'But is it real?'

A Christian Science perspective: Things aren't always what they seem to be. Here's a lesson about reality from some swans in a pond.

Cherry blossoms were floating gently in the warm spring breeze as I sat in the park enjoying the day. In the distance, at the foot of a grassy hill, was a little pond, where a family of swans was swimming. What an idyllic scene!

The father, mother, and baby stayed close to one another. I wondered how the park had managed to get these swans to locate here and if they were native to the area. I began to conclude that swans must like Missouri in the springtime, that they form tight-knit families, and that they don’t like to swim out to the edge of their ponds for fear of predators.

Suddenly a gust of wind blew, and the swans all tilted sideways at a 45-degree angle. I started to laugh. They were plastic, anchored in the middle of the pond. Clearly all of my assumptions about swans were invalid; these weren’t even real.

This set me to thinking about some ideas I’d been studying in Christian Science that challenge some other basic assumptions – those based on the five physical senses. I’d been learning that just because the material senses testify to certain information, that doesn’t mean that the information is true. The question can always be asked, “But is this real?”

Mary Baker Eddy, the 19th-century metaphysician who discovered Christian Science, boldly challenged the information gathered by the physical senses and asked if it is really factual and true. What she described as a process of reason, revelation, and demonstration led her to determine that material theories about the makeup of the universe were not reliable bases for knowing reality and truth. She discovered that the physical senses provide a limited, personal view of things, which, in turn, produces the limitations of human experience. And she proved through healing all sorts of problems that challenging the appearance of the material senses – and turning instead to spiritual evidence from God – uncovers a different, unlimited view of existence.

During the time I was considering these ideas, my daughter called to ask me to pray with her. She’d left her purse on the back of a chair at a restaurant, and when she went back to get it, it was gone. The workers behind the counter said they hadn’t seen it, so she left her phone number in case the purse turned up.

I assured my daughter that I would pray with her about this. I told her about the swans. I said flatly, “We need to challenge the false assumptions here!” We reasoned together that the physical senses would say that since the universe is finite, and money is limited, so people feel tempted to steal. But this is not the spiritual and true view of the universe. The Bible says: “I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him” (Eccl. 3:14).

As we talked, it seemed clear to both of us that God is really holding and owning everything in the universe. Creation is complete, made up of His spiritual ideas. Nothing more can be added to God’s infinity and nothing can be taken away from it. So we concluded that the spiritual ideas of supply, identity, and abundance, which the purse represented, were not something that anyone could personally own, lack, or lose. We determined that this law of completeness can be felt by every son and daughter of God, and that no one can actually feel a desire to steal.

The next day someone from the restaurant called. One of the workers had turned in the purse. She told the manager that she’d taken it home, but then felt so uncomfortable about it that she brought the purse back. She wanted to be honest about the situation even if it cost her the job. The manager didn’t fire her, because she’d been honest. My daughter picked up her purse and was grateful that all the contents were intact. She was even more grateful for the lesson of seeing how effective it is to challenge limited material assumptions and instead to draw conclusions only from infinite Spirit.

The lesson of the swans has stayed with me. More and more I’m remembering to question all appearances of the physical senses. This is helping me draw accurate, healing conclusions in praying about small, everyday situations such as a missing purse, and larger situations such as sickness, accidents, financial problems, and world conflicts.

Even modest efforts to question the reality of limitation begin to roll back such restriction – not just for individuals, but for the whole world. The winds of Truth are blowing, revealing the difference between the real and unreal. We can dare to ask, “But is it real?”

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.