I lay in the dark with a headache, praying to know that it wasn't real. My mother told me I was God's perfect child, made in His likeness. I was His reflection, she said, like an image in a mirror. I couldn't have a headache because God couldn't have a headache. I fell asleep, and the headache lifted. I was three.

"So you don't go to doctors?" Now I was in third grade, and I had just revealed to my friend's mom that I was a Christian Scientist. She quizzed me about the church, healing, what I did when I had a cold (we prayed, I didn't take medicine), whether I was vaccinated (yes--my father was not a Christian Scientist, and he insisted). Then she told me about kids who died because their parents hadn't taken them to the doctor. As she spoke, I remember feeling more uncomfortable than upset. But I never had an after-school date with little Emily again. And I learned not to talk about my religion to the 99 percent of my friends who didn't practice it.

Spiritual healing has long been part of my family on my mother's side. It was normal for my mother and grandmother, who had continued the family drift away from Judaism, to talk about illness as error, an illusion, to "un-see" anything negative because God could never have made it. My mother followed my grandmother into Christian Science, the religion founded in 1879 by Mary Baker Eddy, a New England woman who was healed of a serious injury by studying the way Jesus healed--seeing the allness of God and the nothingness of evil.

We had sayings like, "There is no spot where God is not." And acronyms like "FEAR--false evidence appearing real." Our shorthand phrase, "Know the truth," referred to the truth of being, the fact that matter was unreal and only Spirit was real. This was hard metaphysical stuff for a child to grasp. I had to deny the evidence of my five material senses. Failure to heal was attributed to our own lack of spiritual understanding. But mostly we were happy, feeling an almost magical sense of protection from illness. There was a comforting logic to it--what wasn't real couldn't hurt you.

Although the church does not directly prohibit anyone from getting medical help, in reality there's a good deal of social pressure not to seek it. If you're under a doctor's care, you can't visit a Christian Science practitioner or hold church office, and you feel guilty even sitting in church or doing the weekly lesson readings. You're not radically relying on God, and it's your own fault that you're not being healed. As Mrs. Eddy writes, "If patients fail to experience the healing power of Christian Science, and think they can be benefited by certain ordinary physical methods of medical treatment, then the Mind-physician should give up such cases, and leave invalids free to resort to whatever other systems they fancy will afford relief." (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures page 443). Emphasis on "think" and "fancy."

For years, we had many healings in my family. And sometimes we didn't.

My grandmother died of breast cancer in 1968. She was only 62. Years later, at age 67, my mother developed lymphoma. When the tumor grew noticeable, my father insisted that she go to a doctor, who told her unequivocally, "This is fatal if not treated." Fearing to go through what my grandmother did, she was treated medically. She didn't die. But her guilt at becoming ill in the first place (through the sin of "false belief"), and then resorting to medicine for healing, brought on a serious depression and panic disorder. It was an agitated kind of depression that raged for five years, wreaking as much havoc in her life--and ours--as the cancer. The depression abated for 12 years, then returned full force following another bout with cancer this year.

My mom has tried desperately to get her faith back. At times she will renounce medicine, then obsessively worry about minor symptoms and go to the doctor. She will take half-doses of antidepressants and then read her Bible. She will call her Christian Science practitioner many times a day, but the words offered by this saintly woman don't sink in. Swinging back and forth between medicine and spiritual healing, never feeling confident in either, she has become undone by guilt. Constantly denying and "un-seeing" material conditions are too great a strain on her mind.

This story doesn't have a happy ending. But for me, it does have a big lesson. I've learned that having to choose "either/or" cuts us off from the manifold blessings of God. I believe that God created many kinds of healers--physicians, nurses, medical researchers, massage therapists, nutritionists, acupuncturists, and psychotherapists, as well as spiritual healers. Why reject medicine as part of healing?  It struck me as inconsistent that, according to Christian Science, we were allowed to accept all the scientific advances of the 21st century except in the field of medicine. Because Jesus was evolved enough to heal without drugs? Jesus also said that the lilies of the field don't toil or spin. Yet we still work and wear clothing. We continue to eat food to nourish our bodies.

When I was confronted with my own challenge of uterine cancer 10 years ago, I went to the doctor and had a hysterectomy. To me, the miracle was that it was diagnosed at an early stage. I prayed to see myself as God's precious child, completely healed and perfect. But that wasn't going to stop me from also seeing my surgeon as God's perfect child, wholly capable, with God guiding his hands.

I believe in spiritual healing, and sometimes I can get to a deep place within, that place that I first located as a child when I had a headache. I get there by closing my eyes and picturing myself diving down, down into a vast ocean beneath the pain, and just resting there in God's arms. I call it "my place of healing." But if I can't get there, I don't feel guilty about reaching for an aspirin.

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