Neither Young Nor Old

 

Harry S. Smith, C.S.B., of Atlanta, Georgia

Member of the Board of Lectureship of The Mother Church,

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

 

Recognizing that man in his true selfhood is neither young nor old provides a basis for genuine usefulness, Harry S. Smith, C.S.B., told an audience yesterday in The Mother Church, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts.

Mr. Smith challenged the view that age necessarily restricts meaningful activity.

"Even a little understanding of spiritual existence," he said, "improves our human experience at every age. The young can hurdle the handicaps of youth. The middle-aged can meet the challenges of that period. Those of advanced years can overcome the impositions of age. The result is a life that at every stage is full, complete, and useful."

A Christian Science teacher and practitioner from Atlanta, Mr. Smith is on tour as a member of The Christian Science Board of Lectureship.

"Neither Young Nor Old," was the title of his lecture. Mr. Smith was introduced by the Second Reader of The Mother Church, Mrs. Elizabeth Glass Barlow.

The lecturer spoke substantially as follows:

 

Limitations generally accepted

Several years ago Mischa Elman, the well-known concert violinist, had a television interview. At the time, Mr. Elman was 75 years old, and he was preparing for the 5,000th concert of his career. The interviewer commented on Mr. Elman's ability to play so brilliantly, and his continued activity in concert work, at such an advanced age. Mr. Elman replied that in his career he had made the complete cycle. He said that when he gave his first public recital, he was only five years old, and people wondered how anyone so young could play so well. "Now," he said, "when I give a concert, people wonder how anyone so old can play so well."

This incident shows the importance we give to age. Age influences practically everything we do.

Age is even supposed to determine the length of life itself. It used to be that three-score years and ten was the generally accepted limit! In recent times this has been extended somewhat, but there's still an accepted limit to how many years we're supposed to live. So, the limitations of age seem to have a bearing on our whole human experience!

Many people have overcome these limitations just as Mischa Elman did. Thomas Edison was still patenting inventions at age 80. Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, went to Armenia to do relief work when she was 74. Three years later, she took charge of a Red Cross ship during the Spanish-American War.

On the youthful side, Albert Einstein was only 26 when he published his theory of relativity. Leonard Bernstein at 25 conducted the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and by the time he was 30 was famous not only as a conductor, but also as a pianist, composer, and teacher.

 

Completely new approach to age

These men and women (and many others) have made valuable contributions to the world, as they have overcome the barriers of age - some the barriers of old age, and others the barriers of youth. And this brings up the point that in this lecture we're going to discuss how to overcome the barriers of all ages, of youth, of middle age, and of old age. They all need to be conquered, and the sooner we learn how to do this, the more we shall improve our human experience.

Certainly Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, should be counted among those who overcame the limitations of age. She was very active throughout her later years establishing the Christian Science movement. She was 87 when she founded The Christian Science Monitor, which today is considered one of the leading newspapers of the world.

But Mrs. Eddy made a further, unique contribution to the world. Through her discovery of Christian Science she found a completely new approach to age. In her writings she explains this approach, and anyone who understands and practices the teachings of Christian Science can begin to overcome the limitations of age just as she did.

These teachings give us a new view of man's true nature. Instead of the widely accepted material view of man as an aging mortal, Christian Science presents a spiritual view of man as ageless and immortal.

In this lecture, we're going to discuss both of these views of man. First we'll examine the material view, with its supposed laws of age and limitation, and compare it with the spiritual view set forth in the teachings of Christian Science. Then we'll see how this spiritual view, understood and applied, benefits those of all ages. It helps the young to express a higher sense of maturity and ability early in their lives. It shows the middle-aged how to meet the challenges of that period of life. And it enables older persons to maintain their youthful qualities and faculties and so enjoy a continued sense of usefulness and purpose in their later years.

 

Basis in human belief

A moment ago I spoke of the widely accepted view of man as an aging mortal. How this view of man arose is described in an allegorical account of creation found in the Bible in the second chapter of Genesis.

This account of a material creation depicts the human belief that existence is mortal - that man is born of human parents, grows, matures, declines, and finally dies. His age determines which stage in this human cycle he has reached.

At each stage of this cycle, man is supposed to express certain qualities and to lack other qualities. So we tend to believe that while the young are energetic and enthusiastic, they're immature and inexperienced. They haven't all the qualities they need to express a full measure of manhood or womanhood.

When man reaches middle age (so the belief goes), he matures. He has more of all the qualities he needs to fully express complete manhood or womanhood. But he maintains this state only temporarily. Soon there's a lessening of his youthful qualities, a feeling that old age is "just around the corner."

In old age (and again, this is the belief) man loses his energy and vigor. His health isn't what it used to be. He needs glasses or a hearing aid. He begins to slow down. And he continues to slow down until he comes to a complete stop!

Now, this is all just human belief. In her book, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," Mrs. Eddy defines this belief. She writes: "In a word, human belief is a blind conclusion from material reasoning" (p. 124). This whole belief of mortal existence is a blind conclusion from material reasoning. It's not the truth about man.

Now, let's compare this allegory of mortal existence with the account of creation in the first chapter of Genesis. This account sets forth the fact of spiritual existence. It establishes that God is the very source of all that really exists. Mrs. Eddy emphasizes this: "To grasp the reality and order of being in its Science, you must begin by reckoning God as the divine Principle of all that really is. Spirit, Life, Truth, Love, combine as one, - and are the Scriptural names for God" (Science and Health, p. 275).

 

God is source of good

Besides these four names for God, we also use in Christian Science the names Principle, Mind, and Soul. These all refer to the one God, and describe His infinite nature. But to continue, "All substance, intelligence, wisdom, being, immortality, cause, and effect belong to God. These are His attributes, the eternal manifestations of the infinite divine Principle, Love. No wisdom is wise but His wisdom; no truth is true, no love is lovely, no life is Life but the divine; no good is but the good God bestows" (p. 275).

It's plain, then, that every quality of good has its source in God. And God bestows these qualities fully and impartially on man, His image or reflection. Man's wisdom and intelligence are from divine Mind. His vigor and vitality are from eternal Life. He receives strength and energy from infinite Spirit, his faculties from immortal Soul.

Furthermore, man possesses all such desirable qualities continually and eternally. Then the young person can't be deprived of his wisdom and understanding. And the older person can't be robbed of his energy and vigor. Man includes all such qualities at every age. In fact this is what we mean by spiritual existence: As God's image, man always includes every spiritual quality, and he can express these qualities fully and freely at all times.

Christ Jesus understood this and proved it. When he was just a boy of 12, he carried on a profound discussion with the doctors in the temple, "and all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers" (Luke 2:47). Jesus continued to express great wisdom and understanding throughout his healing ministry. He was still a young man, only 30, when he began to heal and teach. But his healing works, and the depth and meaning of his teachings, especially his Sermon on the Mount, have never been equaled. Jesus proved that, when one identifies his source as God and claims his God-given qualities, the lack of years can never limit his wisdom and understanding.

The young people of today can be benefited by following Jesus' example. As they understand man's source as God, and claim their God-given wisdom and understanding, they can develop a higher degree of maturity and ability in their early years.

This was proved in the experience of a young student of Christian Science. Because of family reverses he had to leave college after his freshman year. He found a clerical position, but the salary was small and the opportunities limited. He was in his early 20's, and since he lacked both a college education and practical experience, his future prospects were anything but bright.

He was energetic and conscientious about his work, but after a while he became so discouraged that he wasn't even expressing those qualities, and his work began to suffer, so he decided to talk to a Christian Science practitioner.

He told the practitioner that although his work didn't offer much promise of advancement, he hesitated to make a change, because he had no experience in any other field. He felt, before he could become skilled or capable, he had to have more education and experience. The practitioner said that, spiritually viewed, skill and ability are the human evidence of man's expression of intelligence and understanding. These are qualities of God, divine Mind, which each individual naturally expresses in his youth as well as in his later years. So his expression of intelligence and understanding doesn't depend on how long he's lived, or how many years he's worked. He can express these qualities fully at every stage of his experience.

A few months later my young friend had the opportunity to prove this. He was offered a new position. The future possibilities were excellent, but it was a field in which he had no training or experience. He doubted that he could even do the work successfully, and he felt he should pray about it before making a decision.

You see, he'd learned by this time that it's helpful to pray about every move we make, every decision, every undertaking. Prayer helps us to establish in consciousness the spiritual facts connected with each human activity.

For instance, in praying about this decision, my young friend was reminded of a statement from Proverbs, "In all thy ways acknowledge him [God], and he shall direct thy paths" (Prov. 3:6). Prayer, in Christian Science, is really an acknowledgement of God, of His allness, and goodness, and of our unity with God.

 

Listening for divine direction

My young friend acknowledged in his prayer that God gives to each one intelligence to know the right thing to do, and the right time to do it. So he prayed, and then he listened for God's guidance. The Bible says, "And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left" (Isa. 30:21).

Praying this way, and then listening for God's direction, is the surest way I know to develop maturity and sound judgment and to avoid the mistakes which are so often the result of immature human judgment. It certainly helped my young friend make the right decision. He accepted the offer.

As he started this new work, he continually turned to God for guidance. Each morning, and many times during the day, he acknowledged that divine Mind always supplies the right spiritual idea for every occasion.

As my friend applied this in his human experience, he found himself expressing the qualities he needed each day. He soon advanced to a better position, and within a few years became a successful executive.

Now, I might emphasize that in relating this experience, I'm not encouraging college dropouts! A college education is important, and if my young friend had had a college degree, he probably would have progressed even more rapidly. But his application of spiritual understanding to his own situation helped him to overcome human deficiencies, which otherwise might have been too much for him to cope with.

Perhaps the greatest value of this experience was the confidence he gained that each one of us does have the ability to express his God-given qualities fully and completely at every stage of life. Once we've learned this in youth, then we're better able to cope with the limitations associated with our later years.

Now, we've seen how a correct understanding of spiritual existence reveals man's true nature as the spiritual idea of God, expressing every Godlike quality. And we've seen how this understanding may be applied by the young in developing a higher degree of maturity and ability in their early years.

 

Jesus fully comprehended his being

This understanding is equally practical in dealing with other beliefs of mortal existence - for example, the belief that the passing of years causes man to age, decline, and finally die. We can replace this belief with the spiritual fact that man is ageless and immortal. Mrs. Eddy expresses it this way: "Man in Science is neither young nor old. He has neither birth nor death" (Science and Health, p. 244).

Now, this is an important fact of spiritual existence which we haven't as yet fully comprehended. But Jesus did understand it clearly. This is shown by a discussion he once had concerning Abraham, the great Hebrew patriarch. Jesus remarked, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad." His listeners questioned this: "Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?" (Abraham had been dead nearly 2,000 years.) But Jesus answered them, "Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8: 56-58). Jesus' listeners were materially minded, and they couldn't understand this statement. Neither do we understand it until we accept the fact of spiritual existence. Then the meaning becomes clear.

We've already indicated that God is the only creator, and man is God's likeness. God is eternal Life. He's "from everlasting to everlasting" (Ps. 90:2). Eternal Life could never include any limited sense of life, or of time, or of age. We can't conceive of God as young or old. God is ageless and immortal.

Man, God's likeness, derives his life from God, who is the very source of life. Then man's true life is never dependent on time, age, or any material condition. As the individual expression of the one Life, God, man coexists with God.

So man is no more subject to a limited sense of life, time, or age, than is God. We can no more conceive of the real man as young or old, as born or dying, than we can conceive of God in this way. Man is as ageless and immortal as is God.

It was on this basis that Jesus could say, "Before Abraham was, I am." Now, Jesus wasn't inferring that, as a human being, he was nearly 2,000 years old. He was speaking of the Christ, his spiritual identity.

I might tell you here how we understand the relationship between Jesus and the Christ. Mrs. Eddy explains it in this passage, "Jesus was the highest human concept of the perfect man. He was inseparable from Christ, the Messiah, - the divine idea of God outside the flesh. This enabled Jesus to demonstrate his control over matter" (Science and Health, p. 482). This divine idea of God, the Christ, has always existed, and can never be touched by any belief of birth, age, or death.

Because Jesus understood himself to be inseparable from the Christ, he could say, "Before Abraham was, I am," meaning that the Christ, his spiritual identity, is eternal, and so existed prior to Abraham. It was this understanding that enabled Jesus to demonstrate completely his control over matter, even overcoming death and the grave.

Before we can expect to do this as Jesus did, we must reach the height of spiritual understanding he reached. We must recognize our inseparability from the Christ, "the divine idea of God, outside the flesh." We do this by gaining more of the consciousness of the Christ, and by expressing more of the Christ in our daily lives.

This doesn't take place all at once. Spiritual growth comes gradually. But even a little of this understanding helps us to solve the simpler problems of our day-to-day experience. It's a great deal like learning mathematics. The beginner can't solve a problem in calculus. He doesn't understand it fully. He begins with the simpler problems. Then, as his understanding increases, so does his ability to solve the more difficult problems.

 

Abilities and opportunities

In the degree that we understand spiritual existence, and apply this understanding in our daily lives, in that degree we will overcome the limitations of mortal existence, and so improve our present abilities and opportunities. Then as our understanding increases, we experience higher proofs until we gain that full consciousness of spiritual existence.

What are some of the simpler problems we can begin with? Let's consider the problems of health and physical well-being which sometimes appear as we reach that period known as "middle age." The middle-aged man may lose some of his youthful vigor. Often he encounters minor physical problems. And the middle-aged woman, particularly, may find this a trying time. In fact, it's the time when we all seem to experience the physical changes which are supposed to come with the passing of years.

What causes these bodily changes as we grow older? For years natural scientists attributed this to certain biological and chemical changes in the body. But more recently they've concluded that the composition of the body is constantly renewed - that every five years or so we get a whole new set of atoms that compose the body. Then what causes this aging process?

The answer lies in an understanding of the relationship between body and thought. The body doesn't act independently of thought. Thought controls the body. We make our body sick or well, weak or strong, old or young, according to the images of thought we delineate upon it. There's a story in Science and Health that illustrates this. It appeared originally in a London medical magazine. It's about an Englishwoman who became insane and lost all track of time. As a result, when she was 74, she appeared to be no more than 20. Mrs. Eddy gives this explanation, "She could not age while believing herself young, for the mental state governed the physical" (p. 245).

Now, that episode shows what can happen when one human belief replaces another human belief. But we must do more than just improve the human belief. We must correct the belief of mortal existence with the fact of spiritual existence. Then we discover that immortal Mind, not material thinking, governs and controls the body. When we understand this, we can overcome the challenge of this aging and changing process.

This was proved in the experience of a woman I know. For years she had been happy raising her family and caring for her home. But as she reached middle age, she began to experience certain bodily changes which brought both physical suffering and a deep sense of depression and unhappiness. Her family was suddenly grown up. Her husband was preoccupied with his business. She began to feel unneeded. She was physically and mentally miserable.

 

Godlike qualities embodied

She asked a practitioner for help through prayer. He pointed out that age and this kind of change are both human beliefs, they go hand in hand. So, to overcome the belief of change, we must destroy the belief of age. Man isn't an aging changing mortal. He's the ageless, changeless, spiritual idea of God. At every period he embodies the Godlike qualities which, as the image of God, he has always possessed. These qualities never change; never deteriorate with the passing of time. In the degree that we understand this we can prove that statement (Job 11:17), "Thine age shall be clearer than the noonday; thou shalt shine forth, thou shall be as the morning."

The practitioner also reminded the woman that man can never lose his sense of purpose. Man is the evidence of God's being. Our purpose at every stage of life is to express God. We fulfill this purpose in the degree that we actively express God-given qualities in our daily life. This purpose never changes. It's only the human channels that change. When our family is young and needs our care, then the family is the human channel through which we express such God-given qualities as love, patience, unselfishness. When our family is grown, there are still other channels through which we can continue to express such qualities. We just need to find them!

With the practitioner's help, my friend was soon healed of the physical difficulties. She also gained an entirely new outlook. She discovered new opportunities to express toward others that same love and unselfishness she'd expressed in raising her own family. Today she's one of the busiest and happiest persons you could find anywhere!

As we move, in this human cycle, from middle age to old age, there are other beliefs to be overcome. One belief is that our ears and eyes deteriorate as we grow older, and we need a hearing aid or glasses. This belief is so widely accepted today that these "crutches," especially the glasses, are considered practically indispensable after a certain age.

 

Need for glasses overcome

A friend of mine was shopping with another woman, who stopped to pick up some glasses she had ordered. The optometrist asked my friend where she bought her glasses. She said she didn't wear glasses. The optometrist insisted that anyone her age needed glasses. To prove his point, he asked her to read a chart on the wall. She did, down to the finest print. He was surprised, but he still had the last word. He said, "Anyone with eyes like yours ought to have glasses to protect them!"

Now, there's more to this story of why my friend doesn't need glasses. Several years ago, she did have trouble with her eyes. She recognized this as a belief associated with age. So she began to pray each day to gain a clearer spiritual discernment of man's immunity from the beliefs of age and deterioration. She prayed to realize the spiritual fact that man's faculties are from Spirit, God, and so are spiritual and indestructible.

This statement helped her: "Sight, hearing, all the spiritual senses of man, are eternal. They cannot be lost. Their reality and immortality are in Spirit and understanding, not in matter, - hence their permanence" (Science and Health, p. 486).

Sight is a God-bestowed spiritual quality, or faculty, which man eternally reflects. Man can never be deprived of his true sight by age, because sight is never dependent upon the material organs called eyes. True seeing is as permanent as true being. It can never deteriorate. It is as eternal, unchanging, and perfect as is God, immortal Soul.

My friend proved this. As she gained this clearer spiritual discernment, she soon found her vision was again completely normal, and it's still that way today.

If you're already wearing glasses or a hearing aid, don't let this keep you from acknowledging in thought each day the spiritual fact that true vision is spiritual discernment, and true hearing is spiritual understanding. Don't be lulled into a sense of apathy just because the "crutch" provides temporary relief.

 

We can claim manís true nature

Instead, reach out constantly for more spiritual discernment and greater spiritual understanding. Be persistent in claiming man's true nature as the child of God, and his eternal expression of his God-given faculties. Many who have done this have seen more clearly their spiritual nature, and have heard more distinctly the voice of Truth. As a result, they've laid aside their "crutch" and have again experienced a normal sense of sight and hearing.

The earlier in life we gain this enlightened understanding of spiritual existence, the more benefits we receive from it. But if we've passed the prime of life before we discover this truth, we should never get the feeling that we're too old to begin its study and reap its benefits. If Mrs. Eddy had subscribed to this theory, she might never have given Christian Science to the world. At a time when the normal life expectancy was much shorter than it is today, she began her real life work in her 45th year when she discovered Christian Science. Many of her most important steps in establishing the Christian Science movement were taken when she was past what even today would be considered retirement age.

Undoubtedly, Mrs. Eddy's deep desire to share her discovery with the world inspired and sustained her in her life work. Her unselfish love for all mankind was the human expression of divine Love; and, as she says in one of her poems, "Fed by Thy love divine we live, For Love alone is Life" (Po. 7:9).

Mrs. Eddy never retired, never lost her sense of activity and purpose, or of health, strength, and energy. She certainly practiced what she writes in Science and Health, "Men and women of riper years and larger lessons ought to ripen into health and immortality, instead of lapsing into darkness or gloom" (p. 248).

 

Taking advantage of years

Today, human rules sometimes dictate that a man must retire from his business or profession just because he's passed a certain birthday. But the real man never retires, never loses his sense of usefulness and purpose. There are always new channels, new opportunities to express our God-bestowed wisdom, energy, and vitality, and so continue to fulfill our real purpose in life to express God. We can take advantage of the years instead of allowing the years to take advantage of us! We can prove that, "God expresses in man the infinite idea forever developing itself, broadening and rising higher and higher from a boundless basis" (Science and Health, p. 258).

We see then that man's abilities and capabilities, his health, his spiritual faculties, his freshness and his promise, are never lacking. They unfold progressively; they never deteriorate. The man of God's creating exists forever at the standpoint of agelessness and immortality. This is the fact of spiritual existence.

We've also seen that even a little understanding of spiritual existence improves our human experience at every age. The young can hurdle the handicaps of youth. The middle-aged can meet the challenges of that period. Those of advanced years can overcome the impositions of age. The result is a life that at every stage is full, complete, and useful.

If this is the result of a little understanding, what may a larger understanding of spiritual existence bring? As we grow spiritually, we can confidently expect that every material limitation will be overcome.

Now is the time to begin to work toward this goal. Mrs. Eddy writes, "Life is eternal. We should find this out, and begin the demonstration thereof. Life and goodness are immortal" (Science and Health, p 246). In the degree that we understand this, we shall recognize and begin to experience our true spiritual status as neither young nor old: as never born and never dying, as coexisting eternally with God.

 

[Published in The Christian Science Monitor, under the headline "Man as Godís expression is neither young nor old", Feb. 19, 1971.]

 

 

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