I COULD HAVE BEEN AN ADVERTISEMENT for the wisdom of getting a flu shot. I was coughing and sneezing, felt terrible, and only wanted it to end. But I had no backup at my job, and I had to be at work. It had been a horrible day, and I was working late to do the next day's assignment so that if I couldn't get to the office, at least everything would be done.
My misery was interrupted by a voice that called from the corridor, "Is anybody there?" I made an inarticulate sound, and the person came into my little office.
"You must have heard my cough," I said.
"No, I heard a presence," the woman said kindly, but firmly.
I knew she worked in my department, but I didn't know who she was because I was a new employee and it was a huge department. We talked briefly, and then she left.
But the words "I heard a presence" stuck with me. "A presence?" Why was that word so important? I stopped working and prayed for illumination.
Like the sun rising, the thought came that sickness often seems like a presence that moves into one's being unbidden and certainly unwanted. As it moves in, all the normal feelings of peace, harmony, well-being, joy, and even love seem to be driven out. And one feels helpless to do anything about it. But there was something in this mental sunrise that quelled the feeling of helplessness. With it came a conviction that sickness was a kind of false presence — a home invader, not the real owner. And that the thing to do was to affirm that the false presence had no place in my mental home, that there was one presence in my life — namely, the presence of the all-loving and all-good God. And that nothing could ever separate me from God.
I had been praying along these lines for some time when I realized that the coughing, sneezing, feeling-horribleness had all gone. In short, by becoming conscious of my inseparable relationship to God and of His unchanging goodness, I had been instantly healed. Not only was I well, I happily came to work the next day, full of my usual energy.
What happened to me wasn't magical. It didn't involve special spiritual or mental prowess. It was the result of a Science, the Christ Science that Mary Baker Eddy discovered over 100 years ago. Many people have been healed of contagious diseases — even during frightening epidemics such as the 1918 influenza outbreak that circled the world — as a result of their reliance on her discovery. And an important part of that discovery is its ability to help people understand the transforming ability of spirituality to heal mind and body, through understanding one's relation to God.
KNOW WHO YOU ARE
In his book about the 1918 flu pandemic, John M. Barry makes this comment: "The key to the immune system is its ability to distinguish what belongs to the body, 'self,' from what does not belong, 'nonself'" (p. 107). Although Barry is talking about biology, his comments point toward a higher truth.
I experienced that higher truth on the night I was healed, when I perceived that the disease symptoms were "nonself." But this perception has two sides. Just as one must understand what is "nonself," one must also know what is "self." This self-knowledge shapes one's thinking and experiences in a very direct way.
Many things argue that one's self is an organic body that may operate well most of the time but is vulnerable to disease or allergies or injury. But Mary Baker Eddy's discovery — which is based on a close study of the Bible and Jesus' healing work in particular — presents the link between health and an understanding of one's spiritual nature.
As the creation of Spirit, each of us is made up of spiritual qualities such as goodness, joy, love, truth, peace, purity. These good qualities are endless. When we accept illness, these qualities may seem temporarily dimmed or even — as in my case — inaccessible. This is never true, even when it seems so. In reality, the false presence, known as sickness or any other discord, absolutely has no place in our thoughts — and therefore in our bodies or our lives. Because we are spiritual, it has nothing to latch on to. The only reason it seems to do so is that we mentally consent to disease either through being taken in by the consensus that the arrival of winter brings colds and flu or through observing sickness and expecting that we, too, will get sick.
REFUSE CONSENT TO DISEASE
The best defense is to be alert to strike at the first sniffle or the first fearful thought — "there were so many people coughing and sneezing at that party" — with a full rejection. It might go something like this: There is no disease, and it cannot touch me or anyone else because we are all spiritual, all under an all-loving God's care.
A key step in preventing disease is one described in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy's textbook on healing: "Stand porter at the door of thought. Admitting only such conclusions as you wish realized in bodily results, you will control yourself harmoniously. ... The issues of pain or pleasure must come through mind, and like a watchman forsaking his post, we admit the intruding belief, forgetting that through divine help we can forbid this entrance" (pp. 392-393).
THE REAL CULPRIT: FEAR
One thing that makes a watchman (or -woman) forsake an assigned post is fear. In an atmosphere of fear, it may be hard to refuse consent to disease, even though this is what most needs to be done. Science and Health makes clear that fear is the essence of disease, a kind of involuntary consent to the view of oneself as vulnerable and separated from God, one's true protector. Sometimes the fear is directly related to a disease threat such as reports of flu at one's child's school. Other times, anxiety about a situation with the family, at work, at church, for example, argues that God isn't taking care of one's finances or some other need. This mental influence can impinge on one's inner feelings of peace, which in turn affects the body. If the process goes on, the "dis-ease" could lead to sickness of some kind. But it doesn't have to go on.
The way to stop it and so to eliminate the fear has two aspects. The first is to stop listening to fear's voice. You may be thinking, "Easier said than done." Sometimes that's true. But that doesn't mean one shouldn't do it. The key thing is to remember that fear or sickness in any form is only a false or illusory presence. It's like a cloud of mist that hovers over one — and in fact, one of the early theories of disease was called "miasma," which is defined as "an unwholesome or befogging atmosphere."
This theory proposed that disease was caused by a kind of mist or atmosphere that rose up from the marshes or decomposing substances and would poison and infect the air. But whether feelings of sickness seem to arise from the mental atmosphere or from exposure to people who are ill, the Science of Christianity assures us that these feelings are still only an illusion. They cannot come between you and your perfect relationship to divine Love, the source of all health and goodness. As divine Love becomes more real and substantial through daily prayer and living of its goodness, you will find that you are less vulnerable to disease because you understand better who you are. Then, if flu or some other sickness is permeating the headlines or keeping people out of offices and schools, you'll be better able to recognize the interloper and keep it out.
IT'S NEVER TOO LATE
But what if you are already ill? Divine help is still present. The Psalmist put it this way: "What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee. . . . in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me" (Ps. 56:3, 4). Jesus raised this to an even higher level by restoring people to health without their needing a recuperation period. In effect, the withered hand, the crippled foot, the feverish, diseased, or leprous condition simply vanished—and the healthy state was restored.
According to the Science of Jesus' teaching, to get a similar result it is important to reject the symptoms of disease as no part of you, because you are the spiritual child, or idea, of God. And because you are spiritual and under the care of an omnipotent God, you cannot harbor disease. Even if sickness seems to be present, its foundation rests on a mistaken view of yourself as material and vulnerable and of God as absent. This foundation, not your health, is what is vulnerable. A firm conviction that there is one Presence, divine Love, is enough to prevent and defeat disease and the fear of it.
Mary Baker Eddy was fearless in her treatment of disease, but she didn't take it lightly. Smallpox, cholera, tuberculosis, and other contagious diseases were very much a part of the world in which she lived. Even so, her study of Jesus' ministry convinced her that health is one's natural state and that God-maintained health is possible for everyone. In one article she wrote on the subject of contagion, she proposed that health, rather than sickness, was transmittable, based on the mental nature of all existence. Speaking of people's concerns about contagious diseases, she wrote: "If he believed as sincerely that health is catching when exposed to contact with healthy people, he would catch their state of feeling quite as surely and with better effect than he does the sick man's.
"If only the people would believe that good is more contagious than evil, since God is omnipresence, how much more certain would be the doctor's success, and the clergyman's conversion of sinners" (Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896, p. 229).
Health as contagious as disease? Good as more contagious than evil? These may be startling thoughts. But as more and more people understand the mental effects of disease, it becomes easier to understand why it is useful to pray from the standpoint that health, rather than sickness, is natural, normal, and available to all.
Does it work? The experience I described at the beginning of this article took place more than 25 years ago. It led to improved health and a major change in the way I thought about disease. Since then, I've never had a flu shot and have rarely had to deal with flu. As my understanding of these concepts has grown, I've become much less fearful of contagious disease. Does it take mental and spiritual discipline? Yes, it does (as I learned during those times when I had flu). But if you consider the alternatives, as I did, you may conclude that it's well worth the effort.
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