Freedom to Be Yourself †(2)
Jane O. Robbins, C.S., of
Member of the Board of Lectureship of The Mother Church,
The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts
The lecturer spoke substantially as follows:
One of the products of our time is what's been called the identity crisis. Maybe it isn't exactly a crisis, but that's the word that's being used. Anyway, people everywhere are searching for true identity. They want to know what it is and what it means. There's a growing need today for self-knowledge. Yet the opposition against our gaining this knowledge seems greater than ever before.
Think of the pressures and demands made on us. They've increased tremendously - aggressive materialism, crowded conditions, confusion of values, today's computer mentality, the whole jet-pace of the age. All these make it hard for us to find ourselves, to know who and what and why we are, and to understand our relation to the universe. We too often feel fragmented, purposeless. We're tempted to join in the cry: "Stop the world. I want to get off."
And some do get off. They feel inadequate or they rebel against the pressures. And they become drop-outs from society. They believe they're claiming their freedom to be themselves. But too often they're only dropping down into a moral vacuum. It's a self-centered condition, loveless and hostile, a spiritual darkness.
Ironically, they don't find their identity at all. This course leads to where their true character never will be found. It leads to a willing, and even a stubborn, abandonment of character. A giving up of one's self to the anarchy of drugs, uncontrolled desires, selfishness, lawlessness, sexual irresponsibility. Every one of these is anti-freedom, anti-self-realization, anti-man. Every one of them is devastating to integrity and character.
Is the only alternative, then, to join the rat race? Status symbols, selfish ambitions, unthinking conformity, false social standards? Must we lose ourselves in that tangled undergrowth as many people do? Of course not! We're not faced with choosing how to destroy ourselves. We don't have to lose our integrity in any way. Man isn't designed to lose himself, but to be himself.
Human thought is searching for the essence of man. It's following up many trails, many clues. There has probably never been such probing and questioning into the basic makeup of every person. Or greater efforts to define and develop the possibilities inherent in each of us.
On the other hand, never have there been such means and such pressures to destroy or to subvert our identity. We often have the uncomfortable feeling that someone would like to feed us all into a computer. To have us come out standard-size cards - all neatly numbered and punched - cards we can only hope no one will "fold, mutilate, or spindle"!
But in spite of the reams of organized data on almost everyone, man remains largely unknown. The freedom and integrity of each one's basic character, the extent of his individual potential, his uniqueness, and the nobility of his purpose - these are as elusive as ever, perhaps more so.
Can it be that we're seeing, measuring, analyzing, and computing the wrong man? - Perhaps even something that isn't really man at all? Are we so preoccupied with the physical picture presented by mankind that we're failing to see beyond this - or through this - to the spiritual, substantive reality of man? In short, could we be mistaking a counterfeit for the genuine?
If so, we need to learn more about the genuine. And the discussion of these three questions can help us here: Where is man's real being or identity to be found? What are the qualities, the characteristics, that make up this identity? How can we deal with what tends to obscure true identity?
Manís True Being Made Apparent
Where, then, is man's true identity to be found?
In the art world it sometimes happens that a masterpiece is found under another picture that's been painted over it. This was so with a painting by Frans Hals. It was discovered that sometime after Hals had painted this picture part of it had been altered by someone else. The art connoisseur who discerned this was able to remove the over-painting entirely. The masterpiece was revealed as it had been originally conceived and executed by the artist, in all its superb craftsmanship and artistry.
Why was the art expert led to question the validity of the over-painting? Because he knew the nature of Frans Hals' work so well. The altered picture had long been accepted by most people as a genuine Hals. But this section of over painting lacked the grace and balance and the masterly technique characteristic of the artist's work. The art expert could see that it just didn't belong to the portrait.
He didn't have to do anything to the original painting. Throughout the years it had remained intact and unchanged in perfect condition. It had remained partially hidden because the untrained eye didn't look deep enough. The original waited only for someone with highly developed artistic perception to discover it and restore it to the view of others.
Centuries before this, the ability to discern the genuine and to recognize and reject the counterfeit was demonstrated in a far more meaningful and important way - a way that continues to have the most vital and dynamic effect on the lives of people everywhere. Christ Jesus profoundly understood the real nature or identity of man. He so clearly discerned the original and continuing integrity of man's identity that he was able to make it apparent to others.
Jesus was never taken in by the surface picture with which he was confronted, no matter how convincing it appeared to be. He was keenly aware that each one's spiritual identity expresses the nature of God, its creator, in its own individual way. He saw that each one's God-derived qualities are forever intact, sound, perfect, because God is perfect. He knew they'd never been lost or changed or destroyed, even though it might appear so to the physical senses.
Through his understanding of man's relationship to God, Christ Jesus unhesitatingly challenged the material picture of man as diseased, estranged, inadequate. The Christ, as understood in Christian Science, is divine Truth, the true idea of God, and the true concept of man. This changeless and eternal Christ, Truth, Jesus understood and expressed without measure. Through it he dissolved even the firmest convictions of human thought concerning physical law and force - no matter how long established. Through it he restored to human perception the perfect health, the intelligent goodness, the beauty, and the vigor which had been hidden but never really absent.
The power of the Christ is still present and always will be. It's here to impart and demonstrate man's unity with God, the spiritual facts of God and man, your true identity and mine. It reaches human thought. There it reverses and removes any mistaken concepts which appear to hide or destroy man's primal and eternal likeness to his creator.
The Science of Manís Perfection
Jesus indicated that others could follow his example in demonstrating the presence and healing power of the Christ. This assurance was a beacon light to Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered and founded Christian Science. It was a point of illumination in her investigation of the dark areas of human suffering and fear. She became more and more convinced that Jesus' healing work wasn't miraculous but the inevitable result of something he knew - something about the nature of God and man that was clear and tangible to him, although unseen by the physical senses.
Mrs. Eddy had long been keenly aware that the first chapter of the Bible points out very clearly that God created man in His own image and likeness. It would seem obvious that the creation of God must embody the qualities of God. Yet she well knew that mankind is characterized by many conditions that are far from Godlike - disease, want, discord, sin, and inadequacy. It was because these conditions aren't like God that Mrs. Eddy was led to question their origin and reality. She saw that they don't express the grace and health, the perfect order and freedom that must be characteristic of God's creation.
There came a time when she was in great need of physical healing. She turned to her Bible and found that a familiar account of one of Jesus' healings was suddenly illumined for her. And she was healed. As she read this account, she saw that man's only being is in God, Spirit; that, contrary to the evidence of the physical senses, man is totally spiritual.
She began to see that every condition that's not consistent with the nature of God is an illusion of human thought, a mental misconception. She saw that even though such conditions may appear as physical, they're actually false mental pictures superimposed on what man really is. She discovered that man is, in fact, like his creator, perfect indestructible, spiritual, both in nature and substance.
Mrs. Eddy continued to search the Scriptures. And she discovered that a healing such as hers wasn't chance happening; it was demonstrable Science. She discovered that man is governed by undeviating, divine Principle and not by random material influences. She put her discovery to practical tests by healing others. She proved that the recognition of man's spiritual identity as the likeness of God removes the superimposed pictures of sickness,
What happens in such healing Mrs. Eddy explains in the Christian Science textbook, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." For example, there is this statement in the Preface: "The physical healing of Christian Science results now, as in Jesus' time, from the operation of divine Principle, before which sin and disease lose their reality in human consciousness and disappear as naturally and as necessarily as darkness gives place to light and sin to reformation" (p. xi). When we know man's true nature, we can boldly and effectively challenge whatever isn't in accord with it.
For most of us, the ability to see through the false pictures of man and discern his true character and essence is a matter of cultivated spiritual understanding. This is one field where each one of us needs to become an expert. This takes study - study of the things of Spirit. It takes self-discipline, devotion of thought. It takes prayer, occupying our thought with the true spiritual facts of God and man and rejecting their opposites. It takes practice, too; constant daily practice. And, above all, it takes love, for love of every man's Godlike nature is the light that reveals it.
Some of this may sound like work. But it's a happy and most rewarding work - well worth the effort. If I may paraphrase the words of the advertising people: Remember, the masterpiece you discover may be you!
Recognizing Manís True Qualities
To discover a masterpiece we need to distinguish between the original elements and the over-painting. Sometimes the camouflage seems very effective! In the same way, to discover man we need to understand his real character. We must learn to recognize his qualities, his substance, his identity. Then we can't be fooled by the superimposed beliefs or illusions of human thought.
As we've already seen, Christian Science aligns itself with the Bible teaching that God has created man in His own exact likeness. Then to learn about man's nature, we'll be on the right track if we start with God. We'll find God's nature fully expressed in man as he really is.
The Bible and the Christian Science textbook use many words to define God. These are of paramount importance. They reveal not only what God is but also what man is, what each one of us is. These terms for God spell out the qualities and condition of man's true being. They reveal man not just as he ought to be but as he actually is. Let's see what some of these terms are and how they relate to you and me.
God is Spirit; so man is spiritual in inclination and substance. He's not under the jurisdiction or influence of materialism. God is Life; so man is healthy, animate, responsive, perceptive. He's never unconscious, devitalized, or dull. God is Love; so man is naturally loving, strong, fearless, and kind. Reflecting divine Love, man loves universally and impartially - and he loves good. Man's nature includes no elements of self-seeking, jealousy, hatred, resentment. Man is never bitter or lonely or unloved.
God is Mind, as well as Spirit, Life, and Love. This means that man is an idea of this divine Mind. It means that every individual reflects the qualities of Mind: intelligence, alertness, understanding, wisdom, and purpose. God is also Truth. Therefore, man is trustworthy, straightforward, undistorted. His integrity is forever intact. And since God is Truth, it's not hard to recognize Him as Principle. Therefore, everything about man is lawful, operative, in perfect order, not subject to human opinions, changing theories, deviation, or chance.
Another name we use for God is Soul, the source of all substance and identity. Man's identity is never lost, never in a state of crisis. He's free to be himself at all times. He's characterized by depth of feeling, colorfulness, spiritual awareness.
Everyone, then, in his real identity, is made in the likeness of God, and everyone's identity derives from God. Does this mean that we're all alike, that there's no individuality? On the contrary. The divine infinitude is infinitely diverse, infinitely varied. Therefore, God's creations are just as varied. Divine Mind doesn't have to repeat itself. No group of men could have been more individual than Jesus and his immediate disciples. We all express the qualities of God and each in a highly individual way. Each one of us is unique, original. Our individuality will be characterized by more vigor, soundness, originality, and freedom as we recognize God as its source. The dynamic effect of this recognition is highlighted in Science and Health: "The understanding of his spiritual individuality makes man more real, more formidable in truth, and enables him to conquer sin, disease, and death" (p. 317).
Clearer Concept of Man Brings Healing
The art expert's knowledge of painting is tested many times as his understanding develops. It's the same with our understanding of what makes up true identity. We have many opportunities to find out if we're on the right road in developing our spiritual perception. I'll admit that sometimes these opportunities are called problems, but, nevertheless, they are opportunities! But let me tell you the experience of a friend of mine. She learned something invaluable about the true nature of identity.
This woman expressed friendliness and a genuine interest in others. She had always gotten along very well with people. So it was quite a shock to her to realize one day that a woman in her office was suddenly very hostile toward her. This went on for several weeks and was most distressing, since the two of them worked closely together.
There was no apparent reason for the woman's behavior. When my friend asked her what was wrong, she turned her back and refused to answer. At first, my friend felt hurt. Then came a stage of righteous indignation. And finally she decided that she didn't have to submit to such treatment and would just quit her job!
Before she could do this, however, she became seriously ill. She had an infected throat and the poison spread to her face and head. The painful swelling and high fever were alarming. She telephoned a Christian Science practitioner and urgently asked for treatment - for prayer in Christian Science. The practitioner agreed to help her. She described the distressing physical conditions and the intense suffering. Then she added that, on top of all this, she had a disturbing problem at the office.
It was the office problem that got the attention of the practitioner. She knew how often resentment and other such states of thought produce their discordant effects on the body. She asked my friend to study in the Bible and Mrs. Eddy's writings all she could find about the unchanging, divine Love that is God. And to think deeply about her relationship to Love.
My friend spent several days doing this and her thinking began to change radically. She awakened to the fact that man is the likeness of God, the expression of divine Love - and that's all anyone ever can be or needs to be. When she saw this, the disturbing pictures she'd been reacting to - a picture of a hostile, unloving person and a picture of herself as unloved and resentful - these pictures began to be less mesmeric. She began to see through them. Soon they lost all power to govern her thoughts or feelings.
As she glimpsed the real nature of man, normal physical conditions were quickly restored. She returned to work, willing now to acknowledge only the presence of divine Love, no matter what the material picture was. At first she saw little change in the situation, but she persisted in her recognition of man's true identity, his Godlike nature. Soon, peace and friendliness were reestablished.
My friend never did discover the cause of the unpleasantness, but she realized that it didn't matter. The important thing was that she'd been awakened. She'd been jarred out of a false concept of man and healed of its effects. She learned something about the unchanging integrity and true qualities of identity - both hers and her co-worker's. She saw that even a serious physical problem yields to this higher concept of man. She saw that she was spiritually equipped to see through any false pictures of herself or others -right through to what man really is. She gained a clear realization that no situation could take away her freedom to be herself.
Each of us is equipped to gain the same realization. But we must become so thoroughly conversant, so well acquainted with our true nature that any other picture - any feelings, inclinations, actions, any thoughts or conditions foreign to our spiritual integrity - will be immediately recognized as spurious and will be instantly challenged and rejected.
Seeing Through False Pictures of Age and Heredity
To look more deeply into who and what we really are, we must learn how to recognize false theories based on a view of man as material. What are some of the specific misconceptions about us that appear to camouflage or distort or destroy the integrity of our true character? I'd like to just touch on four that concern most of us in some way - age, heredity, environment, and psychological factors stemming from one's personal past.
Each one of these claims to control, condition, and limit us - to determine our health, our relationships, our capabilities, and our happiness. Each one of these derives its seeming and only power from the universal consent of human thought. Each achieves human expression through the consent of the individual.
Science and Health challenges us with this basic spiritual fact: "God is the creator of man, and, the divine Principle of man remaining perfect, the divine idea or reflection, man, remains perfect" (p. 470). If we accept this fundamental fact we see that we're not helpless victims of anything. Let's consider the matter of age, for instance.
We're apt to believe that age determines the qualities of our nature - as well as our abilities. The young wrestle with instability, confusion, self-centeredness, and lack of judgment. Middle age seems to bring over-responsibility, growing inflexibility, disappointment, regret, and loss of motivation. And the elderly often struggle against loneliness, against deterioration of their faculties, against the feeling of being useless and unnecessary. And if people aren't in such a state themselves, they're often concerned because someone they love or are responsible for is.
Can this picture be changed? Yes. The changed picture comes about through a change of consciousness. The fact is that we experience what we believe. So long as we believe we're physical, we're consenting to the influence of age and its various phases.
Suppose, however, that we become aware, through spiritual intuition and spiritual education, that we are not physical, that our true identity is entirely spiritual; that man is idea, rather than physique; that God is our life and animated matter is not. Then we see that life is ageless, indestructible, and forever at the point of fullness and perfection. To whatever extent we understand and acknowledge these facts, the ageing process can no longer influence or control us. We'll be free to express the health, the poise, intelligence, loveliness, and freshness of our true being - whether we're five years old or ninety-five!
Many young people are proving their wisdom, their stability, their self-discipline, and their unselfish love. And many of us know some elderly people who express more alertness, vitality, and enthusiasm than their children and grand children. They donít have to go where the action is because the action is wherever they are! Each one of us can express this maturity and freedom now. Material theories can't characterize or classify us unless we give our consent. And we don't have to give our consent!
Another source of over-painting, or obscuring of our true character, is heredity. But man can't be victimized by this. Here again the realization of our spiritual identity as the exact likeness or reflection of God frees us from the limitations and discords of genetic inheritance. Tendencies to disease, destructive dispositional characteristics, limited mental capacities, and psychological weaknesses can't be imposed on us.
From his creator, divine Mind, divine Love, man derives perfect health, unlimited intelligence, lovable qualities, moral strength, and a limitless capacity for good. It doesn't matter how long we've been accepting the picture of ourselves as mentally or physically a product of heredity. Right now we can remove that illusion and claim our true spiritual nature.
The Environment of Good
Now let's look at environment. Environment is commonly considered a governing factor in everyone's life. It is supposed to largely determine his social adjustment, his motivation, his opportunities - his very nature. How many of us helplessly go along with this opinion, believing ourselves to be the victims of circumstances! How often we believe that we're unable to free ourselves from the lasting influence of harmful environments. How unwittingly we give up our divine rights!
But there are many people who have thought their way out of this unjust bondage through some understanding of God and of man's identity as God's reflection. They've realized that the qualities of dignity, intelligence, love, and spiritual strength are inherent in everyone's true nature. And they've seen that no material environment can alter this fact.
I have a friend, a successful, well-loved, happy individual who's a member of what has been considered a disadvantaged race. She speaks with gratitude of some lessons she learned as a child about identity and environment.
At that time her family lived in a deprived area of a large city. Conditions around them were strongly conducive to fear, immorality, violence, and lawlessness. Her mother, however, was a student of Christian Science; she'd learned something of man's true nature as an idea of God. The children were never allowed to excuse wrong thinking or acting by identifying themselves with their undesirable environment. They were always required to see and to acknowledge their relationship only to divine Principle, God. This was their basis for judgment; it was the only basis for thought and action that was accepted as legitimate. Consequently they learned that it didnít matter where they were or what the surrounding circumstances were. They could think and act in accord with the divine Principle of their being. They could always be themselves - individual expressions of God, good.
What freedom and security this gave them - and how many doors it opened for them! And, believe me, it never kept them from being in the middle of the fun! This was true later when the children had the opportunity of attending a school with children of very privileged backgrounds. Here, too, the children were reminded that their individual character wasn't the product of any environment. It was a direct expression of God, Spirit, and it must be respected and protected and honored as such. They were taught that wherever they were, they were surrounded by omnipresent good, by infinite Love. The Bible assurance: "For in him we live, and move, and have our being;" (Acts ) was a familiar fact to them. And they had ample proof that it's not physical environment that governs us but God that works in us "both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Phil. ). The freedom this family demonstrated helped others who were faced with the same problem.
If we're looking for answers for ourselves or others to the distressing problems of bad environment, here's a very practical and effective one!
Personal experiences are considered very powerful in shaping our destiny and individuality. There's a widespread acceptance - either consciously or unconsciously - that our material past governs the present; that our present abilities, attitudes, and relationships, our capacity for happiness and love and success, are determined by what has - or has not - happened to us yesterday. Because of this, how many people struggle with feelings of self-doubt, bitterness, fear, and inadequacy! And how many, too, find these feelings expressed in sickness, accident, failure, and a sense of alienation.
Must we accept and submit to the unjust tyranny of a past that we haven't knowingly chosen or haven't known how to cope with? Is our human past with its present effects a substantial, inescapable fact? Or is this, too, a superimposed picture of thought? If so, can it be validly exchanged for a realization of our spiritual record and history?
A woman I know had recently been involved in a very difficult emotional experience. It left her feeling hurt and uncertain, with nothing on which to base plans for her future. On top of that, she began remembering some other experiences she had had while growing up - experiences that were psychologically very harmful. She became acutely aware that these would commonly be considered permanently damaging to her happiness, her social adjustment, and emotional poise. She sensed the injustice of this deeply. She felt hopeless, disturbed, and resentful toward those responsible for these experiences.
She was a Christian Scientist and she realized that this awareness had come forcefully to her attention because she needed to do something about it. She needed to exchange the false pictures for the spiritual facts and so realize her freedom. And this she did.
A statement in Science and Health gave the precise truth she needed: "The eternal Truth destroys what mortals seem to have learned from error, and man's real existence as a child of God comes to light" (pp. 288-289). It was clear to her that as a child of God, she'd never for one moment been separated from His love and care; she'd never become the victim of selfishness, cruelty, ignorance, or human will. She saw that the only past that could condition the present for her was the continuing unfoldment of good in her experience. This brought a deep sense of peace and joy that never left her.
The dark picture lifted entirely. And not only was she freed from fear, regret, and resentment concerning the past; the healing went further than this. She saw that at every moment she could be what God purposed her to be and not what material belief claimed she could - or couldn't - be. This brought to light new qualities and abilities she'd never before recognized as part of her individuality. She learned how to be herself to a greater degree than ever before. Unexpected opportunities came to her. Her life became richer, happier, and more interesting. Christian Science had presented to her the true psychology that reveals man as he always is - unfettered, unhurt, unlimited, free to be himself.
Prayer in Action
The various experiences I've related tonight dealt with different human problems. But basically, each one concerned the same thing - the resolving of a personal identity crisis.
The thing that occurred in these healings is the same thing that occurs in every healing in Christian Science. A right sense of identity and its qualities - an understanding of their spiritual, Godlike nature - is scientifically established in individual thought. A love for God and for His likeness, man, is awakened. This is the spiritually scientific thinking, the dynamic consciousness and love of good, that heals every kind of problem. No imperfect over-painting can remain when treated with this powerful solvent. This is the effective prayer which the Bible says "availeth much" (James ). This is Christian Science in action.
People unacquainted with Christian Science sometimes think of it as the power of the human mind over matter, as a form of human will or even hypnotic suggestion. Emphatically, this is what Christian Science is not. It's not hypnotism, human will, or the power of the human mind over matter.
Christian Science is the demonstration of the power of divine Mind over human thought and material conditions - the de-hypnotizing of human thought from the counterfeit pictures it has accepted as real. It's the scientific understanding and practical proof of the presence and irresistible action of divine Principle, divine Love. It's the revealing of man's true being as an idea of God.
We don't repeat positive statements about man's nature, about his health and happiness and safety, in order to make these things true but because they are true. When someone says he's going to work in Christian Science on a problem, he means this: He's going to work with the Bible and Science and Health to find out the spiritual, scientific facts relating to the problem. He's going to pray, replace every mistaken thought he finds himself accepting about the nature of God and man - thoughts of sickness, fear, alienation, selfishness, loneliness, inadequacy, and so forth. He's going to replace these with the relevant spiritual facts needed - just as one replaces a mathematical error with a mathematical fact.
And when he says "work," he means he's going to stay with these facts until they're established in his consciousness. He knows that when he reaches this point, when he, knows the truth, the spiritual facts, about the situation to the exclusion of material falsehoods, he'll be free. The problem will be solved.
The realization of the spiritual facts about our true identity always brings about an improved condition in the human sense of things - greater safety, better health, less fear and hostility, richer, more unselfish love, a greater sense of competence and wholeness, more abundant provision of whatever one needs. The false picture which would obscure our identity is proved to be an illusion. It disappears with a change of consciousness. Our daily lives bear witness to man's true nature as a reflection of God.
Manís True Nature Indestructible
†Neither you nor I nor anyone else can ever corrupt or destroy our true identity and its Godlike character. But, as we've seen from our discussion, a materialistic sense of things certainly can hide them! This sense is something like a mental coloring book that says: "This is man. Color him lost. Color him sick. Color him unsuccessful, hostile, selfish."
Materialism is anti-man. The love or fear of matter and physicality, the unquestioning or unwitting submission to its laws, forces, and influences - these paint over our true character with pictures of disease, failure, moral distortion, poverty, and fear. But it doesn't matter how opaque or hardened these mental over-paintings may seem to be. There isn't one that will not disappear when the solvent of divine Love, divine Principle, is applied. And to the awakened spiritual senses these conditions have never existed at all.
The cherishing of our identity as the likeness of God brings to light our real character and its qualities of health, integrity, nobility, and freedom. Love and respect for man's true nature - our own and others' - will prove to be a dynamic healing force in the affairs
of the world as well as of the individual.
The identity crisis we've heard so much about is only an imperative demand for each of us to be what he really is - a perfect, individual, complete expression of divine Love. No one and nothing can prevent us from being what we really are. No one and nothing can change us into anything less. No counterfeit pictures of man can claim existence or identity by using your name and nature - or mine.
Through the understanding of God and the love of good, we'll find the freedom to be ourselves.
©1966 Jane O. Robbins
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