A new year and God-directed progress
At the start of a new year, the promise of a fresh start is palpable. New goals and resolutions for an improved lifestyle take on a renewed impetus. The start of a new year seems to unite us in a common sentiment: the hope of progress.
All too often though, that sense of hopefulness and expectation seems to fade as weeks pass. Resolutions fall by the wayside, and new challenges threaten to erode the tenacity of our hope. When we approach progress as a constant to-do list of self-betterment, gradually checking off things over a course of time, it can start to feel burdensome—even impossible.
This model of progress is akin to being tasked with turning on every single light in a huge mansion. Just when you thought you’d turned all the lights on, you’d likely notice a dark corner here and there or a burned-out bulb. What initially seemed like progress would soon feel like a discouraging task.
Recently, I’ve started to think more deeply about progress in a new way—spiritually. When studying the Christian Science textbook, yearning for progress in several areas of my life, I was struck by this passage: “ ‘Let there be light,’ is the perpetual demand of Truth and Love, changing chaos into order and discord into the music of the spheres” (Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 255 ).
To ascertain our progress, we must learn where our affections are placed and whom we acknowledge and obey as God. If divine Love is becoming nearer, dearer, and more real to us, matter is then submitting to Spirit.
—Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 239
In the first chapter of Genesis, referenced in the citation above, God creates heaven and the earth, commanding that there be light—and there is. There is immediate order, inspiration, and light as the basis of reality. The specificity and detail of creation continue, not through material development, but as God’s own creative expression. The final proclamation is that creation is good—and God rests and is satisfied in the completeness of creation. As I read those words and studied the Bible, a couple of things stood out to me as crucial to my spiritual understanding of progress.
First, God is not a super-human, playing chess with creation, but all-present and all-powerful Spirit. Each and every aspect of creation is brought forth and governed at God’s command and is spiritual. Man is made in the image and likeness of God. As expressed in Christian Science, man is the spiritual reflection of God (man being the generic term for both men and women). This means that just as the reflection in a mirror is not self-acting but reflects the activity of its source, man is not the actor, but reflects the activity and being of God, Spirit. As such, I began to understand that progress is not the result of human effort, but of divine revelation.
It also stood out to me that progress is not dictated by time. While the Bible references specific days (i.e., on the first day, on the second day, and so on), it seems to me that these refer to the order of God’s creation, or revelation, rather than to time. After all, how could God, who is infinite Spirit, be confined by mortal measurements?
What is commonly understood as progress, however, is based on the material account of creation found in the second chapter of Genesis and in subsequent chapters. Here, man is created from the dust and is mortal, and woman is created as subservient to man. When these mortals fall prey to temptation, mortal man is excluded from the perfection of the garden of Eden, and instead cursed to till the soil, and also, pain is experienced by woman in procreation. Our familiar human sense of progress sounds strikingly similar to this initial curse on man—man as a flawed mortal, laboriously seeking out self-improvement in the hope of finding an illusory state of perfection.
We are set free from this endless, fruitless cycle, however, when we realize, as Christian Science teaches, that this account of creation is a myth. After all, why would God declare creation good, and rest, satisfied with His spiritual creation, and then go on to recreate everything materially? Instead, this second chapter of Genesis opens up an allegory about the nature of evil, illustrating that when we start reasoning from a mistaken understanding of God and man, we get off track in our conclusions.
A spiritual understanding of progress redefined how I evaluated things in my own life.
When we realize that our nature, our identity, is God’s spiritual creation, we are aligned with divine progress—we see ourselves not as flawed mortals seeking perfection, but as already complete ideas reflecting the fullness and glory of God. With this spiritual understanding, we begin to see evidence of true progress in our lives.
This spiritual understanding of progress redefined how I evaluated things in my own life. Rather than taking stock of how my body was feeling on any given day, how fast challenges were abating, and how quickly work tasks were being completed, I found myself more frequently asking: “What is God doing? What does God’s perpetual progressive unfoldment of completeness look like, and where do I fit in with that?” It helped me shift my assessment of progress from “How am I doing?” to “Am I feeling the power and presence of God in my consciousness right now?”
Christ Jesus’ healing ministry offers countless illustrations of immediate, complete spiritual progress. He had an unfaltering understanding and love of man’s spiritual nature, not needing to be fixed or improved, but already whole. When he healed the man with the withered hand, he didn’t deal with atrophied muscles and an inability to function in order to restore the hand’s normal appearance. He commanded the man to stretch forth his hand, and it was shown to be whole “like as the other,” and was completely healed (see Matthew 12:10–13 ).
This power of the Christ, of the true understanding of man’s present perfection, applied to everyday life, wasn’t unique to Christ Jesus. As his disciples followed Jesus’ example, they, too, were able to demonstrate this spiritual sense of progress that is unconfined by time, and this resulted in instantaneous healing.
It has become important to ask myself, “Am I on a fix-it mission, praying to improve a flawed mortal?”
Peter and John healed the lame man who asked them for money, and he departed “leaping, and praising God” (see Acts 3:1–8 ). To the extent that each one of us understands the spiritual nature of man, as illustrated by Christ Jesus and the disciples, we are aligning ourselves with the same power of divine progress, and we can experience immediate healing benefits as well.
I’ve seen a simple, yet significant, transformation in my own life as a result of understanding more clearly a spiritual sense of progress. I’ve started to realize that in every moment “Let there be light” is the law that governs my life and my prayers. Where my prayers had a tendency to become lengthy, complex arguments of truth, I more readily expect that the answer to my prayers can be as immediate and whole as the divine command “Let there be light.”
To the extent that I’m not feeling progress at any given moment, the solution typically isn’t for me to do more, but to acknowledge God more, to clarify my concept of myself as His spiritual idea. I’ve begun to understand more clearly that “Let there be light” isn’t a chore. It is a universal, instantaneous statement; a whole, complete demonstration of “Let there be light” that includes and embraces all.
As we grow in spiritual understanding and humility, insight and inspiration can become as straightforward as flipping a light switch—and with the same incredible power to enlighten consciousness and heal. In more than one instance, I have found that as soon as a need for healing arises in my life or in the life of those asking me for healing prayer, an idea can immediately come to thought that is perfectly suited to the need at hand, bringing rapid healing.
While I can’t say that I have mastered this, it has become an important touch point in my daily prayer and healing work to ask myself, “Am I on a fix-it mission, praying to improve a flawed mortal, or am I praying with the authority and understanding of God-governed progress?”
When we understand this God-directed sense, we realize that, truly, spiritual progress isn’t about improvement at all; it’s about waking up to reality. There isn’t anything to improve upon in God’s creation. What we recognize as spiritual progress is in fact an improved view—a holier perspective. Progress is God’s law, a continuous unfoldment of divine ideas, of reality. It’s seeing what is already true about the world and each one of us as spiritual ideas, forever complete and held in the perfection of God, good. As we humbly recognize the power of God’s perpetual unfoldment for man, we discover that we don’t need to turn this spiritual light on; instead, we are, by our very nature, the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14 ).