Absalom in the Reading Room?

Oh that I were made judge in the land, that every man which hath any suit or cause might come unto me, and I would do him justice!” grumbles King David’s son Absalom. With ambition growing unchecked in his thought, he positions himself at the gate of the city and steals “the hearts of the men of Israel” (II Samuel 15:4, 6).

My first few weeks as a Christian Science Reading Room attendant, I floundered. I felt like I messed up every interaction I had with visitors and customers. Whenever someone would come in and ask, “What is Christian Science?” or a related question, I would freeze. How could I possibly explain something so close to my heart and make it meaningful to someone else? I started trying to “sum up” Christian Science in a few sentences so that I could have a quick one-off answer anytime someone asked. But these responses, as they were based on fear of scorn or disbelief, were less than satisfying. I left these interactions with others feeling that I could have done better.

One day, I opened the Bible at random to the story of Absalom at the gate. Absalom’s behavior suggests ambition, pride, and greed. His ambition ends up causing a civil war in Israel, thanks to his attempts to wrest the throne away from his father, David. 

While I didn’t feel kinship with Absalom, I did see some parallels between his behavior and my own. A material personality, or ego, calling itself  “me,” was attempting to have all the answers—to stand between those spiritual seekers who came to the Reading Room and the Christ, Truth.

While I didn’t feel kinship with Absalom, I did see some parallels between his behavior and my own.

Limited mortal mind seeks to subvert the power of divine Mind, God, by claiming that man has an ego, or selfhood, apart from God. It appears to be a legitimate and trustworthy ally, but as the Psalmist says, “The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart: his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords” (Psalms 55:21). In its antagonism to God, mortal mind claims that God is blind to our needs, and that it has an easier, faster solution to all of our problems.

This is the opposite of what we observe in Jesus’ spiritual practice. In his teaching and healing ministry, Jesus went first to God in grateful prayer. In the Gospel of Matthew he’s recorded as saying, “Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him” (6:8). And when he raises Lazarus from the grave (see John, chap. 11), he thanks God for hearing him “always” (verse 42). His prayers in these cases were calm acknowledgments of God’s all-power and ever-presence.

Mary Baker Eddy gives a beautifully concise statement of this truth in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures where she writes, “Divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need” (p. 494). The oneness of God and man is manifested in human experience through the Christ. On pages 332–333 Mrs. Eddy says, “… Christ illustrates the coincidence, or spiritual agreement, between God and man in His image.” I realized that the “Absalom-thought” attempts to interpose itself between man and God, trying to usurp the office of the Christ, which speaks to human consciousness and meets human needs.

The words in those books speak for themselves.

After recognizing and rebuking this error that had been uncovered in my thought, it became clear what I needed to do. Jesus is recorded as saying, “The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works” (John 14:10). Our Master was humble enough to acknowledge that all of his words and deeds came directly from God, and not from himself. I found the Reading Room to be a perfect place to practice following Jesus’ example, to listen for how to respond to visitors in each instance and not get caught up in formulaic answers or a jargon-filled delivery of information. 

Mrs. Eddy ordained the Holy Bible and Science and Health as the “dual and impersonal pastor” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 322) of The Church of Christ, Scientist. I began to guide inquisitive visitors directly to our Pastor, as well as to Mrs. Eddy’s other published writings, in a genuine and loving way. The words in those books speak for themselves. I learned to do this without belittling visitors by thinking, “They just won’t get it unless I explain it in my own words,” or belittling our Pastor by thinking, “Science and Health and the Bible are hard to understand.”

It’s not that I rebuffed questions or coldly handed a book to questioners—rather, by putting my heart into the Pastor’s hands, the words of the Pastor became the words of my heart. In this way I could turn thought from personality to express more gentleness and genuine warmth. It became easier to rid myself of personal ownership over questions. I saw that I didn’t have to fear any sort of backlash because the answers from the Pastor weren’t mine, they were God’s.

A few weeks after I began doing this, a man came in and asked some very difficult questions. I did my best to answer him with my own words, but nothing I said seemed to satisfy or resonate. After some back-and-forth discussion, a quiet rebuke came to my thought: “Don’t be Absalom.” Right away, I recalled a passage in the Bible where Jesus directly addressed the question that this man was asking. I turned to it, showed him, and he agreed with me that this was the answer he was seeking. For the next three weeks, every time I saw this man, he thanked me for that Bible verse, saying, “It was exactly right.”

As a result of these efforts, my own relationship with our Pastor has become much more trusting and familiar. When questions arise, I’ve learned that nothing beats the immediate resource of God’s Word. The Reading Room is no place for Absalom!

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