Our Master taught his disciples one brief prayer, which we name after him the Lord's Prayer. Our Master said, "After this manner therefore pray ye," and then he gave that prayer which covers all human needs.

—Mary Baker Eddy
Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 16

As substantial as his current administrative responsibilities are as one of the five members of the Christian Science Board of Directors, it's probably fair to say that at the top of VICTOR WESTBERG's priority list is healing—helping the sick and troubled find freedom and peace through prayer. And as most of us have, Vic has known times when he was "standin' in the need of prayer," as a gospel song puts it. When we talked before starting this interview, he said, "You know, the more you're hurting, the more you're expecting results from prayer."

His comment reminded me of a testimonial to prayer's power that I'd heard just the day before. That weekend, Boston was the site of an international journalism conference. One of the gathering's breakout sessions was titled "Is Healing a Mission of Journalism?" It was strangely wonderful enough that a conference attended by hundreds of print and broadcast journalists included a session on that question. But, I told Vic, there was a memorable "Lord's Prayer moment" during that session.

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A participant went to the microphone and told, in testimonial fashion, about his experience with a severe heart attack. While he was lying on a hospital gurney in great pain, he said, "I felt my spirit leaving my body. ..." He sensed he was dying.

He began praying and said to God, "Lord ... I have more work to do here." And then he prayed aloud the Lord's Prayer.

"Ask my doctor," he said, "if you don't believe me. She heard me praying."

So did the Lord. A feeling of peace came over him and he came to, feeling well, and clearly with more work to do.

The Lord's Prayer, understood in its spiritual sense, and given its spiritual version, can never be repeated too often for the benefit of all ...

Doesn't that man's healing hint at the immense promise of the Lord's Prayer, I asked Vic—at the power of communion with God?

VW: Well, haven't we all turned to the Lord's Prayer for a need and found help—comfort and hope, maybe an inspired sense of direction, or healing of some kind? Have you ever had that kind of an experience?

WB: Yes, I have, and how about you?

At the time when I was First Reader at my branch Church of Christ, Scientist, I was up on our roof at home, building a lanai. And I slipped and fell from about four feet up, hitting a two-by-eight rafter. I broke a rib ... I could hear it. If you've ever had a broken or a bruised rib, you can't breathe. I sat there for a long time just praying about the fact of my total freedom as an idea of God; that I wasn't mortal being; and that the physical picture had nothing to do with what was going on in me. But the healing didn't come right away.

Three days later on Sunday, when I had to stand and read at a church service, I was still having trouble breathing. But during the service there's silent prayer, and after that, the congregation says the Lord's Prayer. The Second Reader was reading the prayer from the Bible, and I was reading its scientific, spiritual meaning from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy [see pp. 16—17]. I got about three-quarters of the way through the Lord's Prayer, and I felt a sort of thunk in my side. I could feel the pain drain away—right down through my arm, out through the fingertips, like electricity. And I could take a full breath with no pain.

If it had been a Wednesday night service, I would have stopped there and given a testimony! That was one of the most instantaneous healings I've ever had, but I hadn't been working for the healing itself. I was praying to see how the scientific translation of the Lord's Prayer was meeting everyone's needs.

I had come up through an orthodox religion where the Lord's Prayer was always like a chant. When I came into the study of Christian Science, the praying of it was so slow compared to what I'd done before. But suddenly, the Lord's Prayer started to make sense to me. I had prayed it all my life, but with this scientific explanation of it in Science and Health, it now made all the sense in the world. The power behind the Lord's Prayer will heal anything, even if you're not aware of what needs healing. It purifies you.

So it wasn't any particular idea or phrase in the Lord's Prayer that healed you?

It was the whole of the Lord's Prayer in its scientific significance. I wonder, if every church had this spiritual interpretation of the Lord's Prayer as part of their services, what that would do. Too often we tend to put it into human thoughts as we read it, and that doesn't lift our thought up to the absolute reality, where we have to be for healing to happen.

For instance, saying "Give us this day our daily bread," and thinking about your next meal ...?

Yes, because it isn't a material feeding that we most need. "Give us grace for to-day; feed the famished affections," is how Science and Health translates that part. I was also thinking of the line "Hallowed be Thy name," which Science and Health gives as "Adorable One." When you're really struggling with something, and the healing comes, it is feeling the presence of "Adorable One." It's hard to put into words the inspiration that you get from the Lord's Prayer, but it is a prayer of promise all the way through.

After all those time you've gone through it, why does this prayer continue to be fresh for you?

I think every one of our individual prayers has its origin in the Lord's Prayer. We may say different words, but basically prayer is acknowledgment of God's presence. It's the understanding and the affirmation that we're spiritual, not material. Those ideas go all through the spiritual interpretation of the Lord's Prayer. But we go back so often to the Lord's Prayer because of its tremendous power. It's the prayer of prayers.

So if you want a tutorial on prayer, you can go to the Lord's Prayer?

That's it. If you want to design a prayer for yourself, that is a good place to start, because it bases everything.

What are some of the specific promises that you find in the Lord's Prayer?

Years from now we'll still be uncovering what it's saying to us. It tells me that I'm spiritual, not material. That I'm a child of God and God is our Father-Mother. From this we know that we can have no inherited flaws or dangerous conditions, because the real Parent is God. That's what it says to me. This prayer frees us from the belief that matter is a part of our identity. That's awesome. The enormous power in this prayer lies in the changes of thought that occur when you think through it. Christian Science church services give you that opportunity every week. You hear those powerful, spiritual truths, and then you have time enough to absorb them.

You know how you've heard someone say, "My grandfather had tuberculosis, my mother had TB, and the only thing I'm going to have is TB"? The Lord's Prayer's first two words, "Our Father," break that chain of mistaken belief. There's a whole prayer in two words. Father-Mother God is our true parenthood, and we don't have an attachment to a material birth.

We need to know that there's something beyond this material experience, beyond the material dream of mortality, birth, maturity, death. People ask, "Is this all there is to life, what I'm going through here, with all these problems I can't solve?" I think that's what happens when someone considers suicide, young people and older people. They're mesmerized by some huge problem with no apparent solution. Well, if we understand the Lord's Prayer's opening thought about Father-Mother God, then there are no problems that don't have solutions. Our true identity is not here in matter, but is in our "at-one-ment" with God.

Some people turn to the Lord's Prayer to get through times of extreme fear. But can we actually go farther and destroy the fear?

If we're gaining in understanding our true spiritual selfhood, that in itself removes fear. But when you're in a condition where mortal mind is screaming in fear, you have to stop and calm your thought. I know I did that a lot when I was flying combat missions in the Korean War. When you see 88's [antiaircraft rounds] going off all around you and tracers coming up through the engine nacelles on the wings, you have a tendency to get a little fearful.

It's hard to put into words, the inspiration that you get from the Lord's Prayer, but it is a prayer of promise all the way through.

And maybe a tendency to pray?

Exactly. You do the best in prayer when you're challenged the most. When you get to that point of knowing you can't do it on your own, that's when you are most receptive. Then you find that "Christ is the true idea voicing good, the divine message from God to men speaking to the human consciousness" (Science and Health, p. 332). That is so important to understand.

When we're praying about something deeply, and ideas come that solve the problem we're struggling with, that's God speaking to us through His Christ. There's nothing in this human dream that can't be solved by understanding God's presence here and now through the Christ. The Lord's Prayer itself is that message from Christ speaking to human consciousness. who, having ears, hear and understand.—Mary Baker Eddy, Christian Healing, pp. 15—16

What about someone who might really need that message but doesn't feel worthy of even saying the Lord's Prayer?

It's at that point when it's most needed. At that point, you're the most receptive to it, even when you're denying the truth in the prayer. I spent ten years as a jailhouse chaplain in California prisons. I went in there as a Christian Science practitioner for the inmates. When I first arrived, the head of the jail said, "We don't have any Christian Scientists in here." I said, "Do you have people in here?" He said, "Yeah." And I told him, "That's what I'm interested in. My message is not exclusively for Christian Scientists." When people are at the lowest ebb of their life, they're the most receptive to a different kind of answer.

I'd been meeting with one inmate for about two weeks, talking about healing and how it's done in Christian Science. He'd had some minor healings. He came in one day with a gash on his forehead and his eyes all swollen shut. He'd been thrown out of his bunk and hit the steel on the bunk below. He said, "I need help." So we talked a bit about it, sort of praying as we talked. I saw him a week later. There wasn't even a scar on his face. He didn't even mention it, so complete was the healing.

I thought, There is a point at which you would say these guys just don't want to pray. I mean, it's not part of their human experience to pray about things. But even if you resist, it works. It's got to work, if it's based on what is actually true about man and his relationship to God.

Prayer is not an intellectual exercise; it's part of your being. So, going to the Lord's Prayer, even if you don't feel worthy of it, is really just acting on your need of help. You might be seeing yourself as a miserable mortal being, and all of a sudden you're seeing yourself in a completely different light, as a child of God. When thought changes, then your life has got to change from the point forward.

You spoke of being conscious of the truth within the first two words of the Lord's Prayer, "Our Father." If we go straight from there to the prayer's last word, "forever," wouldn't we have a pretty complete treatment?

You'd have an absolutely complete treatment. When Jesus' disciples asked him, "Teach us to pray," he didn't just give them a prayer. He told them how to pray. And he showed them the results of prayer as they traveled with him for three years.

So he gave them, and us, a way to commune with God?

Right. Whenever we're praying for ourselves, this is the launching pad—the Lord's Prayer. You can go through it a zillion times and you will always get something new out of the Lord's Prayer. We've always got the blueprint of how it's done. It's where you can get direction in praying. To me, the Lord's Prayer, with its spiritual interpretation, is prayer of absolute Truth. But it heals the human problem by lifting thought to the absolute. It will change your thinking, and it can be seachanging in some cases—revolutionary—because when its realities dawn on you, they will change your whole life.

If we will train ourselves to go into the Lord's Prayer every day, discipline ourselves to do that, then the answers are there for any challenges that come up during the day. It's not the only thing we need to study every day, but it should be an integral part of study, because it is thought-changing. CSS

January 1, 2007

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