I decided not to return to Sixth Church for my Wednesday night venture back into Christian Science. Frankly, with only twelve members, I didn’t want them getting their hopes up that I might actually join their church. Eighth Church is smack dab in one of my favorite Portland neighborhood (Aptly named: Hollywood. Where else would a girl like me want to hang out?)
Wednesday was a really bad, no good, terrible, awful day for me. The kind of day filled with so much self-flagellation that I could have schooled any member of Opus Dei on exactly how to get it done PROPERLY. You really don’t need a cat-o-nine tails at all! Just pure mental fortitude! I should teach a class! Or, you know, find a therapist.
Enter my sister, Audrey, 10 years my junior and pretty much my closest confidant. Any time I have a magnificently bad day? I call my baby sister, which is exactly what I did on Wednesday night. Joel had a drumming gig, so Audrey and her girlfriend, Sophie, tagged along with me to Eighth Church.
The Wednesday night service was held in the reading room, which felt like a carbon copy of our Grandmother’s living room. The same smell. The same pink walls. The same arm chairs upholstered in a bright flowery pattern. Even the pianist plunked the ivory-keyed upright with the same cheerful determination our grandmother had. I found myself coddled in the bosom of her kindness yet again.
The reader started, predictably, with her readings, this time prayers in support of the rescuers in Japan. To a close group of 14 (including the lesbians and myself), she read numerous passages from the Bible on how God “cleaned” and “cleansed” and thusly healed the sick. She then read passages from Science and Health.
Apparently fear and ignorance and SIN cause disease, which is nothing more than “an image of thought externalized.” Only silence and quiet can heal the sick because “mind omnipotence” has all power. “The remedy is truth, not matter. Sickness and sin are illusions.”
I felt like I was doing a pretty good job following along, when it suddenly turned weird. Because she finally brought up the subject I’d been mentally avoiding: CHILDREN.
According to Mary Baker Eddy, “The parents thoughts affect the child more than the child’s himself.”
As if parents everywhere aren’t freaked out enough about how badly they’re screwing up their children, let’s just go ahead and blame illnesses on them too. Was your kid born with an extra chromosome? Autistic? Asthmatic? Blind? Apparently you were just too fearful, ignorant and SINFUL, you terrible excuse for a procreator!
After the readings, there was a moment of silent prayer. I badly needed to cough throughout most of that silence, but I was too scared to do so for fear that the entire room would start praying for me. Then came the part of the night I was most looking forward to: the SHARING. Members were asked to share their healing stories, if they so felt compelled, and luckily for all of us, several members did.
The first sharer was an older woman who wanted to express her gratitude for a healing that had occurred when she’d injured her foot somewhat seriously while crushing cans for recycling. She badly wanted to attend a lecture on Saturday in Oregon City and she worried about not being able to go, so much so that she had difficulty falling asleep. So she got out of bed and spent three hours “denying the power of the false suggestions” and instead “claimed all the good that has been her heritage.” When she awoke the next morning, she could put both feet on the floor. She reported that she very much enjoyed the Saturday lecture.
It immediately struck me that this woman had never once said the word “God.” This was not faith healing the way most of us think of asking Jesus to heal us. Her testimony could have been spoken by a Buddhist. There was a noticeable abundance of silence between the testimonies. I actually watched the clock out of curiosity as to how long the meeting leader would wait before moving on to the final hymn. Let’s just say Christians Scientists not only HAVE a great deal patience, but they know how to practice it. (I’d venture to guess they hone it by sitting through Sunday services.)
The next member shared a story about how she had gratitude (secret word of the day!) for one orderly day. She had been trying to get a home ready for sale and had fought long and hard to get all the work done before realizing that God has a sense of order about how we live our lives. We just need to be better listeners.
The third testimony came from one of the younger members, a fifty-something grandmother whose freckled nose and shiny hair reminded me of my own mother. She’d made the mistake of overindulging in chocolate ice cream with her grandson on Saturday and by the time they got home, her stomach wasn’t so happy about it. But she was busy that day! She had sheets to change! Chores! So she just reminded herself that she didn’t “need to be impressed with mortal mind,” and dismissed it. By not giving her stomach the time, she ended up forgetting about it until bedtime, at which point her pain was gone anyway.
One of the last members to share talked about a conversation she’d had with one of her co-workers who was in the process of leaving a congregation because she couldn’t swallow the concept that there was only ONE truth. That only the members of that church’s sacred elite would be saved and that the rest of humanity was going to H-E-DOUBLE-HOCKEY-STICK. Her friend didn’t agree with this philosophy and felt compelled to leave her church.
[Can I get a HALLELUIAH?]
The speaker went on to say some Very Profound Things about Christian Science.
“The truth is the truth for EVERYONE, not just those in the church. You don’t have to understand it or buy into it for Christian Science to work on you. There is no ‘special circle’ because we’re ALL already in it. It’s just that practicing Christian Scientists can better see the beauty of the circle itself.”
Seriously, how stunning is THAT? We’re ALL included, whether we know it or not! Which also may explain why Christian Science is having such a hard time attracting members. Apparently we’re all members already! I wonder if they have a card I can put in my purse next to my NRA membership?
Audrey and Sophie (also members!) actually enjoyed the service, which surprised me, but they were listening just as carefully as I was. We pow-wowed afterwards and agreed that, Grandma Ardie aside, there is plenty good to be gleaned from Christian Science. Perhaps I found myself at Eighth Church that night because the universe wanted to bitch-slap me into putting down the mental whip I’d been beating myself with all day and get back to feeling grateful for the abundance of love in my life. Ya think?
Universe: 1, Manda: 0.
About halfway through the testimonies, I started tallying up “gratitudes” and I lost count somewhere around twenty. Yes, this is a dying religion that is quickly thanking its way into the grave and maybe that’s where it belongs. Maybe the next Mary Baker Eddy is out there already and will some day form a religion that takes all that goodness, gratitude and kindness and pours it into a belief system that is also compatible with the scientific method.
I sure as hell hope so.