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Prayer that begins with God, not self

From the March 18, 2019 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

Perhaps, like me, you’ve noticed a trend in society—a strong focus on self (as in common terms and catchphrases such as “selfies,” “love yourself,” “treat yourself,” “I am the center of my universe”). This focus on self seems intended to help people feel better about themselves, but in reality I’ve found it lets people down. Ultimately, if taken to its extreme, it fosters self-centeredness, loneliness, and a lack of connection to others or something outside oneself, bringing a sense of longing, insecurity, doubt, and even hopelessness to people’s lives. 

This tendency to focus on self can creep into prayers, so that prayers always begin with “I.” For example, as a Christian Science practitioner, I have heard people who call and ask me to pray for them tell me things like, “I am struggling”; “I have been suffering for years”; “I keep praying”; “I know I am spiritual, good, and loved, but I am still struggling.” 

My heart goes out to these dear ones, but—did you notice? There is no God in this picture! These are prayers that begin with self and with a material picture of suffering, which then attempt to patch up that suffering with spiritual language, rather than simply beginning with God, Spirit, and reasoning out from that purely spiritual basis. A material approach to spirituality is echoed in what I once heard a keynote speaker tell an audience at a mental health conference: “Since we are material, pain, disease, accident, aging, deterioration, war, divorce, and death are all natural to us and inevitable; and that is our spiritual journey—to learn to live with that—so we have drugs to keep us going a little longer.”

That message, which reports an outlook accepted by so many, contains little or no understanding of God as the source of our being. It is the material view of man, which is essentially the story of Adam and Eve found in the second and third chapters of Genesis in the Bible; it describes man as material, having a mind of his own—separate from God and doomed to sin and suffer. But the Bible begins in the first chapter of Genesis with the account of creation that is just the opposite, saying that Spirit creates everything very good, and creates men and women in the divine image and likeness, spiritual not material. If we believe God created us as material beings, as is commonly believed, then we will have to accept suffering and loss as inevitable. But Christian Science reveals that since God, Spirit, is our real creator, we are really spiritual and good, and health and peace are natural to us as God’s image and likeness. 

It is helpful to clear up the distinction between matter and Spirit. Many think that people are a mixture of matter and Spirit, but in actuality matter and Spirit are opposites and can never mix together. Matter is that which appears to begin and end and to include both good and evil. Spirit is that which is eternal, infinite, and entirely good. Since God knows us as forever spiritual, not material, we can never lose the spiritual qualities God gives us eternally, including strength, wholeness, purity, clarity of thought. When we grasp this spiritual truth and open our thought to God, we see Spirit having a healing effect in our daily lives.

Yet some might ask, “Why does it sometimes seem difficult to prove and demonstrate this truth and be healed?” I’ve found that the way we understand the terms I and I am is a key to answering that question. Do we understand these terms to be about us as individual persons, or about God?

The term I am comes from the Bible, when God commands Moses to deliver His children, who are enslaved, out of bondage. Moses asks for God’s name, or nature, to be revealed so that he can identify God to the children of Israel. God replies to Moses, “I AM THAT I AM: … Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you” (Exodus 3:14). What a powerful message! God was declaring that the power of the universe is also the source of all being—the only source, or “I AM.”

Jesus often began his prayers by thanking God and recognizing God’s absolute power. 

Later, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, and when Christ Jesus was asked which is the greatest commandment in the law, he responded, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matthew 22:37). Jesus lived this commitment; he often began his prayers by thanking God and recognizing God’s absolute power, and then he demonstrated that power through healing sin, disease, and death. He said, “I can of mine own self do nothing” (John 5:30), and, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing” (John 6:63, New International Version). 

Many philosophies popular today, however, teach a very different approach; they tend to teach that the human sense of self or “I” is the source of good, rather than God. Believing that we individually are the source of good could mean that there are billions of conflicting versions of good, whereas God is one, including His entire creation. Spirit is the only real source of good, and Spirit is infinite. 

A study in the Glossary of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy of words such as God, Mind, I, and I am reveals that God is the great and only I am. There is only one God, so there can be only one I am. Any human thoughts suggesting that we have intelligence and power separate from God leave us believing things such as “I am lacking in intelligence; I am lacking in power; I am sick and suffering.” These are lies about your true identity as God’s reflection; they do not come from God but from the carnal mind, the imaginary opposite of the one divine Mind. Whenever we are praying about some difficulty and hear ourselves saying, “I am struggling; I am fearful; I am in pain,” we can always ask, “Is this God speaking? Would infinite good, divine Love, say this to me, or have me say this about myself?” And the answer is always, “No, never!”

Mrs. Eddy points out: “Every human thought must turn instinctively to the divine Mind as its sole centre and intelligence. Until this be done, man will never be found harmonious and immortal” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, pp. 307–308). Effective, healing prayer, as demonstrated by Christ Jesus, turns thought away from a material selfhood or a material “I,” and begins prayer instead with God. Science and Health explains, “The starting-point of divine Science is that God, Spirit, is All-in-all, and that there is no other might nor Mind,—that God is Love, and therefore He is divine Principle” (p. 275). This is effective prayer, because it recognizes, understands, and affirms God’s true nature and the real source of our life and health—divine Spirit, Mind, Life, Truth, Soul, Love, Principle. These are powerful synonyms for God that Mrs. Eddy gives in Science and Health, and praying with them helps us to understand and know God.

For example, in the face of negative thoughts about ourselves, we can respond by praying:

“Thank You, Father-Mother God! You are Spirit, the substance of all creation, unchanging, perfect, and harmonious in every detail and function, eternally. Therefore, my life and health are secure in You. I live and move and have my being in perfect Spirit. 

“Thank You, God! Since You are perfect Life—the same yesterday, today, and forever—and since there is no history of suffering in You, there is none in Your spiritual creation. I am the reflection of Life eternally; therefore, I cannot experience any deterioration, disease, or death. There is no malfunction in God’s creation, so harmonious action is forever natural to me.

God is my Life and the source of my movement, so I could never lose my God-given freedom. 

“Since there is only one God, who is infinite wisdom, there can be only one Mind. The one divine Mind is always present, always active, knowing and seeing only goodness, and I reflect that consciousness. You are the only Mind governing me, so it is natural for me to be conscious only of Your harmonious government.

“Thank You, God! Since You are Soul, the source of my identity, my identity is secure and satisfied, manifesting beauty, strength, and creativity.” 

We can pray in this way, affirming the truth of what God is, in order to recognize better what we really are—God’s spiritual reflection. This prayer is powerful and immediately effective. 

Mrs. Eddy explains, “To live so as to keep human consciousness in constant relation with the divine, the spiritual, and the eternal, is to individualize infinite power; and this is Christian Science” (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 160).

Once when I was struggling through a tumultuous relationship that had left me feeling cut off from God, I suddenly fell to the floor feeling as if my backbone had been dislocated. Although prayer initially brought immediate relief, the condition returned, and over a period of weeks continued to deteriorate, leaving me unable to move and in excruciating pain. At times the pain was so severe I felt I could not even pray. But then one day, I realized how mesmerized I had become by thoughts focusing on self and body rather than on God. I mentally affirmed, “God is the only Mind and cannot be mesmerized; therefore, I cannot be mesmerized or lulled into believing in a selfhood separate from God.” 

With that realization, the pain began to recede—but I saw that I could not stop there. I needed to know that Spirit is the source of my health, and therefore my strength, and that freedom had never been determined by anything material, such as muscles and bones, nor by disease or accident. I needed to truly know that God’s love meets every human need, so I could not lack peace or joy; that God is my Life and the source of my movement, so I could never lose my God-given freedom. 

I lifted my thoughts entirely to God, affirming what is true about Spirit as All-in-all. I thought about each of those seven synonyms for God and what it signified about God, and I affirmed that I had never been separated from God, but rather manifested the spiritual qualities of these synonyms every moment, without interruption. I continued praying in this way for about an hour, refusing to allow a material picture of self or body to enter my thought for even a second. While praying, I got out of bed and began cleaning my room, realizing later that I was completely and permanently healed. That was a few decades ago!

As God’s spiritual creation, we reflect God, Spirit, in wisdom, purity, health, holiness, and life eternal. We can learn to demonstrate our true nature as spiritual ideas of God—healing as Christ Jesus did, and letting our thoughts, words, and acts flow from a recognition of the allness and supremacy of God and from our unbreakable oneness with infinite good.

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