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Of 'joints and marrow'

From the September 3, 2012 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

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“Take my feet, and let them be / Swift and beautiful for Thee.” (Frances R. Havergal [adapted], Christian Science Hymnal, No. 324)

“Let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

These are two of my all-time favorite verses. Cherishing them, and many other inspired quotations from the Holy Bible, writings by Mary Baker Eddy, and the Christian Science Hymnal, I’ve enjoyed decades of long-distance running, participating in cross-country and track in college and recreational running in the years since. The mental discipline, patience, courage, and willingness—and the joy—this activity requires have opened the door to countless moments of spiritual inspiration, quiet hours with the Father, and a better understanding of my relationship to my Creator.

Conventional medical expertise, however, predicts that the body must ultimately break down under the stress of running, showing deterioration particularly in the joints. As a result, many friends and acquaintances who know about my running have inquired, “Haven’t you had problems with your knees?”

Running
© ROZ WOODWARD/PHOTODISC/THINKSTOCK

Actually, knees seem to be in the news quite a lot lately. The Associated Press ran an article earlier this year about the epidemic of knee injuries in young athletes (see “South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore learns from injured knee,” April 16, 2012). Injuries and deterioration of joints, along with knee replacements, are also said to be prevalent in older adults.

Instead of blindly accepting these negative predictions, I like to take a more spiritual view, from which joints symbolize the coincidence or coordination of productive ideas for the purpose of progress. And isn’t progress what we all want for ourselves and our fellow man? The Bible says that the word of God “is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow” (Hebrews 4:12). And Mrs. Eddy, who discovered the Science of Christ-healing, wrote, “There should be painless progress, attended by life and peace instead of discord and death” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 224).

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to pray about a painful knee injury resulting from a fall while hiking, and the ensuing spiritual lessons learned in God’s “classroom” have established a new foundation for athletic activity in my experience. After I had enjoyed so many years of running, the apparently debilitating injury presented quite a challenge, and discouragement became a constant temptation. However, I knew from a lifetime of healings through depending on God, that Christian Science treatment and prayer would enable me to regain my freedom. For over a year, in the ensuing moments, hours, weeks, and months, I discovered much about how my Maker forms and maintains everything about me. And as I claimed my God-given authority and dominion, the weakness and pain disappeared.

Some days during this time, I could take only 10 or 20 steps before the pain seemed insurmountable, but I knew it was essential to be humbly grateful for each step (rather than feeling disappointed pride when remembering past accomplishments), because every forward stride was a glorification of God, and showed forth Spirit’s gift of strength and authority “over all the earth” (Genesis 1:26). The requirement was to demonstrate God’s government, and to do it humbly and joyfully. Mrs. Eddy tells us that humility “triumphs over the flesh; it is the genius of Christian Science” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 356). Embracing humility and gratitude played a central role in this healing.

Often, I pictured Christ Jesus coming “in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14), and I prayed to follow his example, to be animated by Spirit and to be “moved with compassion” (Matthew 9:36). The children of God manifest His presence, power, and movement forever, not for a limited period of time. In other words, by following Christ Jesus’ example, we learn to see ourselves as the manifest presence of God. We also begin to cast out the temptation to identify ourselves as limited, aging, injured mortals. Planned obsolescence is not part of God’s design. Man’s being is not a dead-end proposition. Christ Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Surely freedom of movement is included in this abundant life which Christ Jesus so beautifully embodied.

One day, as I intermittently ran and walked on a new road close to our home, the sound of a toddler throwing a temper tantrum drifted across the field. The father’s voice, pleading with his young one to get up and come home peacefully, mingled with the child’s screams. Sympathy for the father was the first thought that came, but the second thought made me laugh. I addressed my complaining body this way: “Body, you are just like that child. But no matter how much of a fit you throw, you are still not in control of my life and freedom, and I’m going to stop paying so much attention to your protests. Your complaints are no more justified than that screaming toddler!”

Productive, progressive ideas work together for good, and could never injure
one another.

Mrs. Eddy writes that body is “conscious thought” and identifies the collectively mistaken thoughts of mankind as “mortal mind” (Science and Health, p. 400). She also asserts, “The body is the substratum of mortal mind, and this so-called mind must finally yield to the mandate of immortal Mind” (Science and Health, p. 371). Being able to laugh at the complaints of mortal mind (“I hurt!” “I’ve been injured!” “I’m NOT happy!” “Pay attention to me or I’ll make you suffer!”) opened my thought to what Mind, God, was declaring about my condition: “I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine” (Isaiah 43:1, New American Standard Bible). The rest of the run was filled with good humor and a lighter, stronger step.

Rather than buying into the false prophecy that joints become rigid, painful, or weak over time, I prayed to see joints as they are described in the Bible, as part of the body of Christ: “From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:16). Productive, progressive ideas work together for good, and could never injure one another. Learning to humbly bend and flex alleviates stubborn will and opens new opportunities for spiritual progress. Grace, humility, balance, gratitude, and receptivity loosen and dispel those character traits that would claim to make us “set in our ways.” Brotherly love—not cartilage—is the cushion that maintains this working relationship, and divine Love does not crack under pressure, diminish, or disappear, no matter what medical theory suggests.

I remember the first time I was able to go on my “normal” two-and-a-half-mile run around the college campus near our home, more than a year ago. That was a joy! And I was soon able to start running without pain on a treadmill. Being able to run up and down the long stairs in our area was a delightful discovery, too. In fact, we recently had to participate in two practice fire evacuations involving 28 flights of stairs—and doing so was not a problem.

The most gratifying thing about this experience was not so much regaining the physical freedom to play touch football with my family, run with joy, and even run up and down stairs, although those are cause for rejoicing. It was the inspiration that came in periods of struggle, deep study with our pastor (the Bible and Science and Health), and moments of quiet listening, all of which have so greatly blessed my life.

Recently, after enjoying an hour run, I realized with great gratitude how complete this healing has been. Does this mean that mortal mind, or the body, has never complained in other ways since? No. But it does mean that the tantrums of physical sensation have become less impressive and intimidating, and are more quickly silenced through God’s authority. As I overcome limitations, I can once again rejoice in the words of a favorite hymn:

I climb, with joy, the heights of Mind,
   To soar o’er time and space;
I yet shall know as I am known
   And see Thee face to face.
Till time and space and fear are naught
   My quest shall never cease,
Thy presence ever goes with me
   And Thou dost give me peace. 

(Violet Hay, Christian Science Hymnal, No. 136)

Melanie Ball is a Christian Science practitioner. She lives in Manila, Philippines.

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