God, Spirit: manís center and circumference


Sylvia N. Poling, C.S.B., of Prescott, Arizona

Member of the Board of Lectureship of The Mother Church,

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


How real is matter?

This was the question put to an audience in the auditorium of The Mother Church, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts, last evening by Sylvia N. Poling, C.S.B., of Prescott, Ariz.

Miss Poling recounted some of the healings brought about by Christ Jesus. She recalled the New Testament accounts of the lame man at the pool of Bethesda, the feeding of a multitude with only five loaves and two fishes, the raising of Lazarus, and finally Jesus' own resurrection from the tomb.

In all of these, the lecturer said, Christ Jesus was proving "the allness of Spirit and its supremacy over material conditions."

In today's world, proof of Spirit's allness and its supremacy over matter is still available to all.

She related the healing of a cancerous facial sore accomplished solely through prayer as understood in Christian Science; and of a soldier's shattered arm, restored to normal usefulness, by spiritual means alone.

"Christian Science," said Miss Poling, "shows us how to reason about cause and effect, to question common beliefs that God, or Spirit, created matter, that matter is cause, that matter is what it appears to be, or that it exists at all. Christian Science prepares our thought to understand the great theme running through the Bible from beginning to end -that Spirit alone is cause, substance, and power."

Miss Poling, a member of The Christian Science Board of Lectureship, is currently on tour throughout the United States and Canada. She was introduced to her audience by Noel D. Bryan-Jones, First Reader of The Mother Church.

A partial text of the lecture follows:


Moses beholds God

Most of us have had experiences that left us wondering what caused them, how and why they happened - experiences with no obvious material explanation. Nearly everyone would like to know more about what seems mysterious to the human mind - whether there's something beyond and behind common everyday happenings.

Moses had such an experience; he saw a bush that burned but was not consumed. The Biblical account in the book of Exodus says that, as "Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, . . . he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb" (Ex. 3:1).

Then, we read, "the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I." Then God said, "Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground."

"Why was Moses standing on holy ground? He had reached the place in his earthly experience where a purely material explanation of things no longer satisfied him. He was willing to turn away from what the physical senses told him, to look for a deeper, truer spiritual explanation. When Moses saw the burning bush, he began to question the evidence of the physical senses. He turned aside to see.

Among the first wonderful things that happened to Moses was that he began to understand God's nature. Early in the Bible there is this statement: "And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM" (Ex. 3:14). That is, God revealed Himself as the I, that which gives being and identity to all that really exists. The physical senses say that it is matter which does this; Moses glimpsed that it is God.

Down the ages since then God's revelation of His nature has come in expanding measure to those ready to receive it. The prophets saw it. Christ Jesus understood it and taught his disciples as much as they were ready to grasp. Today Christian Science takes the nature of God as its starting point. And in her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, gives this definition of God: "The great I am; the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-acting, all-wise, all-loving, and eternal; Principle; Mind; Soul; Spirit; Life; Truth; Love; all substance; intelligence" (p. 587).


Substance is spiritual

What Moses saw of God's nature enabled him to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery. What we learn of God's nature in Christian Science enables us to free ourselves from the narrow limited sense of existence as material and to find the truth of spiritual existence with all its limitless possibilities.

It is through spiritual sense, not the material or physical senses, that we can understand this truth. Christian Science reveals spiritual sense as the capacity to see spiritual reality. When we turn aside from the evidence presented by the material senses, one of the startling facts we learn is that matter is not real. It doesn't exist. There simply is no matter at all! The full meaning and implications of this fact are what we are now going to consider together.

Devout people down through the centuries have been saying that God is all, but they have at the same time looked to material means for healing and the solution for their many problems. So they are not solving the world's basic problems - how to live peaceably together, attain an ideal society or government, free mankind from crime, disease, and mental illnesses. The fear of atomic war hangs like a dark cloud over the earth.

All the world's problems are only parts of the one problem - the world's ignorance of the allness and reality of Spirit. If we wish to find freedom to enjoy all the wonderful possibilities before us, we must make the effort to rouse ourselves from this one great delusion that matter is substance or exists at all. One can prove the power of Spirit to heal and establish harmony only in the degree he stops believing in matter as reality.

Christian Science shows that the allness of Spirit, God, annihilates all possibility that matter can be actual or true. This Science not only teaches the unreality of matter, it proves it by establishing health, restoring harmony in human relationships, replacing lack with abundance. It does this entirely on the basis of the allness of Spirit. As one accepts the nothingness of matter, he beholds Spirit and Spirit's creation. He needs no help from material methods to maintain his mental and physical health.


Jesus proved Spiritís supremacy

The explanation of the unreality of matter in Christian Science is simple - so simple that children understand and prove it. Yet it is so profound as to inspire and convince the highly educated, the devout theologian, and metaphysician.

But all of us here are seeing matter - our bodies, this building, the furniture. So what is our authority for saying that matter is not real? How can we say it does not exist?

Matter appears to the physical senses to be substance and to have form and outline, but actually it's without substance or life of its own. If God, Spirit, is all, how can matter exist as a real entity? The five physical senses provide the only avenues through which we can recognize matter. Take away the senses of seeing, feeling, hearing, tasting, and smelling, and we have no way of recognizing matter. Take away matter, and the five physical senses have nothing to be aware of.

Through many thousands of years there have been those who began to perceive the allness of Spirit and therefore see through these illusions of matter, to awaken from the dream and help others to awaken.

Moses, after he had first turned aside to see the burning bush, often proved that matter is not substance. When he was chosen by God to lead his people, he felt he must have some proof, some sign, so the people would believe that God had appeared to him. The Lord told him to put his hand into his bosom, and when he took it out, his hand was leprous as snow. Then the Lord commanded him to put his hand into his bosom again, and when he took it out, the leprosy was gone (Ex. 4:6-7). Moses was told that he should use this as a sign that God had appeared to him.

Christ Jesus proved the allness of Spirit and its supremacy over material conditions many times. He healed a man who had been crippled 38 years. He fed thousands of people with five loaves of bread and two fishes. He restored Lazarus to life after he had been dead four days. Finally he overcame death for himself.


True motives awaken understanding

This same God, this same Spirit, is present today to help everyone who turns to Him with understanding. God helps us to see through the illusions of matter and to awake from them. A woman I know proved this.

This woman had been a dedicated Christian Scientist since childhood, when she was healed through Christian Science of a supposedly inherited stomach difficulty, anemia, and general frailty. She had enjoyed good health ever since, until an unsightly sore appeared on her face. Although she had help from a Christian Science practitioner and prayed faithfully herself, the condition grew worse.

A relative, a practicing physician, saw the sore and told her it was a dangerous cancer that must be removed immediately. But she assured him that, because she'd been healed through Christian Science before, she could trust God completely for this healing too.

It became clear to her that the working out of this problem must be between God and her and that she would be healed as soon as she had learned what she needed to learn.

While she worked to gain a clearer understanding of her likeness to God, she discerned more fully the impossibility of manifesting disease. She found many helpful ideas in her searching study of spiritual truths. One was a statement in Science and Health: "The Father in secret is unseen to the physical senses, but He knows all things and rewards according to motives, not according to speech" (p.15).

"I had made many a 'speech,' " she said, "when declaring statements of reality, but had not carefully examined my 'motives.' " She saw that the right motive must be to glorify God's perfect creation, and not merely to be healed physically.

One day when she was studying Science and Health, she read Mrs. Eddy's recounting of Moses' experience of casting down his rod and seeing it become a serpent, then handling it and losing fear of it. Also the account of the restoration of his leprous hand when he saw that disease is an illusion.

In a wonderful realization of God's presence, this woman saw that the evidence of disease on her face was an illusion and not a creation. The fact of its nonexistence illumined her consciousness completely with the truth of her being. In two days there wasn't a sign of what had been a large cancerous growth.

We have Christian Science today because Mary Baker Eddy, like Moses, turned aside to see and responded to divine revelation. From early childhood she companioned with the Bible. In her family home it was the Book of Books. As she grew to young womanhood a number of incidents occurred in her life that made her doubt whether health and happiness would ever really be found in a material sense of life; these helped her become receptive to the Christ. Her husband died shortly before her son was born. Later, during her prolonged illness, her son had to be given into someone else's care.

As a child Mrs. Eddy had learned to think of God as Love, and to accept His power and willingness to heal. So, many years later when seriously injured and apparently at the point of death, it was natural for her to turn wholeheartedly to God. She rejected the prescription the doctor left and called for her Bible. There she read in the Gospel of Matthew how Jesus healed a man of palsy, saying it was as easy for him to heal sickness as to forgive sin.


God is the sole governor of man

"Turning aside to see" this "burning bush" - this spiritual illumination of the fact that the Christ, the spirit of Truth, heals physical discord as readily as it destroys sin - she did not follow the path of mortality to death, but was immediately healed.

This brings us to the significance of Christian Science as divine revelation from God to men. We recognize it as the Comforter, which was to come and teach us all things as Jesus promised. This revelation of God's saving grace came to Mrs. Eddy. Her familiarity with the Bible had so spiritualized her thought that she was receptive to divine revelation and perceived the allness of Spirit and consequent unreality of matter. This was Mrs. Eddy's tremendous discovery which she saw as Christian Science - Science because based on divine facts that can be proved or demonstrated, and Christian because in accord with the teachings of Christ Jesus.

This Science frees mankind from all forms of slavery resulting from the belief that matter forms and controls us. Mrs. Eddy's discovery has struck at the very root of evil, for every sin, evil, and ill of human beings is based on the belief of life and intelligence in matter.

Mrs. Eddy didn't give her discovery to the world until she had proved it by healing diseases of all kinds. Christian Science as set forth in the textbook, Science and Health, is the result of reason and revelation, followed up by demonstration. So is the Church she founded, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts, with its many branches and activities encircling the world.

There is really no mystery about matter, where it came from or how it behaves. There's no mystery about whether mind influences matter or how much. Matter is illusion, doesn't come from anywhere or act at all. What appears to us as matter exists only in false material consciousness, or mortal mind, as it is called in Christian Science.

To mortal mind, matter appears self-acting. But since matter is the objectification of mortal mind, it is always mortal mind acting, seeing, feeling, tasting, smelling, or hearing - never matter. We see matter doing only what we picture it in our thought as doing.

This being so, it isn't through mortal mind that healing is proved or demonstrated. No one can prove dominion over matter through mortal mind, since matter is itself a state or stratum of mortal mind. Demonstration comes through our acknowledging and yielding to the presence and allness of divine Mind. Mortal mind must be brought under complete subjection to the harmony of divine Mind. This is how Jesus healed. This is how Christian Science heals. This healing doesn't take time; it requires only obedience to Truth.


Manís sonship revealed

When we understand and accept the allness and presence of divine Mind, then divine Mind controls our bodies. They can respond immediately to the harmony and perfection of God's government.

This liberation from the afflictions of matter is possible because Christian Science identifies man spiritually. It reveals the universe of Spirit's creating and the perfect ideas of infinite Mind. Here all identities are seen to be spiritual, not material. In Science and Health we read, "Mind creates His own likeness in ideas, and the substance of an idea is very far from being the supposed substance of non-intelligent matter" (p. 257). We learn that Spirit's forms express beauty and goodness and are controlled by God's law of harmony. This is in accord with the Bible, which gives the nature of God as Spirit and man as His image and likeness.

Think now of someone you love dearly. What is it that endears this person to you? Is it the body of flesh, blood, and bones? Or is it what this individual stands for mentally and spiritually - what he or she thinks and does? We must concede that we identify all men, calling some good and some evil, by their conscious individuality and mental natures, rather than their physicality. So Christian Scientists understand that they're not physical bodies, that they don't live in physical bodies, that they can't be identified correctly by physical bodies.

We all know what an error in mathematics is - a mistake that needs to be corrected. So, in scientific Christianity, matter is termed error - a mistaken sense of things. And we have a statement that corrects this mistaken sense, or error. It is called "the scientific statement of being," and is found in Science and Health: "There is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter. All is infinite Mind and its infinite manifestation, for God is All-in-all. Spirit is immortal Truth; matter is mortal error. Spirit is the real and eternal; matter is the unreal and temporal. Spirit is God, and man is His image and likeness. Therefore man is not material; he is spiritual" (p. 468).

The last sentence of this statement gives the conclusion to this whole discussion of whether or not matter identifies man. It shows that matter and the material body are errors, a mistaken sense of man, unreal mental concepts that have no life in them. Man is spiritual.

Understanding man as spiritual relates man to God, to Spirit. Christian Science reveals man's eternal sonship as a child of God. So man in truth is sinless, immortal, pure, holy, perfect. He's forever untouched by sickness, disease, or accident. This understanding of scientific being doesn't ignore the problems of human beings; it brings the loving, healing, compassionate presence of the Christ, Truth, to comfort and heal. It's leading humanity out of the belief that matter is real and out of all the suffering this belief brings.


Truth antidotes error

Prayer is what displaces error from human thought and admits the healing and saving Christ, Truth. Prayer in Christian Science isn't asking for material things. It isn't prayer for well matter; well matter is no more real than sick matter. It isn't praying for more matter or less matter or different matter. Prayers are answered when we lift our thought to behold spiritual fact - reality.

We begin by filling our thought with spiritual facts such as God is Spirit. He is omnipotent Mind, the only Mind and intelligence, filling all space. He is Truth and Love. He is the Life of all, the Father-Mother of all His spiritual creation. His creation is good. His absolute control is perfection and harmony. Spiritual consciousness - what God knows - is all that is real and true.

We see ourselves and others as individual expressions of the perfect Mind or consciousness - the indestructible relationship of all creation to God. We realize that in reality, here and now, there's just spiritual man, individual, perfect, eternal. Man is as free from physicality as is God, untouched by any sin, sickness, discord, accident. All creation dwells together in perfect harmony. This is our basis of prayer. Scientific prayer acknowledges spiritual reality. It also completely exposes and disposes of matter as a reality. It resolves matter into its native element, mortal mind. Then mortal mind as a false sense is put under the control of Truth or divine Mind.

If there seems to be discord, a sick body, these are not material conditions, but states of mortal mind - they are mental errors. They can be corrected only by the eternal truths or facts of being. Therefore, the Christian Scientist finds that he can heal sick bodies, establish harmony in human affairs, only as he expresses the Mind that is God. His work is to understand God and man so that he can replace the false conclusions of mortal mind with the spiritual facts. He doesn't ask God to change matter, but to change his conscious sense of being. He uses the microscope of Spirit. We read in Science and Health, "Matter disappears under the microscope of Spirit" (p. 264). Thus Christian Science treatment is the prayer of affirmation and denial - affirming what is true, spiritual, and good, and denying material conditions. When we let God govern our thinking, this brings a change in what appears as material conditions.

We can begin now this joyful form of prayer, use it frequently each day. We can let the problems of government, war, race, and crime, as well as our personal problems, become burning bushes for us. We can turn aside from the material sense of God and man to see the spiritual truth. Wonderful things can happen for us and others.

What does the understanding that matter is wholly unreal mean to us individually, in our everyday life? Well, first of all, we see that our problems are never what they seem to be, never material - their basis is ignorance of God and of spiritual reality. So we stop searching for material solutions. We look instead for a deeper understanding of God and of His harmony and perfection. It is in Spirit and spiritual things that the solution to our problems will be found.

Many of us know that spiritual thoughts and qualities are the real and necessary ingredients for a happy, successful life. Thinking and working from a spiritual standpoint, we can prove for ourselves that matter isn't a factor of harmonious living.

Take happiness - if I ask whether happiness is a state of mind, of consciousness, or a property of matter, you would, of course, reply, "A state of mind." Yet some of us think we're happy when the weather is pleasant. Some when we have a job we like. The child says, "If I just had a bicycle I could be happy." The teenager says, "If I had a car I'd be happy." Mother may say, "If I had a new home I'd be happy."

Now, when we admit that our happiness is dependent on some person, some place, or some thing, we're saying that their absence can deprive us of happiness. This is why we can't always maintain our happiness. We're looking to matter as reality instead of to Spirit. Yet we just admitted that happiness is a state of mind. If we want to be happy, we must express happiness, claim it as our divine right. It isn't something we start out to get, but something we give. If we're expressing happiness to our friends, our relatives, we're welcome companions. If we express happiness in our work instead of trying to find work that makes us happy, we gain new inspiration and naturally find it more enjoyable because we do a better job.


Selfishness deters progress

Let's think about our work. Work can become a joyous activity when motivated by spiritual values instead of material desires such as gaining material possessions or mere prestige and popularity. Again, this is something we know but don't always practice, and then we wonder why our efforts fail to bring satisfaction. One who understands the unreality of matter finds it easier to start with the right motives - to give instead of to get - and to express spiritual thoughts instead of wanting material things.

It's helpful to look on our work as the expression of qualities which as spiritual beings we reflect from God, the divine Mind, - unselfishness, love, kindness, honesty, promptness, joy, intelligence. To the one who starts spiritually rather than materially, success usually goes far beyond his expectations. The way to succeed is to unselfishly resolve our work into the qualities we want to see expressed, to let this be our goal. When selfishness, the deterrent to individual unfoldment, is overcome, we begin to see our work as an opportunity to express right ideas. In this way we find continual newness, freshness, progress.

Selfishness arises from the belief of life in matter. This belief makes us think of ourselves as material beings always wanting something material. How often do we hear such questions as, "What am I going to do when I grow up? Whom will I marry? Where will I be? What kind of home and friends will I have? How do I look?"

There's a lot of "I" in these questions. They make us think only of what we can get, and so foster selfishness. Selfishness demands material things for happiness and never finds the happiness it seeks. It disregards the I, who is God, the I am whom Moses learned to know.

When we turn from a material to a spiritual basis, we ask such questions as. Where am I needed? What do I have to give to friends, to the one I marry? Do I express enough love, forgiveness, unselfishness, joy, kindness, helpfulness to make our association happy? Companionship, a right marriage, results when one thinks and acts as a good companion. Good qualities of thought attract like qualities. The law of God brings together those whose motives are pure and good.

The state of our consciousness determines the nature of our home. Thoughts of beauty, goodness, generosity, love, respect for others, express themselves outwardly in a better sense of home, of community, nation, the whole world.

These are facts we recognize as true. Yet how often we turn our efforts to matter to give us what we need when matter can give us nothing! Then we complain because of our many problems. Christian Science awakens us neither to look to matter nor to trust it, but to turn aside to see the spiritual basis of our circumstances and activities.


Soldier survives through prayer

Now, is it really important whether we know that God as Spirit is all and matter nothing? Well, does it make any difference whether we live by Truth or error? Does it make any difference whether we merely believe in God or understand Him? Does it concern us whether we worship God materially or spiritually? Does it concern us whether we have a universal Principle to live by or just live by trial and guesswork? Does it make any difference whether the problems of human existence are really solved or just experimented with? If these things concern us - if we're in earnest in wanting truth - then it concerns us whether we understand God as infinite Spirit and all, with the complete elimination of matter as any part of life or being. There can be no halfway position.

A man I know certainly proved this. Let me conclude by telling you his experience as a young infantryman during World War II. It illustrates the immediate availability of the Christ, Truth, when men look not to matter but to Spirit as the basis of all being.

As a boy he had attended a Christian Science Sunday School and ever since had been a student of Christian Science. While his company was laying down a barrage of mortar fire during a fierce counterattack by the enemy, there was a sudden terrific explosion. He saw his companions lying all around him; and he was seriously injured. His side was badly hurt, his right arm shattered.

He shouted aloud, "There are no accidents in the divine Mind"; and lay down against a wall where sharp shooters couldn't hit him.

Before he'd left for Europe, another Christian Scientist had told him, "If you refuse to lose consciousness, you can never pass on." "I could have passed on easily," he said, "but I refused to lose consciousness." Instead, he prayed for those around him, declaring, "We can never lose our real life because God is our real Life, and never, never can we lose God."

Later help arrived, and they were taken to an aid station. When the doctor cut the soldier's clothing away, he found the Bible and Science and Health in his shirt pockets. The doctor looked at the books, then handed them to the man, saying, "Son, you're going to need these."


God, Spirit, is all and everywhere

He asked the doctor to leave his arm on and promised he'd take good care of it. Since the elbow had been blown off and the arm badly shattered, there was nothing to do but put a cast on it to keep it in place.

It was a month before he reached a Christian Science wartime minister in England. "Meanwhile," he said, "God was with me all the way."

When he returned to the states, the doctors wanted to operate, but he was granted a 30-day leave, and during this time he prayed for himself as he had learned to do in Christian Science, and also had a Christian Science practitioner pray for him. When he reported back, the doctors found no need for an operation and discharged him. Today he is in perfect health and uses his arm quite normally.

You remember how Mosesí hand became leprous and was then restored to normality. By the healing of his shattered arm this young soldier proved, as surely as Moses did, the allness of Spirit and the unreal nature of matter. Nothing had changed the spiritual facts in the thousands of years between. Nothing ever can or will.


1965 Sylvia N. Poling

All rights reserved


[Published in The Christian Science Monitor, March 17, 1967.]