February 24, 2016

Have you ever wondered about the history of African Americans within the early days of Christian Science? Marietta Webb quickly became a Christian Science practitioner and organized the Christian Science Society, Colored, of Los Angeles. Her testimony of the healing of her young son appears in Science and Health in the Fruitage chapter on page 612, according to the Mary Baker Eddy Library, and it is included in today’s readings.  Another contemporary of Mrs. Eddy’s, Sojourner Truth, was an African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist.  She is included with Mrs. Eddy as one of the “100 Most Significant Americans of All Time” by Smithsonian Magazine. Although not a member of the Christian Science church, Ms. Truth is quoted in Miscellaneous Writings as follows:  “God is the great house that holds all His children; we dwell in Him as the fishes dwell in the seas.” The subject of competition with our brothers and sisters of all creeds, colors, and countries in God’s great house is our topic for this Wednesday’s service.

Included on the readings page is a Sentinel Question of the Week about competition.  Wonderful replies were sent in, and I especially enjoyed learning about the root of the word “compete” (to build up or to seek together), that there is no competition in the “Adorable One,” and especially that we only compare spiritual things with spiritual (I Cor. 2:13), not one mortal with another mortal.

There is also a link to an excellent article by George Channing, which reads in part:

In [Mary Baker Eddy’s] Message to The Mother Church for 1902 (p. 4) she explains, “Competition in commerce, deceit in councils, dishonor in nations, dishonesty in trusts, begin with ‘Who shall be greatest?’ ” The race, therefore, is not between person and person; it is actually with oneself, that is, against the mortal sense of self. And the sense of competition can prod every seeming competitor to win the race for himself. Such competition is co-operation in making evident the man God made. (Christian Science Sentinel, August 6, 1949)

As many of you know, I use different Bible translations to help me with my Bible study. This approach is inspirational to me, and of course, everyone has their own way of studying. However, I had a question about one of the stories in the readings today, and using a different translation gave me a new perspective.  Have you ever wondered why Jesus told the blind man in John 9 to “go wash in the Pool of Siloam,” but in John 5, Jesus told the impotent man beside the Pool of Bethesda to “take up thy bed and walk” out of there? Here’s some quick research from Wikipedia:

The Johannine narrative (chapter 5) describes the porticos as being a place in which large numbers of infirm people were waiting, which corresponds well with the site’s 1st century AD use as an asclepieion. [An asclepeion was a healing temple, sacred to the god Asclepius, the Grecian god of Medicine.]  Some ancient biblical manuscripts argue that these people were waiting for the troubling of the water; a few such manuscripts also move the setting away from Roman rituals into something more appropriate to Judaism, by adding that an angel would occasionally stir the waters, which would then cure the first person to enter. Although the Vulgate does not include the troubling of the water or the ‘angel tradition’, these were present in many of the manuscripts used by early English translations of the Bible, who therefore included it in their translations. Modern textual scholarship views these extra details as unreliable and unlikely to have been part of the original text; many modern translations do not include the troubling of the water or the ‘angel tradition’, but leave the earlier numbering system, so that they skip from verse 3a straight to verse 5.

In other words, if you look at the Revised Standard Version (or the NIV, ESV, NLT, etc), there is no John 5:4 (or “moving of the water” at the end of John 5:3) and thus no heavenly angel. The setting, then, is a pagan pool, and of course, Jesus wouldn’t need the impotent man to wash in the pool of a temple dedicated to a Greek god of medicine. Now contrast that with being immersed in the Pool of Siloam, full of Hebrew history as the reservoir of pure water built by good King Hezekiah to supply the people of Jerusalem when under attack. These Siloam waters were fed by the Gihon Spring, which Solomon used to anoint himself before becoming King.  (We had readings on the symbolism of Gihon and Mrs. Eddy’s Glossary definition of Gihon on July 23, 2014.)

This particular verse, John 5:4, has been discussed many times in our periodicals, especially under “Words of Current Interest.”  Here is the usual explanation:

The verb “trouble” as used in this context means to put into confused motion, to agitate or disturb. Apparently there was an old tradition, current among the Jews, to the effect that this intermittent bubbling of the water was due to the instrumentality of an angel. Several of the best manuscripts of the New Testament omit verse 4. The same is true of the reference to “waiting for the moving of the water” in verse 3. (From the April 4, 1970, and December 29, 1962 issues of the Christian Science Sentinel.)

So, if I was reading from the Revised Standard Version, would I still think this story was about competition if it didn’t include John 5:4? Would it be clear to me without this verse that Christ Jesus showed that the actions of God’s tens of thousands of angels were never limited to only one angel or only blessing those first in line?  On the other hand, if I was reading from the King James Version, would it be as clear that the impotent man was waiting for help in a Greek temple?

I appreciate the different meanings gained from the different translations of this story of the impotent man. Each has value because each adds depth to the story, and we are all the beneficiaries in this ongoing scriptural search for truth.



Numbering the People

February 17, 2016

     In the Church Manual, there are specific instructions regarding “Numbering the People.” The Manual states:

“Christian Scientists shall not report for publication the number of the members of The Mother Church, nor that of the branch churches. According to the Scripture they shall turn away from personality and numbering the people.” (Man. 48)

Have you ever wondered why Mrs. Eddy included this rule in the church bylaws?  What scripture was she referencing when she wrote, “According to the Scripture they shall turn away from personality and numbering the people.”? This Wednesday, we will be searching the scriptures to answer these questions, and in doing so, we will be blessing our church as well as ourselves in our prayers about repenting from pride or evidencing lack.

     In the readings today, I have an obscure quote from Agassiz about how certain animals increase by self-division instead of through sexual conditions. (I’ve included a link to a podcast on Agassiz if you haven’t heard of this naturalist whom MBE mentions several times in her writings.) What does that reference have to do with numbering the people? Well, think of how many times we are tempted to judge the success of a lecture or a church service by how many people are there. Do we think that the Science of the Christ is limited by the number of people present in our church? A contributor on our Wednesday reading email list gave me a great answer to that question through a Facebook photo showing the wide spread of the Comforter. (You can see the photo on our readings page.)
     I have thought about this a lot as First Reader because if I am seeing personalities in the pews while reading on Sundays, then I am not seeing the one man.  And if I am counting people (David’s mistake) or depending on apparently safe and solid buildings (David’s mistake again), then matter is playing a trick on me because you can’t count or see what is truly infinite and everlasting. In other words, instead of seeing people or buildings, I have to feel what is permanent and solid — the harmony of the unity of man and God.
     Actually, I had an epiphany about this when I first began reading. My faithful husband who always supports me on a Wednesday night was traveling and another faithful participant was in Mississippi, so I was wondering if I was going to be all by myself in the church at night.  I had a Mary moment because I realized that the Holy Ghost would be there.  And, if I was receptive to the Holy Ghost, then the Christ would be there too. And of course, God would be there, so I was alone but not alone (John 16:32). That night we had a visitor from Minnesota (or Milwaukee) who found out about our church service from our website; then a member showed up; then my husband called in on his cell phone, so there was fellowship. Now we’ve moved to a daytime service with better hours for more people, but not before I learned this really good lesson!
     Just a quick Bible note in today’s readings. The first temple (built by Solomon) was destroyed in 586 BCE by the Babylonians. When Jesus was walking in Solomon’s porch, he was in the second temple (Herod’s ongoing construction project) which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.  Did you notice that David chose the location of the temple as the threshing floor where he offered to sacrifice himself for his sin instead of sacrificing his innocent people (I Chron. 21:17)?  It is an interesting twist because the New Testament Messiah was a sinless Redeemer sacrificing himself for the sins of his people. I love finding these connections in the Bible, and discovering that David’s remorse for his sin of pride in numbers was the very foundation (the threshing floor) of the original temple!



February 10, 2016

The subject of this Wednesday’s service is repentance, and in keeping with the season, I searched the scriptures for the most Mardi Gras-like Bible story I could find. If you haven’t already guessed, we’ll be reading about Moses and Aaron and the graven calf, which created a scene in the wilderness somewhat like an Old Testament le boeuf gras.  For those unfamiliar with our foodie and festival-oriented city, I’ve included a photo of some stuffed le boeuf gras grazing on carnival beads on my dining room table. Now, I hope I haven’t offended anyone in the Rex organization with this attempt at Biblical humor, but you have to admit it is a most timely connection!

Put on the Wedding Garments

February 3, 2016
     We will be serving wedding cake after the service due to the subject, and also because February 3rd is my engagement anniversary. What a coincidence!
     Last week, our topic was marriage, and this week we are taking the symbol of a wedding to a whole new level. Specifically, we are taking off our old, dirty discouraging clothes and putting on our new, best beautiful clothes — our wedding garments. Mrs. Eddy loved that change of outfits, and here is how she described it at a student association meeting:
“One of the best cures I ever performed was, apparently, under the most adverse circumstances. I had spent one year of incessant toil upon the [manuscript] of my book, Science and Health, and put it into the hands of a printer for publication, who, I found, had allowed it to be taken from his possession, and I was thus obliged to return, in the sackcloth of disappointment, without it. A student soon called desiring me to assist in a case that was dying. I put on the wedding garments at once and healed the case in twenty minutes.”  — Christian Scientists Association, January 17, 1883, Church History. See also Clifford R Smith, Historical Sketches (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1992), p. 166
     I love the parable of the wedding garment in the readings because when I was elected reader, the first thing I did was buy some new clothes and fancy shoes. But if I was all dressed up, but internally discouraged over empty pews, raccoons, whatever, then I might have arrived at the wedding feast, but I still wasn’t wearing my wedding garments! In other words, I have to be prepared with beauty on the outside AND the inside! Of course, putting on the wedding garment is not physical, but a joyful anticipation of seeing man’s unity with God.
     There is a related you-tube video which Dick Davenport (former US Military chaplain and Bible Seminar director) shared on his Facebook page this week. Dick said that his pen name is the “Dancing Disciple,” and one of my sons had the pleasure of taking ballroom dance lessons from him at Principia. Dick had heard this song at his Sunday service, and I want to share it with you here:
     This week’s readings do include a pertinent testimony from Fruitage. It is the first time I’ve included anything from Fruitage, but I really think it fits. (In case there is concern about the protocol for this, I’ve included on the research page a 2013 Journal article about using Fruitage in the Wednesday readings.) I love that the testifier thought that the Wednesday service was a wedding!
     Also, here is something that struck me while putting these readings together. It was how frequently Jesus asked rhetorical questions, whether in a parable (“How come you’re dressed like that?”), to a blindman (“What can I do for you?”), to his own disciples in a crowd (“Who touched me?”), or alone on the cross (“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”). It is interesting how Mrs. Eddy also sprinkled questions throughout her textbook, and also dedicated her book to “honest seekers for Truth.” Have you ever wondered if the purpose for these questions from our pastor is for the “dematerialization and spiritualization of thought,” so that we are prepared and not “speechless”?
     I really enjoyed this topic of putting on your wedding garment. I hope you’ll be joining our Wednesday fellowship feast!