As I was sitting on a small blanket under the shade of a eucalyptus tree in Guatemala and staring at the ancient Mayan temple called Tikal, one thing became quite clear to me. Worship of a Supreme Being is deeply etched into humanity’s nature. Though it has taken so many forms down through the ages, this innate inclination is an irrefutable fact. As a theme, it goes beyond a single man or woman paying homage to a deity. Generally, it involves others, and often includes a dedicated structure.
For me, this worship of God is Church – which has come to mean more to me as I have utilized it. I’ve come to see that Church is not just something I do or attend; it is something that takes place in me and in others, as grace allows. It is not only a place; it is an inclination, a mental place where God is center and circumference – is All, including all.
Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Church of Christ, Scientist, wrote in her main work, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” that “Jesus established his church and maintained his mission on a spiritual foundation of Christ-healing” (p. 136) According to this description, Church is the activity of healing. It includes all the transformation, restoration, and freshness that occurs in healing. And in fact, in a glossary of terms in the book she defines “Church” more explicitly as “the structure of Truth and Love; whatever rests upon and proceeds from divine Principle.
“The Church is that institution, which affords proof of its utility and is found elevating the race, rousing the dormant understanding from material beliefs to the apprehension of spiritual ideas and the demonstration of divine Science, thereby casting out devils, or error, and healing the sick” (Science and Health, p. 583).
This definition first describes the spiritual idea of Church, and then unpacks the effect of this idea – what it does for you and me.
This healing Church became real to me early one Thanksgiving morning, after a heavy snowstorm had moved in overnight. I was to participate in the annual Thanksgiving service at our Christian Science church that morning, and received a call from another church member asking for my vote on whether to cancel the service because of the weather. After voting, I felt so clear that the activity of Church could never be cancelled, since healing is the action of God’s unstoppable love.
We did have the service, and although it was not a large congregation, several people who came said they experienced healing during that hour as the snow gently tapered off. A houseguest of ours, who normally didn’t attend church, came with us and later shared that he felt healed of grief during church of the loss of his brother from a recent accident. Another one who was attending had returned to church that morning after a 26-year hiatus, and soon joined the church. Someone else later reported that a healing of alcoholism occurred at that service.
How did this happen? Surely these people would have found healing without that church service. And yet, prayerful thought converging contains the almightiness of God. Love, the divine Love that God is, is all-power. The New Testament book of James says: “Pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (5:16). The love that cherishes healing sets aside self-interest to support it, expects it, and rejoices in it, naturally recognizes it when it happens. Christ Jesus healed individuals, which astonished them. And he healed multitudes that followed him.
There is power present when we are alone with God; there is spiritual momentum when we pray together. Both are valuable. My son observed this one summer when he was about 12 years old, after he’d spent a week with a young married couple. At some point after his return, I asked him if they had taken him to Sunday School while he was there. He started out, “No, they do something sort of cool. They drive up into the mountains and have church on their own.” Then he got quiet, and I could almost hear him thinking. He then added, “I guess that doesn’t help anyone else, though, right?”
Church is a powerful idea because it is God’s idea. It lifts everyone. In a message Mrs. Eddy wrote to members of her Church in 1901, she described “godliness” as a human necessity (see “Message to The Mother Church for 1901,” p. 34). And there is no better spot to recognize our godliness and others’ than within God’s structure of Truth and Love, wherever we are – including church.
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