In this year of raucous politics in the United States, there is one thing that all sides seem to agree on—the need for prison reform (see “Congress’s big, bipartisan success that might be just beginning,” CSMonitor.com, October 20, 2015). Although this is cause for celebration, there is still much to be done to address the problem of high incarceration in the United States and a high rate of recidivism.
Thankfully, Christian Science offers every individual real, heartfelt reform now! In 19th-century New England, as prison reform was being introduced to the prison system, Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science and author of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, expressed an interest in bringing Christian Science to prison inmates. Mrs. Eddy once asked a worker in her household, Irving Tomlinson, to begin holding Christian Science services in the Concord, New Hampshire, county jail. Today, Christian Scientists continue this work, holding Christian Science services in prisons and county jails throughout the United States. In areas where there aren’t volunteers to serve, the Christian Science Quarterly Bible Lessons is being mailed to large numbers of inmates.
During one service in a prison, the reader had barely finished saying “Amen” after the benediction when one of the “regulars” stood up and with Science and Health in hand, encouraged all to read the book. “It will change your life. It has mine,” he said. It sure had! He had applied for parole several times and been denied. In the interim, however, he had become not just a diligent student of Christian Science, but also a member of The Mother Church, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston. Recently he was paroled after 17 years. This former inmate is a new man.
Christian Science is Christ Jesus’ Christianity, and it is having an effect on men and women who are waking to its realness and vitality. They are feeling and seeing the change within themselves and calling to their cellmates and others, “Come on, I have found the way; come with me to the Christian Science service.” As one chaplain told us, “You are the only group that is really growing—men inviting one another.” Lives are being transformed and reformed.
Mrs. Eddy reminds us: “Bear in mind always that Christianity is not alone a gift, but that it is a growth Christward; it is not a creed or dogma .… Christianity is the summons of divine Love for man to be Christlike—to emulate the words and the works of our great Master” (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 148). This is exactly what Christian Science is doing, breaking through the never-ending round of belief in original sin, which would keep man bound to materialism and evil—the chains that offer little hope of forgiveness or purpose.
Christian Science is Christ Jesus’ Christianity, and it is having an effect on men and women who are waking to its realness and vitality.
Jesus told us again and again that God is our Father and that He is a loving Father. Jesus said, “Call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9). Jesus wiped out the lie of being born into matter, limited by heredity, circumstance, or the past. Being born of God, Spirit, man must be Godlike—be like God. Isn’t this what the first chapter of Genesis tells us? It is the basis of Christianity. God, unlimited good, made man in His image and likeness, and the text declares that everything he made was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Not just a little bit good but very good, God being the only creator.
This understanding is the way to a fresh start, the new beginning men and women long for. It is a holy experience to see the light go on in the consciousness of individuals as they realize they have been accepting a lie not only about themselves, but also about God. The lie is the belief that God created man materially with the ability to sin; it is the story of Adam and Eve, beginning in chapter 2 of Genesis. But Jesus’ teachings demonstrate that the Adam-dream presented in Genesis cannot be the true account of creation. It is “the story of error,” as Mrs. Eddy says in a marginal heading on page 521 of Science and Health. Man is one with God, good, and, therefore, infinite possibilities lie before all of us.
The holy work taking place within prisons is proof that Truth can be written on every heart, and that goodness is natural to the man of God’s creating. One man wrote: “When I came here, I was an animal. Now I am just filled with God’s love. It’s like it was an identity theft. I was never that man, but God’s man.” This man’s life is being made new. There has been reconciliation with his wife after 16 years of no communication; he’s taking college courses; and family opposition to Christian Science has given way to “keep doing whatever it is you’re doing.” He is helping others within prison as well as a young relative on the outside.
So what about that “animal” and all of the sin and the crime that was done? The answer is that it was wiped away by Jesus’ Christianity. Jesus tells us to “repent” (see Matthew 4:17). This isn’t a call to some easy-breezy attempt to be renewed that would say, “I’m sorry,” and then go back to life as usual. Jesus’ repentance means to be willing to take another look. The Christ is telling us: “You have thought too long on the problem, and doing that won’t get you anywhere. Let’s take a look into Truth, spiritual reality. This truth is not found on the surface. Let’s dig deeper, empty those ‘old bottles’ of thought, turn in a new direction, and follow me—Christ. I am showing you your oneness with a loving Father; you are perfect just as your Father is perfect. Right here, right now, is life eternal. You don’t have to wait. Here on earth you can find yourself redeemed.”
It is right here, within the dawning understanding of divine Love and the kingdom of God, that men and women today within our prison system are finding forgiveness and release from sin.
Patricia C. Woodard
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