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Free from the monster view of manhood

From the April 16, 2012 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

A few years ago, I was plagued by a “monster” in my life. It took different shapes, but it was always there: a type of unsettling male behavior that began to plague me.

At times this behavior seemed unbelievably selfish. For example, I was asked out on a date by someone who, it turned out, was married. Other times this behavior was a bit frightening. Here is one example: I was driving on the freeway one day when a truck hedged me in toward the center divider. When I sped up, the driver did; when I slowed down, he did too—and there were some obscene gestures. I wasn’t afraid; I just ignored him and I eventually got away. A few weeks later, however, a similar freeway incident happened with a different man! They had both been driving “monster” trucks.

After that, it seemed like I would see this “monster” behavior everywhere. I started wondering what strangers were thinking, and I was becoming generally suspicious of men. A slow-building armor started to creep over me. I felt I was seeing a great disparity between the man of God’s creating—the perfect man that I read about in my study of Christian Science—and the actuality of these male behaviors confronting me. I longed to see the real man, the Christ-man, in my life.

I thought about a passage in Science and Health in which Mary Baker Eddy asked: “What is the model before mortal mind? Is it imperfection, joy, sorrow, sin, suffering? Have you accepted the mortal model? Are you reproducing it?” (p. 248). These questions gave me a sense of responsibility. I didn’t want to be annoyed or threatened by the “monster-model” in my consciousness.

I felt I was seeing a great disparity between the man of God's creating and the actuality of these male behaviors.

I remember praying something like this: “Father, I’m willing to see the Christ-man, but You will have to be my eyes.” And then I set about looking intently for the Christ. The Christ is explained in Christian Science as “the spiritual idea of God” (Science and Health, p. 577). So I knew I would need to employ spiritual sense to find the Christ, to look beyond just what was presented to my material senses.

When I left my house, I decided to look for small evidences of the Christ’s presence. There are, of course, a million little examples at the grocery store alone, not to mention on a walk around the neighborhood. It was beautiful once I started to be conscious of it. I noticed smiles, kind words, men being helpful. At every turn I started saying, “Thank You, Father, for creating this man.”

Later that year, after a lot of prayer along these lines, I had my chance to have a showdown with the “monster-model.”

It was a gray day, and I had been assigned to substitute teach at a school for men who had just been released from jail and were working to reintegrate into society. If you’ve ever substitute taught before, you’ll know that it’s not unusual to receive a very vague job description—so I had no idea what I was actually walking into.

When I arrived, the men started joking around and muttering things under their breath. I felt uncomfortable as they stared at me, but I introduced myself anyway and settled behind the desk at the front of the room. The class had their self-guided assignment, and I sat reading behind the desk. I had with me a copy of Science and Health, which I began studying. I also started doing what I had been doing before: actively looking for expressions of Christ. Sadly, I was so bothered by the atmosphere that I had to start with the floor. I thought of things like masonry, solid construction, craftsmanship, and teamwork.

The class wasn’t quiet for long. One outspoken man shouted a question at me and I answered. Then more questions followed, becoming increasingly more personal. I ignored him to respond to someone else. The first man got angry and called me some names that shocked some of his classmates—but everyone else sat silently by.

My eyes looked down at Science and Health and fell on this phrase: “The determination to hold Spirit in the grasp of matter is the persecutor of Truth and Love” (p. 28). I realized that a material model of a man with material thoughts and obnoxious actions could only posture itself. It could never be what Spirit is: harmless and unharmable.

With that, the room became quiet again, and I could more easily get to work looking for evidence of Christliness in these men. I gave thanks for productivity, the desire to grow and improve, and even a sense of gentleness. I slowly became convinced that their real manhood was present.

Later that day, the man who had been harassing me was called out by a woman from the front office. Watching this giant-sized man comply with her request for cooperation was food for thought. I saw clearly that nothing could stand before God’s allness. I recognized that the man wasn’t responding to the woman, necessarily. He was arrested by his own Christ nature. He finished his work without a word, and left—but not without a hasty apology to me, just before ducking out the door.

In the windowless room it was like the sun had come out. There was a break, and some of the men invited me to play chess while others watched. They were friendly, kind, and funny, and even interested in what I was reading. One man said he had always wanted to read Science and Health, so I gave him my copy and he read during the break. It was a great day!

To my way of thinking, I received one more gift that really confirmed for me the truth about my safety and the unreality of a “monster” model of men.

Months later, I was walking alone through an unfamiliar neighborhood. I was acknowledging the Christ in the details—which had become my habit—when a man on his bicycle stopped and yelled at me, “Do you remember me?” I looked him squarely in the face and said, in all honesty, “No.” I kept walking. He left me alone, but a few blocks later, I remembered him from that day—he had been the one making the comments at the beginning of class! I laughed to myself and realized that the fact that I was never impressed had been my protection. That behavior was not a part of him, had never been a part of him.

I am so grateful for this healing. In the years since, I have had no more bad freeway incidents, or any other examples of male intimidation in my life. What I am most grateful for, however, is my increasing understanding that there is really only one man: the man of God’s creating. From this spiritual vantage point there are no monsters.

Heather Frederick Brown lives in Sacramento, California.

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