A New View of Prophecy
Michael B. Thorneloe, C.S.B., of Sheffield, England
Member of the Board of Lectureship of The Mother Church,
The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts
Near where we live is a delightful little village. It's called Hope. It lies in the center of a beautiful valley, surrounded by hills which are characteristic of the Derbyshire countryside in the North of England. Occasionally my wife and I have stayed in a cottage on one of these hills, overlooking Hope Valley.
Once when we were there, I'd gotten up very early. I looked out of the window. It was dark. You could see nothing but an impenetrable blackness. As I watched, a change started to take place. Where there'd been nothing to see, shapes began to appear. I could see the outline of hills on the far side of the valley. The sun was rising. As its rim appeared over the horizon, light flooded into the valley. Then I could see everything with perfect clarity. I saw two Welsh ponies in a paddock down the field. One was black, the other brown. The distant hills were covered in a rich purple coat of heather. And there, nestling in the valley, was Hope. Although a short time before you could see nothing. Hope had been there all the time! It hadn't just been built. In fact some of those cottages had been there for centuries.
Now suppose you'd been standing there with me that morning. Perhaps you'd never seen that view before. But because I'd seen it before, I could tell you what was there. Even when our eyes told us of a dark empty void, we could share the contrasting colors of those friendly ponies. We could be aware of the expansive view of those green and purple hills. We could mentally perceive the homes scattered on the hills, and others much closer together in the village. Then, as the day dawned, you could see it all for yourself. You'd have seen for yourself that what I'd said was true. The view I'd prophesied would prove to be correct.
"But what of it?" some may ask. "It's just because you've seen it before. There's nothing very clever about that." All right, but what if the view we're looking for is something other than trees, hills, and houses? What if we're looking for hope of a different kind - hope of freedom from disease and discord? And what if we're not only told that there's hope, but that there's freedom itself right here with us this moment?
To look around with our eyes is to see perhaps evidence of discord. But how do we see hope? How do we see happiness? How do we see love? With our eyes we can see the outward expression of these things, but to see ideas and qualities involves a perception that isn't limited to human eyesight. And then it's not enough to just perceive them like spectators at a play: we want to be able to experience them.
I'd like to explore this subject of spiritual perception with you. And we'll see how this spiritual vision shows us the true nature of reality as wholly spiritual. How it's always available to everyone, everywhere, at all times. And how this means that you and I can begin to perceive spiritual reality here and now - to show us hope and the fulfillment of hope.
In speaking of spiritual vision and how it reveals the true nature of reality, we might begin with this book, the Holy Bible. As many of you may know, the Bible isn't just one book. It's 66 books written by different people over several centuries. Throughout this collection we read of men and women who've had a penetrating insight into the nature of God and man. From Abraham in the book of Genesis at the beginning of the Old Testament right through to John's Revelation at the end of the New we find examples of people who wrote down (or had written down for them) what they saw of the nature of God and the way He blesses man. As in our new view from the cottage I described a few moments ago, they'd seen hope, freedom, and boundless possibilities, and they're telling us about them. They perceived there's more to creation than just the limited material view of things.
We refer to many of these Biblical characters as prophets. I was interested to find recently in the Oxford dictionary prophecy defined as "a divinely inspired utterance." Prophecy doesn't necessarily refer to something that's predicted to happen in the future. It's a divinely inspired view of any given situation. And Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science, in her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, defines "prophet" as, "A spiritual seer; disappearance of material sense before the conscious facts of spiritual Truth." (Science and Health, p. 597)
Prophecy then is spiritual seeing - a divinely inspired view. What brings this about? In our opening example, it was the rising sun that enabled me to see what in fact had been there all the time. In Science and Health Mrs. Eddy explains the account in Genesis of God creating the sun and writes, "The sun is a metaphorical representation of Soul outside the body, giving existence and intelligence to the universe." (Ibid., p. 510). In this explanation Soul has a capital letter S, indicating it's one of the names we use for God. The sun symbolizes God, the one infinite divine Soul. It's Soul, God, who enables us to see the wholeness, the beauty, and the distinct individuality of every creation of God. The prophets of Biblical times healed and did good because they glimpsed this truth. Today, also, we find many instances of discordant situations resolved and sickness healed through the exercise of spiritual vision.
In our family we've had the outward evidence of this inward vision exemplified many times. Some little time ago my wife and I were visiting students of Christian Science in some of the newly emerging countries in Black Africa. We were in the bush country of eastern Nigeria.
One morning, my wife wasn't well. She couldn't eat any breakfast. By lunchtime, things were a lot worse. By the evening it was obvious that she was seriously ill. There was a breakdown of bodily functions, and she became delirious. In a rational moment she expressed the fear that she was dying and shortly after that became unconscious. In this time of great need, I turned wholeheartedly to God, to divine Love, in prayer. I had to acknowledge, to see and feel, the presence and the power of God as being able to heal this condition.
I held firmly and persistently to the fact that, despite the material picture I saw with my eyes, there was another view of what was going on. This "other view" involved that perception used by those men of spiritual vision in the Bible we spoke of a few minutes ago. This "other view" was the spiritual view. Twice during the next few hours I felt it necessary to speak to my wife, calling her by name and insisting that she respond. I continued to pray until about three in the morning, when it was obvious my wife was in a normal, peaceful sleep. She woke a few hours later, well and happy, and the whole condition was healed. We had an arduous journey over unmade roads that day, but we undertook it with complete freedom and joy. It was a permanent healing. The condition never occurred again.
There's an interesting sequel. When we got back home to England several weeks later, one of our daughters asked where we were and what we'd been doing on a particular date. The date she mentioned was the day the healing had occurred. We asked her why she wanted to know. She told us that during the night she'd felt impelled to get her Bible and Science and Health and pray. Her prayer had been a silent declaration that God is Life and therefore could never be extinguished: that man is the loved child of God, never outside His care. She prayed along these lines until she felt happy that all was well.
What had prompted her to do this? There was no human contact between us. Indeed none was possible. But something had touched her thought. Wasn't it the spiritual sunshine of divine Truth, the light of Soul, that aroused her to use her God-given spiritual perception to see more of the eternity, the ever-presence of man's indestructible Life? We were certainly grateful for the teaching she'd received in the Christian Science Sunday School - there she'd learned the need to respond instantly to spiritual ideas as they come to thought and also the certainty that to do so will have an instant, practical effect.
What brought about my wife's healing? Let's just examine the situation. The human view was one of discord. We were many miles from anyone we could turn to for help. The illness was serious. It appeared as though my wife was passing on. But wasn't this like the human view from the cottage early that morning in the North of England? Human eyes told us then of an impenetrable darkness from the cottage window, and the material picture was dark for us out in Africa. But the reality was entirely different.
To start with, there was hope. But there was more than that. There was in reality - behind the material view of the situation - the facts the Bible tells us: that God was with us, that He loved us, and that He'd care for us as we trusted in Him. In addition, the Bible tells us that God is Spirit; therefore, His creation must be spiritual. God is Soul; therefore, His creation must exactly express or reflect all that's beautiful, pure, and whole, untouched by disease.
Science and Health tells us, "Man is the reflection of Soul." (Ibid., p. 249).What does this mean? If you stood in front of a clear mirror and smiled, your reflection would smile, too. It'd have no choice in the matter. And although the reflection would appear to be behind the mirror, a physicist would tell you that this is only a "virtual" image - one which isn't really where it appears to be. Is the image then on the surface of the mirror?
Let's reason this out.
If you were standing five feet away from the mirror and wanted to take a photograph of yourself, you'd have to set the focus on your camera for ten feet because the image on the film in the camera is at a point five feet to the mirror plus five feet back again to the camera. So man, as the reflection of God, Soul, is always at one with his Maker - right where his Maker is.
Mrs. Eddy uses the simile of reflection many times in her writings. At one point she says, "As the reflection of yourself appears in the mirror, so you, being spiritual, are the reflection of God." She then concludes: "The substance, Life, intelligence, Truth, and Love, which constitute Deity, are reflected by His creation; and when we subordinate the false testimony of the corporeal senses to the facts of Science, we shall see this true likeness and reflection everywhere." (Ibid., p. 516).
Notice "we shall see this . . . reflection." I remember when I was quite a small boy, I used to sit in front of a mirror and cover my eyes with my hands. I wondered whether the reflection disappeared when I did this. But even though I opened my fingers only ever so slightly and peeped through, the reflection was always there.
Notice, too, we shall see the reflection "when we subordinate the false testimony of the corporeal senses to the facts of Science." Although the material view at times may seem dark, in spiritual reality man's perfection as the image of Soul, God, is here for us all to see.
For anyone to be able to stand in front of a mirror and see his own reflection, one thing is essential. There must be light. If the sun symbolizes Soul, we can think of the light emanating from the sun as the Christ - the true idea of God and of man and of their relationship to each other. As a result of this Christly light, we can perceive the spiritual creation God has made. I've found in my own experience that an understanding of the Christ as the light of God, of divine Love, the light of Soul, has enabled me to recognize spiritual vision as a faculty I already possess as an individual expression of Soul. It's up to me to develop this spiritual vision in my human experience by exercising it.
Jesus is the man who showed this Christly light is here and available to everyone, everywhere, at all times. The Bible tells us Jesus healed every type of disease brought to him. For example, one day he was visiting a village called Bethsaida. The people knew this was the man who'd healed many of their acquaintances of different diseases, fed the multitude, and even raised a young girl from the dead. So they now brought to Jesus a blind man to be healed.
The account of what happened is in Mark's Gospel." (Mark 8:22-26).We're told Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of town. Literally Jesus would be leading the man away from Bethsaida, but doesn't the account indicate more? Can we perhaps see that Jesus was exercising his God-given spiritual power to lead this man away from the belief that he lived in matter?
According to Mark, Jesus then spat on his eyes and put his hands on him. In those days as now, spitting showed complete contempt. So to spit on the man's eyes could have indicated Jesus' contempt for the belief that matter could in any way govern the man's ability to see. The power inherent in Jesus' spiritual perception of this man's wholeness was brought to bear on the situation.
Jesus then asked the man whether he could see at all. The man's reply indicated things were greatly improved, but he said men looked like trees walking about. Jesus didn't leave the condition partly healed. He helped the man further. The Bible tells us, "He put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up."
Jesus made him look up. Doesn't this indicate how the man was forced, through the activity of the Christ, the light of Soul, to exercise his God-given spiritual faculty of vision and look up? The result was instantly there. The account ends, "And he was restored, and saw every man clearly."
This healing has helped me to understand vision as an indestructible faculty of Soul. And it has helped me to see how the Christ, the true idea of God, can impel and develop the exercise of this vision in every one of us.
The exercise of spiritual perception is just as available today as on the day Jesus healed the man near Bethsaida. A friend of mine had an experience that shows clearly material conditions can't deprive us of vision.
In 1970, my friend found his sight failing. He went to an eye hospital in England and had many tests. At the end of these he was told glasses wouldn't help at all. Not willing to accept this verdict, he went to see a specialist in London, one of the best men in the country. After an exhaustive examination, the specialist said there was no hope whatsoever and nothing could be done to save his sight.
At this point my friend was introduced to Christian Science and began to study Science and Health. At once he began to discover and exercise his spiritual vision, and many things changed in his life. He was healed of heart trouble that followed a coronary thrombosis he'd had some time previously. High blood pressure was healed, and many other problems were overcome, including addiction to smoking and to alcohol. All these difficulties were healed as he prayerfully studied Science and Health.
But his eyesight didn't improve. It stopped getting worse, but it wasn't healed. So he approached a Christian Science practitioner listed in The Christian Science Journal. These are church members who devote their whole time to exercising the spiritual vision we're talking about to help others find healing. The practitioner agreed to help and asked my friend to study certain passages in Science and Health. There were two passages my friend found particularly helpful. One reads: "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). The other says, "Neither age nor accident can interfere with the senses of Soul, and there are no other real senses." (Ibid., p. 214).
He prayed with these ideas. He started exercising more and more his spiritual vision, as he thought of himself and others. And he regularly attended Christian Science church services. At that point, he used not to join in the hymns in church, because he couldn't see well enough to read them. He just stood with his hymnal open.
Then at the end of one Sunday service, a member of the congregation tapped him on the shoulder and said how good it was to hear him singing. He hadn't realized he was able to read. This was the first indication he had that his sight was returning. Within a very short time he was completely healed. Today, without the aid of glasses, he can see to read and drive normally.
As important factor in this healing is worth noting. My friend didnít wait for his eyesight to improve before he started to exercise spiritual vision. He exercised his spiritual vision first; then his eyesight was restored. He didn't have spiritual vision because his eyesight was good; his eyesight was good because he exercised spiritual vision.
Spiritual vision isn't something to be acquired. It's something to be recognized and utilized. It's something in reality we all possess. Now, in human terms, it's no good saying we have the ability to see that beautiful view and just stand there with our eyes closed. We open our eyes - then we see. In a similar way, we don't just say we have spiritual vision. We need to open our heart, recognize our ability to perceive God's perfect creation, and then go ahead and use our faculty of spiritual perception. And we can do just that with God's help. He tenderly cares for each one of us. God, Soul, is all-present, so we can all begin here and now to perceive the good in our neighbor and in our family.
If you asked a child what it saw in its mother that it loved, you'd be told of the love, the tender care, the thoughtfulness the mother expresses. I doubt very much whether you'd be told it's the size of shoes she wears or that she weighs 150 pounds! The child loves the spiritual qualities it perceives. Human kindness and thoughtfulness hint at the spiritual love and integrity inherent in every individual made by God. To begin to recognize these qualities is to exercise your God-given spiritual perception.
This doesn't mean we ignore the things we see humanly. It means we're grateful for all the good, and see through evil and all its limitations as being no part of God's creation. Evil and matter are no more than the illusions of material sense - "lies" as Jesus called them. We so love God and His perfect spiritual creation, that we increasingly perceive perfection. Evil and limitation are then overcome as in the case of our friend with failing eyesight.
The ability to perceive spiritual good - in effect, to be a prophet or spiritual seer - is something we all possess. It doesn't matter what our family background or inheritance may be. It makes no difference what formal education we may or may not have received. Social class makes no difference whatsoever.
We can all begin this moment to perceive the good that's right here for us to see, because all of us always are the spiritual expression, perfect and complete, of all-seeing Soul.
I'd like to tell you about the woman who saw so clearly the spiritual reality we're talking about. She recognized that where the material view was one of discord, spiritual discernment showed the free, whole, upright, unlimited man - the perfect man God made. She's the woman who wrote Science and Health - Mary Baker Eddy.
Early in 1866, her friends and neighbors saw her as an ailing woman in her mid-forties with an unfaithful husband and separated unhappily from her only child. The picture got even worse when she suffered a severe accident. Couldn't we liken this to the original view from that cottage window, when all seemed so dark and dismal? No beauty, color, nor individuality could be seen, because there was no light apparent. But then the day began to dawn, and what a change!
In a similar way, a change began to take place in Mrs. Eddy's view of her situation. By turning to the Bible and Jesus' healing work she let into her thought that vitalizing, enlightening activity of Soul. She began to perceive that Life was divine Spirit. But it was only a glimpse of this fact. It was rather like the first faint beams of light that appear as the sun rises.
In fact, Mrs. Eddy likens the experience to a dawn. She writes of the healing work of Jesus she was studying in the Bible and continues: ďAs I read, the healing Truth dawned upon my sense; and the result was that I rose, dressed myself, and ever after was in better health than I had before enjoyed. That short experience included a glimpse of the great fact that I have since tried to make plain to others, namely, Life in and of Spirit; this Life being the sole reality of existence.Ē (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 24).
Her perception of this great fact was sufficient to heal her physical condition; but much remained to be done. Over the coming months of that same year, she studied her Bible deeply. The vision of spirituality developed in her thought and at last she could write, ". . . in the latter part of 1866 I gained the scientific certainty that all causation was Mind, and every effect a mental phenomenon." (Retrospection and Introspection, p. 24).
Her study and prayer continued. For three years she read hardly anything but the Bible. She began to write down what she was seeing of the nature of God and of His perfect spiritual creation. It's now contained in her book Science and Health. It contains the complete statement of Christian Science, the Science of Soul.
Mrs. Eddy's prophetic view, her spiritual perception of creation, continued to develop. Between her first publication of the book in 1875 and 1906, there were over 400 different editions, most of them containing some refinement or change. In eight of those editions, she made major revisions of the book. Many people have been healed of serious physical difficulties by studying it, and have found many other kinds of problems resolved, too. Throughout these years, Mrs. Eddy was proving the efficacy of her religion. She found
she could heal herself and others through applying its truths to the human situation. She found she could teach others how to heal on the same practical, Christianly scientific basis. The Christly ministry of Jesus was being continued as he expected it to be.
During this time, her spiritual perception led her to establish the Church of Christ, Scientist, which now has branches around the world. That's why we think of her not only as Discoverer, but also as Founder of Christian Science.
Every one of us here today can follow the example of Christ Jesus as Mrs. Eddy did. We, too, can open our thought to let spiritual vision develop and expand in our lives. Healing will result as shown by an experience of a man I know.
This man used to work in an experimental plant dealing with high test peroxide (or "H.T.P."). This is a rocket fuel containing over 94% by weight of oxygen. It's a very difficult liquid to handle. Redistilled H.T.P. is an explosive fuel. All organic substances it comes into contact with burst into flame immediately.
My friend was redistilling H.T.P. when a leak developed between the main reaction vessel and the condensers. As a result of the leak, H.T.P. poured over one of his hands where it ignited spontaneously with a great flash of light, visible as it was later learned over a mile away. His hand was very badly charred, and when the remains of the H.T.P. were washed away, the appearance was most alarming.
A doctor called in by his employers said that the fingers of that hand would have to be amputated. After it had been bandaged without any medication, he asked to be left alone. When he'd got control of himself somewhat, he went to see a Christian Science practitioner who lived nearby.
The practitioner immediately began to pray for him, and shortly afterwards, in spite of the severity of the injuries, he had no more pain. He had somewhat of a setback when the bandages needed changing, and he saw his fingers again. They were still in a bad state. The doctor in attendance at the works said he didn't give any hope for the hand.
After this, my friend pulled himself together and resolved to pray more earnestly himself. He started to exercise his spiritual vision. He knew very little about Christian Science himself at this time, but he'd seen a relative healed and this healing had impressed him.
So now he prayed to perceive more of the spiritual nature of God and man, in spite of the evidence of the material senses. He opened his heart to acknowledge the power of God and the presence of God.
After two more days, his hand so improved he left the bandages off for good. And then he watched a remarkable thing happen. It was much like a speeded up film. The flesh on his hand built up, until after about forty or fifty hours, even his fingernails were normal.
Let me read to you what he says in a letter he wrote to me recently: "This was my first healing in Christian Science and I felt that I had touched the hem. I well remember the feeling of awe, a profound humility and the presence of the Christ as I fell to my knees and sobbed out my gratitude. I stared at my hands and cried like a child for quite a time." The whole condition had been completely healed. There was no indication whatsoever of that accident on the man's hands. Even those little black hairs people sometimes have on the back of their hands, even these had grown again.
This happened a few years ago now, and the healing has been permanent.
The material senses told my friend of severely injured hands. Did the exercise of spiritual vision mean he had to conjure up in thought the idea of material hands in a normal shape and condition? No. Spiritual vision perceives spiritual ideas. Spiritual vision enables us to see spiritual strength and power, untouched by accidents. Spiritual vision recognizes man can never loose his grasp of good and spiritual good never looses its grasp on man. It perceives the true nature of every individual God has made.
Prophecy, then, is the ability to perceive the spiritual good God has already made. It's not human optimism. It's the exercise of the pure senses of Soul to see what is already present. Let's go back to the cottage window in the north of England just one more time. Had you and I been standing there that morning, it wouldn't have been mere optimism that enabled me to prophesy the view you'd see a short while later. It would have been an explanation of something I'd already perceived in daylight. What I'd seen in the past, you'd see in the future. So what might appear to be prophesying the future is a spiritual perception of something that, in fact, all ready exists now.
And this vision isn't an academic or theoretical exercise. As the day dawns, you can actually enjoy the beauty the light reveals. You can watch the individual flowers open to the warmth of the sun. You can feel the warm sunshine yourself. So, we start right where we are to use the spiritual perception we all possess.
Be willing to respond to the touch of the Christ, the light of Soul. As we do, everyone of us here today can right now have a foretaste of spiritual reality, a foretaste of beauty, the liveliness, the eternally fresh goodness of everything God made.
The prophet Ezekiel in the Bible records these Words of God, "Say unto them, The days are at hand, and the effect of every vision." †(Ezekiel 12:23). We don't just see perfection; we experience it. We begin to feel in our lives the effect of whatever spiritual perception we exercise.
To continue on this spiritual path demands obedience. You and I have to be willing to respond to the spiritual and moral demands we perceive as part of God's law. But we can do so naturally and scientifically because it is man's nature to obey the laws of God. Remember that reflection? It must respond to what the original in front of the mirror does.
As we respond with obedience to God's law, we receive the blessings of such obedience. Thinking of man as the reflection of Soul, we mustn't just peep from behind closed fingers to see God's goodness. Let's not just see through a glass darkly, but face to face. Although we may at first see men as trees walking, let's respond to the impulsion of the Christ and look up. Then we'll begin to see clearly God's boundless spiritual creation and all it contains.
You and I can begin to do this right where we are. Doesn't God say to you and to me what He said to Abraham? "Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art. . . . For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it." (Genesis 13:14-15).