition can effect peace among men.
Peace that Heals Physically
This peace is tangible ‒ that is, it's manifested in a practical way. It has its outward as well as its inward signs.
Earlier I spoke of my mother's ability to restore peace in discordant conditions. This had its physical, its healing effect as well. So often when something went wrong in our neighborhood ‒ an accident, an illness, a sorrow ‒ a call for help ‒ the cry would be "Get Mrs. Pickett!" Her peace assured prompt help.
One Fourth of July in the midst of the flash and bang of fireworks up and down our street, there came a sudden lull. Then an urgent call for help. This time it was my father who was in need. A giant firecracker had exploded in his hand, mangling it. My father wasn't a Christian Scientist at that time, and a doctor came.
He felt the hand must be amputated, but my mother stood firm against such a permanently disabling operation. Her courage and spiritual strength were felt. The kind doctor was moved by her serenity and confidence that healing would come without surgery. A reprieve was given. He said he'd return later. He did what he could and left.
Day after day elapsed. My mother's faith in God's healing power never lapsed. She knew she was right in this. No amputation took place. It was only a matter of time till the outward signs of my mother's sense of rightness and inner peace ‒ her perception of man's spiritual nature ‒ were manifested. Without any material applications the flesh was restored to my father's hand. And my father had full use of it ever after.
The peace of the Christ restores harmony to every discordant condition. Jesus fully exemplified this. Isn't this why "Jesus" is becoming a popular and a loved name again today? Some are looking again to Jesus as the authority for peace and are willing to reconsider his promise as the way of achieving it. They're turning again to Jesus' message for answers to troubling questions ‒ questions such as "How do you know when you're really right? How do you tell right from wrong?" They're asking for answers that will bring peace, real peace, to our whole experience.
The Great Peacemaker
No one ever expressed more of this peace within than Jesus. And the practical nature of it.
He didn't say, "Bring the world into a peaceful settlement. Then you'll be at peace." He was concerned with each one's finding peace within himself and expressing it in the world NOW. He knew that individual peace is the foundation for world peace. To exemplify and demonstrate this inner peace was his mission. You might say ‒ with more than a mere play on words ‒ that his peace core, the peace within him, was the nucleus for the Peace Corps he established with his followers. Peace Corps, in this latter instance spelled C-0-R-P-S. You could say, it was actually Jesus who established the original idea of a Peace Corps. He named his Peace Corps "The Peacemakers." And he referred to them as "children of God," peacemakers along with him (Matt. 5:9).
The word "peace" was Jesus' form of greeting. The peace he gave us was more than a mere salutation, however. It indicated the very presence and power of God ‒ the Christ, Truth, that Jesus represented. It was a force for good and was felt wherever Jesus went.
The Christ peace is the fulfillment of God's pact or promise of everlasting peace with His creation. That divine pact was what Jesus demonstrated.
The words "peace" and "pact" came from the same root meaning "an agreement, a covenant." That "peace pact" means, first, then, peace in and with God, the Principle of peace. Therefore, it brings peace within - peace within yourself. Then peace without - peace with others. It places you in the true Peace Corps ‒ with the Peacemakers or children of God. That peace is the supreme force for right, operating in the world in all times, individually and collectively. It begins with your smallest right decision, and it grows and spreads.
When we're in doubt, then, about what's right or what's wrong, wouldn't we be safe in holding up pending decisions alongside a spiritual yardstick ‒ the yardstick for spiritual advancement? We might ask ourselves:
1. Does the decision I'm making put me right with myself ‒ that is, does it give me peace within myself?
2. Does it put me right with others? Does it put me in harmony with those seeking peace?
3. Does it put me right with God? Is it demonstrating the divine Principle of peace which unites all in one true Peace Corps? One true brotherhood?
A Continuing Search
This search for the right way is a continuing evolution and revolution going on within each one of us.
You may already have found a satisfying answer to questions of right and wrong. But don't stop searching! Spiritual advancement is forever expanding and uniting us. You're sure to find others with good answers, too! Intercommunication adds right to right. Your strength will strengthen others. Theirs will strengthen you. And besides, you'll have found another brother! And who knows how far that brotherhood ‒ the true Peace Corps ‒ will expand through your very desire to stretch it. It will go on and on and on until some day, perhaps sooner than we realize, we shall all catch a glimpse of the promise or pact of universal brotherhood and everlasting peace.