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Spiritual discipline—bringing joy, freedom, and healing

From the March 28, 2016 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel


When I was in college, the remarkable French mime, Marcel Marceau, came to our campus to speak. One statement he made has stuck with me all through the years. Explaining why he took a fencing and a dance lesson every day while he was on tour, he said, “Discipline is the key to freedom.” He considered this daily training vital.

I’ve found that this idea is helpful when applied to disciplining thought spiritually.

Sometimes we may shy away from discipline because we think of it as only hard work. Words such as drudgery and rigidity are often associated with discipline. But the words disciple and discipline are derived from the same Latin word, discipulus, and in my efforts to be a faithful disciple, I’ve found exercising discipline in my prayer to be essential.

I like to think of spiritual discipline as consistently yielding my thought to God. When that happens, one becomes more consciously aware of the divine, and the claims of mortality begin to fade. Yielding our thought to God opens the door to the presence of the Christ, through which we actually feel the spirit that brings inspiration and healing. This kind of holy discipline is a key element in healing because it helps us discern more regularly what is spiritually true about us, and what isn’t. Our thought becomes illumined with our true nature as a very much loved, protected, and whole child of a loving Father-Mother, God.

On the contrary, we can sometimes feel bombarded with reports of sickness, troubles in our communities and in the world. Friends or family may tell us of problems. And we may be challenged, as well, by our own difficulties. When these reports come to us, we have to decide how to respond. Do we understand God as divine Love, all-intelligent Mind, or do we believe that God is absent and that these reports are true?

Mary Baker Eddy gives this guidance in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: “Stand porter at the door of thought. Admitting only such conclusions as you wish realized in bodily results, you will control yourself harmoniously” (p. 392). This indicates that we don’t need to be discouraged or afraid, even temporarily. And we certainly don’t need to feel like victims of what comes to our thought. 

When we are willing to trust God instead of sinking into worry over reports of trouble, we get a totally different view of things. We realize that we do have a choice about how to respond, and that we can exercise the spiritual discipline to understandingly trust God instead of believing in evil. This is an effective form of prayer, and with it come the inspiration of Spirit and the expectation of sure, healing results.

This is not a willful activity of a limited human mind, but the divinely natural and immensely powerful effect of allowing “that Mind to be in us which was also in Christ Jesus” (Science and Health, p. 497), which is an attainable goal we should promise to keep. Such prayer is a conscious, continual turning with an honest heart to divine Mind to guide and govern our thinking. It is much more than just a mental exercise. It is a confident insisting that divine Love is an ever-present help and that nothing can deprive us of Love’s goodness and care. It is a conscious awareness of what is good and spiritually true, and this has a healing effect. We bear witness to Immanuel; we feel God with us.

Sometimes, when we are dealing with persistent discomfort or the impulse to do something we know is wrong, we might find ourselves unwittingly lulled into allowing the problem to continue unchallenged, instead of practicing a disciplined approach to prayer to bring about resolution.

We realize that we do have a choice about how to respond, and that we can exercise the spiritual discipline to understandingly trust God instead of believing in evil.

An experience I had is a good example of how such temptations can be overcome. A couple of years ago I had a bad fall, and found that I had persistent back pain. It wasn’t incapacitating, so I put up with it for weeks, occasionally and rather haphazardly thinking a few truths about it, but never seriously addressing it with prayer.

Finally I woke up to the fact that I was simply “managing” this condition. Instead of praying regularly and persistently, I was allowing myself just to “go along” with the problem. For example, I found myself thinking: “You’re still able to function with this, so what’s a little discomfort?” “I’m so busy and this isn’t a top priority, so I’ll pray about it later.” And this one, worst of all, “Maybe it will just get better in time.”

To practice Christian Science faithfully is not to put up with any error, anything not of God, however small. We can confront any claim that is ungodlike with the truth of our being—that we are God’s wonderful creation and as such have the gift of dominion over every claim that something can exist in God’s allness that is not good. 

As we read in Genesis, God gave man dominion “over every creeping thing” (1:26). I take this to include subtle, often unnoticed, material thinking. It’s the “creeping things”—the erroneous beliefs that creep into unguarded thought—that often most need our disciplined thinking.

In my case it was “creeping” thoughts that effectively paralyzed me into accepting the back injury as tolerable and therefore allowing it to remain unhealed. When I realized this, I could see that I needed to discipline my thoughts, rejecting the temptation just to “go along” with the condition and manage it, and instead to insist on my spiritual identity as God’s perfect creation.

I was helped by Mrs. Eddy’s statement: “Suffer no claim of sin or of sickness to grow upon the thought. Dismiss it with an abiding conviction that it is illegitimate, because you know that God is no more the author of sickness than He is of sin” (Science and Health, p. 390).

I armed myself with a single truth, which was something like this: “My substance is spiritual and therefore cannot be injured.” Every time I was aware of the pain, I immediately went to this truth. I exercised spiritual discipline instead of allowing random thoughts to dominate my thinking. I was faithful in applying this truth consistently, and within 24 hours, I was completely free of the pain that had dogged me for weeks. I was filled with joy, and my heart sang with gratitude for God’s love expressed as healing.

This was not the exercise of human will. It was the result of a deep and heartfelt desire to see and feel God’s presence manifest as freedom, not just from the pain but from any belief that divine Love was unable to govern my life harmoniously.

Freedom is our God-given right. When we yield any undisciplined thinking to Mind’s supreme control, we can experience healing, as I did.

A further blessing came from this experience. I learned that spiritual discipline is a way of praying consistently. In other words, even when we’re “on the run” and not in a quiet place, we can pray effectively. Perhaps this is in part what St. Paul meant when he said to “pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17).

While it is enormously important to take time regularly to go into “the closet of prayer” and quietly, earnestly open our hearts to seeing and hearing more of God’s presence, it is developing and practicing this spiritual discipline that will take us through our busy times with greater harmony. As the errors that confront us are consistently countered with healing truths, we will be blessing all with whom we come into contact. We will find that spiritual discipline really provides the key to healing and freedom.

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