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SPIRITUALITY and the longevity frontier

From the March 5, 2007 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel


"Longevity is increasing and the power of sin diminishing, for the world feels the alterative effect of truth through every pore."

—Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 223


Browsing through the birthday card section of any greeting card shop gives a great mental snapshot of how most people think about aging. As time marches on, we celebrate, grimace, laugh, and complain about our age. People in their 30s look forward, and chatter about "the big 4-0." At 50 we rationalize that 60 must be "the new 40," since the people we once thought of as old are now beginning new careers, getting college degrees, and exploring other new frontiers in their 70s, 80s, and beyond.

Millions of us invest tons of time and money in anything promising to help us look younger, feel better, keep healthy—diets, exercises, cosmetics, clothes, drugs, surgery. But most of these efforts are focused on our physical body.

Others, however, Christian Scientists among them, are learning that a better longevity strategy is to shift our focus from "Stop the aging process!" to "Start discovering what real living is about!" Living is more than just physical—it's really a journey of spiritual exploration and enlightenment.

This shift in focus has a basis in Christ Jesus' counsel: "Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than rainment" (Luke 12:22, 23). I like to think of "take no thought for" as meaning "don't be so anxious about" your physicial needs. Jesus also promised, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10).

We all hold very deep thoughts about life that go to the core of our identity. How we define life—where it comes from, how it works, whether (and when) it ends, along with the inner workings of all existence—these are questions the world's greatest religious teachers and philosophers have debated, taught, and pondered. And they have a powerful influence, probably much more than we realize, on our everyday living—our health, our career progress, and our overall happiness. Our lives and bodies reflect our state of mind. And even though most of us probably aren't "world-class philosophers," still, we run our lives and make important decisions based on our (frequently utterly incorrect) views of what our life is and what governs it.

Do you believe the earth is flat, or that the sun orbits the earth? Of course not. As a society we're far beyond these outdated misconceptions about the earth. This leaves us free to sail the seas and explore our solar system. In our thoughts about life and spirituality, however, we may be a little slower about putting off certain equally mistaken concepts. This restricts our day-to-day living and longevity. Three areas of misconception, in particular, directly impact how we grow, develop, age, and live our lives.

BIRTH

Few question the view that life begins at a specific point in time and that our lives move forward from that moment along a biological timeline that's influenced by an assigned genetic code.

But consider this: To accept our birthday as our real beginning also requires us to accept (perhaps unwittingly) that we didn't exist before our birthday, and that we won't exist at some point (hopefully far, far off) in the future. Further, consider the implications, seldom questioned, that genetic codes define and outline our human life with more detail than architectural blueprints define a house. It's not such a happy thought when you consider that these genetic blueprints often include flaws, destining some of us with what appear to be an unsatisfying, unhealthy, and unpromising life and future.

The Bible's book of Genesis offers up two radically different points of view on the question of our birth and ancestry. Are we really made, as Genesis 2 asserts, from dust (or as the sciences have later indicated, from the uniting of sperm and egg)? Or are we actually, deep down, spiritual beings, as Genesis I records creation, and made "in our [Spirit's] image, after our likeness" (1:26)?

The fact is, you and I, and everyone, have existed forever. Throughout the chapter "Genesis" in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy explains that the Genesis I account actually presents the truth of creation as fundamentally spiritual. So, we've already existed as the spiritual son or daughter of God for as long as God has lived—for all eternity. We exist—more precisely, coexist—with God in eternal living and doing. Since to coexist means to exist together with God always rather than to "start," we'll never stop, or cease to be what God made us to be. And His/Her spiritual "blueprint" for us isn't flawed, but is more majestic than any "dream home" we might see featured on television shows.

We always have and always will live and express, in unique and individual ways, the blessings that originate in God, our real Father-Mother. He shines in each of us as the sun shines in individual rays of light. And since God can never die, neither can we. Never. Getting a better read on our "non-beginnings" helps us live longer, freer lives.

DEVELOPMENT AND GROWTH

Development and growth are good , right? But if we believe that we're essentially material, biological creatures, then it's also natural to think that our growth and development are, at their core, time-governed physical processes. From this perspective, growth and development also have a downside, since after matter grows, develops, and matures, it then starts heading downhill through aging and deterioration.

Let's reconsider how we "develop" or "grow" from a new, mental framework. As we begin, even a little, to "decouple" our own origin from our so-called birth date into matter, we can improve our concepts of progress, growth, and development. We can move away from seeing these stages of living as inherently material and chemical reactions, and start seeing them as a beautiful discovery of a more purposeful life. A life that doesn't have to eventually stagnate, or get dull, but instead becomes brighter and happier, more spontaneous and vibrant as we grow.

We'll always have the time and opportunity to accomplish our God-given purpose.

Spiritually speaking, we were never really lacking form or beautiful shape, never without purpose, productivity, or capacity. Compound spiritual ideas—which is what we really are, the divine Mind's creation—are always at a state of completeness, fully developed, fully mature, useful. We have always been fully endowed with talent, wisdom, skill, and mission. So, what appears to be a process of maturing or incremental progress over time is really the uncovering or revealing of what has always been our nature as God's individualized and complete sons and daughters.

DEATH

Cutting to the chase, are we going to die some day? Most people would think the question itself is totally absurd, and say, "Of course, we'll all die, but we'll live on differently, somewhere else." Others believe that there was nothing prior to birth, and so, nothing after death.

Jesus taught, and lived, another view of life and death. He said, "Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58). And he also said, "Whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die" (John 11:26). Rather than dodge the death question, Jesus allowed his own crucifixion in order to show everyone the practicality of understanding God as Life. This understanding enabled Jesus to resurrect himself and then, to ascend, or to rise "even higher in the understanding of Spirit, God" (Science and Health, p. 46).

Regardless of how young or old we are right now, if we believe that life is simply going to stop at some future point in time, this can negatively impact our current thinking and decision-making—more than we realize. It might subtly contribute to an attitude of dread and fear that can sour our disposition and slow our progress. Or it could contribute to feeling indifferent, apathetic, or hopeless—a "nothing matters, since it's all going to end" attitude. We might think, "Why make the effort to be good, or honest, or pure? I might as well break all the rules because the end result is the same."

It's really helpful to understand that death is not so much a final event as it is a fundamental challenge to life and identity, which we all face. And which each of us will ultimately and certainly overcome, as Jesus did. Just beginning today to admit, even if we don't see quite how, that death is not the final ending point of life helps us begin now to live fuller, longer, richer lives. This is good news! And it's good news whether you're 19 or 91. From this point of view, longevity is less of a senior citizen's "far-off" goal and more of a natural expectation for everyone, regardless of age. Longevity results from getting more accurate, spiritual views of birth, growth, and development, and death.

Seeing my own life and career from less of a time/age sequencing perspective helped me through a "midlife crisis" a few years ago. Based on my own assessments, I thought I should have achieved more, and much sooner, by a certain age and career stage. I felt maybe I'd "missed the boat," and it was an awful feeling that didn't go away quickly. If I had realized sooner that my feelings were based on mistaken views of how life really works, I think I could have spared myself a few years of angst.

Today, I have a surer sense of my forever, unending opportunity to do good, without the parameters or timeframes that say it's either too early or too late. It's a relief to know that life never begins or ends, and that we'll always have the time and opportunity to accomplish our God-given purpose.

"Life is eternal," Mary Baker Eddy wrote, and concluded, "We should find this out, and begin the demonstration thereof. Life and goodness are immortal. Let us then shape our views of existence into loveliness, freshness, and continuity, rather than into age and blight" (Science and Health, p. 246). The need—and we all can do this—is to shift our deeply held views of what life is all about.

By opening ourselves up today to thinking differently about our lives—even to the possibility that life is vastly more than a material or physical process, we can, step by step, live more productive, longer, more satisfying lives. Lives that are less and less limited by the "rules of aging." | ♦


Don Adams is a Christian Science practitioner in Houston, Texas, and serves as a Trustee of The Christian Science Publishing Society.

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