SPRING OFTEN COMES late for those of us who live in the northeastern United States. Maybe that's why we appreciate it so much. I remember the actual sense of joy I felt as a younger person in Phoenix, Arizona, when I smelled the orange blossoms in the air in late March, or went out to see the desert cactus in bloom in April. And even farther back, when the snow began to melt at my college campus and I could smell the earth again, something stirred within.
Spring gives us that feeling of new beginnings—and most of us would admit that new beginnings are often needed. But the delights of spring aren't the only way to experience a fresh start. The American clergyman Samuel Longfellow wrote in a poem, which can be found in the Christian Science Hymnal, about the "Life that maketh all things new, / The blooming earth, the thoughts of men" (No. 218). I find that it's these "thoughts of men" that most often call for renewal.
In colonial America, the Puritan tradition in New England held that, to become a member of one's local church, a person had to provide some evidence of having a "new birth" experience—of having been changed by the hand of God, as it were. This tradition lasted well into the 19th century.
The Founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, knew this tradition well, and it was out of this experience that she could later write: "The new birth is not the work of a moment. ... Time may commence, but it cannot complete, the new birth: eternity does this; for progress is the law of infinity" (Miscellaneous Writings 1883—1896, p. 15).
The new birth to which Mary Baker Eddy was referring was not the recurrence of spring; nor was it a simple acceptance of religious belief or dogma. It was the revitalization that can occur in the life of any human being as he or she grasps something of spiritual reality—of an ever-present kingdom of God that we can experience at least partially here and now. So revolutionary can this new consciousness be, that it is often correctly described as being "born again." And, like the returning spring, it happens to most of us more than once.
The world in which our human experience takes place is always before us. So it's only natural that we need to withdraw at times from this limited material picture of reality if we are to become more aware of the spiritual reality that actually sustains us. The time we take for prayer, study, and meditation needs to be sufficient to keep God uppermost in thought. To the degree that we do this, our life experience becomes like the returning spring—only it can happen any day.
THE TIME WE TAKE FOR PRAYER, STUDY, AND MEDITATION NEEDS TO BE SUFFICIENT TO KEEP GOD UPPERMOST IN THOUGHT.
A severe illness several years ago briefly made me feel very frightened. When I turned wholeheartedly to God for help, supported by the prayers of a Christian Science practitioner, I grasped in a small way the presence of God, operating through His spiritual laws. You could say, in religious terms, that I glimpsed the Christ—the perfect man that Jesus presented through his own life—as my own individuality. And even before a complete physical healing took place, I had the spring-like feeling of being born again, of accepting what belonged to me as an individual child of God.
Longfellow's poem speaks of "the freer step, the fuller breath, / The wide horizon's grander view" that come from living with the thought that there exists a wider universe than the one we experience in both time and space through the five material senses. Science and Health expands on this state of thought: "This scientific sense of being, forsaking matter for Spirit, by no means suggests man's absorption into Deity and the loss of his identity, but confers upon man enlarged individuality, a wider sphere of thought and action, a more expansive love, a higher and more permanent peace" (p. 265).
Each event that awakens this spirituality within gives us the same feeling of freshness that comes with nature's awakening in springtime. And like the returning spring, it is a "new birth" that can come to us not only once, but many times!
Richard Nenneman is a former editor-in-chief of The Christian Science Monitor.