When you can't believe your eyes

A Christian Science perspective: our physical senses often lead us to make mistaken conclusions about the world around us.

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I had just spent a wonderful day at New York’s Coney Island and didn’t want to go home. Tugging at my grandfather’s hand as we walked in the dark to the exit, I pleaded for one more carnival ride, pointing to a train of waiting cars on a track. I begged my grandparents to take me on it, thinking it was a child’s ride where scary things go bump in the dark.

We got tickets and climbed into the first car. At 5 years old, I was about to learn an important lesson in life: Things aren’t always what they seem to be. Instead of a slow tour of a spooky fun house, we were clickety-clacking up a steep incline. We had just boarded the Cyclone, Coney Island’s famous wooden roller coaster.

The next few minutes fairly scared me out of my knee pants. This vivid childhood memory comes back often in my study of Christian Science. Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, explains in the textbook on Christian Science, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” that things are not always as they seem.

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Using the term “mortal mind” to refer to mistaken material assumptions, she writes, “Mortal mind sees what it believes as certainly as it believes what it sees” (p. 86). My child’s eyes believed what they saw, and saw what they believed. Because it was dark, and the Cyclone’s awesome superstructure was hidden behind a facade, I had assumed it was a different kind of ride entirely. In a similar way, don’t we often draw mistaken conclusions about everyday life, based on what our senses tell us? The Bible says that “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). But based on what we see in the news, we may naturally conclude that illness, fear, famine, and war are legitimate parts of that creation.

For me, that Cyclone ride has long stood as a metaphor for how we can be misled by the evidence the physical senses present. The Bible sets forth the challenge of exercising our spiritual perception: “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (Hebrews 11:3). This spiritual sense allows us to chart the true path to unseen spiritual reality. It’s a bit like Groucho Marx’s famous line: “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

The “still small voice” (I Kings 19:12) that comes to us from God speaks of the reality of things not seen, trumping what the physical picture would have us believe. Mrs. Eddy cautions: “Nothing we can say or believe regarding matter is immortal, for matter is temporal and is therefore a mortal phenomenon, a human concept, sometimes beautiful, always erroneous” (“Science and Health,” p. 277). It’s easy to buy into the notion that there are many different human minds, sometimes cooperating and sometimes disagreeing, each having a skewed notion of life or existence apart from God, the one Mind. But that chaotic picture resolves when we learn that human logic and its faulty conclusions are not truth-tellers. In the truth of being, every good thought, every kind act, every right thing, is God-derived. This truth is balanced, fruitful, and teachable, nullifying the notion that life, like a roller-coaster ride, is a series of frightful ups and downs.

A friend in an advertising agency told me that in the early days of television, an ad for a cake mix used thick black axle grease in place of chocolate icing. Real frosting melted under the hot klieg lights, but axle grease didn’t and looked delicious on screen. The ad was very successful – people really believed they were seeing delicious chocolate icing on a cake – and although it is a harmless example, it stands out to me as another reminder that we shouldn’t unquestioningly trust the evidence presented by the physical senses.

Prayer enables us to shut the “lying eyes” of mortal sense and, through spiritual understanding, open ourselves up wide to spiritual reality. As we do this, we’ll see discord melt away and catch clearer, truer glimpses of God’s creation. 

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