Talk given by Anna Lisa Kronman CS at Fern Lodge on July 22, 2012
My joy today is to tie this helpful information on Christian Science nursing to the healing practice of Christian Science. I get to talk about their relationship and how they actually fit together seamlessly. This talk is entitled: “Christian Science Practice and Christian Science Nursing: An Awesome Twosome.” Another way of putting that, according to Rodale’s Synonym Finder, might be “Christian Science Preparation / Discipline / Workout / Action and Christian Science Ministering / Holding / Cherishing / Nurturing: a Formidable, Majestic, and Sublime Team.” In this time together, I will share a small slice of history, a look at what Christian Science practice and nursing and have in common, how they are unique, a few challenges to both ministries, and a look ahead.
I’d like to begin by introducing you to the first Christian Science nurse I encountered, my grandfather, Roy Cochrane. He once told us a delightful story about how during his training at Chestnut Hill, maybe in the 1930s, he somehow had a butterfly cocoon in his sock drawer. I don’t know if he found it outside and put it in his drawer for safekeeping, of if the caterpillar just sought it out as a cozy refuge. In any event, when the new creature emerged from its cocoon, as Roy walked his rounds, serving trays, helping people, he carried the freshly winged butterfly on his lapel, to the great delight of all he met that day.
When Roy met his sweetheart Oleona, he needed to ask and be given permission to marry her, because at that time it was not allowed for Christian Science nurses to marry. Did you know we had a time like that in our movement? Early on, Christian Science nursing was based on a military model, with twelve-hour days, few days off, and strict rules. Apparently those in charge felt marriage would be too distracting, so it was not usually permitted. Happily, collective progress is the law of God, and that ruling prohibiting marriage of Christian Science nurses fell away. The military model, first developed by Florence Nightingale, a contemporary of Mr. Eddy’s, and initially adopted by Christian Science nurses, was not ultimately the right fit for the eternal expression of divine Love known as Christian Science nursing. Nor was the convent model.
I didn’t always have that clear a view, though. As a young adult pondering my own path, I thought, I want to heal problems, not just nurse them along. Why have Christian Science nurses? In spite of family history, I frankly didn’t see the point. I was afraid they were delving into some mushy gray area where material remedies met Christian metaphysics, and I did not want to be there. I wanted the pure stuff. However, I knew Mary Baker Eddy had put a provision for the Christian Science nurse in the Manual, so I reasoned there must be a correct concept about it. I plainly did not yet have it.
About this time, Fern Lodge offered a weekend introduction to nursing called “Adventure in Learning.” I certainly had no intention of becoming a Christian Science nurse, but I did want to get the right idea about it, so I decided to attend. What I witnessed and learned that weekend changed my life. I glimpsed that far from being a murky realm of questionable practices, Christian Science nursing was the ultimate Christian exercise. Jesus demonstrated it when he stretched out his hand to the sinking Peter, lifting him up to walk with him on the tempestuous sea back to the boat. Jesus taught the vital importance of this practical care in his parable of the Good Samaritan and in his call for visible, tangible love for one’s neighbor. Other Bible characters felt this impulsion, too. Noah practiced it when his obedient listening and following God’s direction enabled him to save many lives. The Shunammite woman exemplified it when she saw a need for food, rest, light, and shelter for the prophet Elisha, and provided these helpful things. I discovered that weekend that Christian Science nursing is the fulfilling of God’s love for man. It is not about making matter comfortable, but rather about bearing witness to the Comforter itself. Wow. What a revelation that was! I was still not about to become one myself, but I was sure glad to have some of my misconceptions dispelled.
God has wonderful ways of making Herself heard, and I did eventually find myself fully involved in the practice of Christian Science nursing. As I learned more, and practiced it more, I understood more of its essential, eternal, and entirely spiritual nature. I came to the conclusion that it is absolutely vital to our movement. It is our Christian outreach arm, and if we lack that, we lack the heart of what we profess. Christian Science nursing is as eternal as Christian Science healing. Why is that? Because they both are an expression of Love itself. In their essence, neither nursing nor prayer-practice is about fixing an unfortunate circumstance. They are both about bearing witness to God’s love in a discernable, practical, useful way. They go together, hand in hand.
It is fairly understood among students of Christian Science that if one has a problem and needs help, he may call upon a Christian Science practitioner, someone who is willing and able to join him in prayer to seek God’s version of events. (And our textbook* makes it plain that we all get to practice in this way, even if we do not devote our full time to it.) As we said, the practitioner’s prayer is not to change, fix, or rearrange unpleasant circumstances, but to see more clearly that the only genuine power on the field is infinite Love. Steadfast entertaining of this truth brings thinking into accord with this divine law, and an effect of this harmony on the inside is harmony on the outside.
What qualities are desirable in a practitioner of Christian Science? Here are a few mentioned by our Leader: humble, conscientious, honest, persistent, affectionate, able to speak with authority, “richly imbued with the spirit of Christ”. Mrs. Eddy also says, “Good must dominate in the thoughts of the healer.” She continues in Miscellaneous Writings (pg 59:26), “That individual is the best healer who asserts himself the least, and thus becomes a transparency for the divine Mind, who is the only physician; the divine Mind is the scientific healer.” When we need some prayer help, don’t we look for these qualities as well as solid metaphysics, steadfastness, joyfulness, trustworthiness, patience, wisdom, discernment?
What qualities are desirable in a Christian Science nurse? Mrs. Eddy says in Science and Health the nurse should be “cheerful, orderly, punctual, patient, full of faith, — receptive to Truth and Love.” If I were to need some nursing care, I would want someone who expressed those, as well as being metaphysically solid, steadfast, joyful, trustworthy, patient, wise, discerning– the same qualities I would look for in a practitioner. Our Leader also specifies unacceptable nurse qualities: ill-tempered, complaining, deceitful. Wouldn’t you agree with me that those qualities would likewise fail the practitioner test? In Science and Health Mrs. Eddy also says, “The poor suffering heart needs its rightful nutriment, such as peace, patience in tribulation, and a priceless sense of the dear Father’s loving-kindness.” It doesn’t say only practitioners should supply this, or only nurses. Both get to listen how to do this best.
At one time, I thought practitioners had to be the really good prayers, and that nurses were not necessarily held to the same standard. I found in my nursing practice that was not the case. I noticed the most successful nurses were the ones that cultivated the same humble listening a practitioner does. So, if both are good pray-ers, what is the difference in their day-to-day practice? A practitioner has been specifically asked to pray for the asker, giving Christian Science treatment. He is actively bearing witness to God’s allness and this dear one’s inseparability from God. He may be refuting aggressive presentations of matter and reaffirming Mind’s onliness, Principle’s operation, and Spirit’s flawless substance. Though they have the same goal of healing, the nurse has been asked to take a different part of the job: maintaining an environment conducive of healing. She is observant of needs and meets them lovingly and practically, all the while maintaining in herself an awareness of God’s supreme control. The Manual by-law on Christian Science nurse gives these requirements: a demonstrable knowledge of Christian Science practice, a thorough understanding the practical wisdom necessary in a sickroom, and ability to take proper care of the sick. She may be feeding, bathing, walking, listening, holding a hand. Same team, different jobs, though both helpers need to be equally in earnest about seeking God’s take on the situation. One is treating the patient, the other is praying for herself (or himself- men are nurses, too!) as she meets needs. The nurse’s prayer does not interfere with the practitioner’s prayer, because they are both seeking to bear witness to the truth, and there is no conflict.
Earlier I talked a little about Christian Science nursing not fitting a military model or a convent model. It also does not fit within a medical model or a purely physical or environmental model. I believe we are still collectively discovering the genuine expression of Christian Science nursing, and it is more of a metaphysical model. What that means to me is that we desire to, and progressively are, seeking to base all our actions and decisions on our best understanding of that Manual by-law and guidance from our Pastor. I think the genuine practice of Christian Science nursing is much bigger than we have hitherto understood, and that we are beginning to glimpse more of the possibilities of it—more of its majestic, formidable potential for good!
Jesus’ practice combined both nursing attributes and prayer-practice attributes. He often spoke the word, healing folks instantly, but he also touched faces, broke bread, and washed feet. He did not make a distinction between prayer and providing an atmosphere for healing. They happened simultaneously. Following our Master’s lead, we wish to provide both the pure prayer that perceives Love’s ever-presence, as well as the tender expression of that Love in clearly felt ways. Both these elements are needed in most healings. The question may arise, then why not just follow Jesus’ example and have only one person nursing and healing at the same time? This was our Master’s example; but he did say to his followers, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” And in Matthew 25, he backed that up with strong direction to make love very practical. So, perhaps the way to become a quicker healer, like Jesus, is to practice our loving each other more. And sometimes it is quite helpful to have more than one person witnessing and practicing these Love-expressions. In these cases, practitioner and nurse can work in tandem to see God’s man, each one focusing on his own contribution. The result can be wonderful. The team wins.
Now, what are some snags along the way that would sap our effectiveness as Christian Science nurses and healers that would claim to burden, divide, or drag down our winning team? If we are alert to them, we can recognize and disarm them. These are not original with anyone, ever. They are suggestions that pose as our own thought. Knowing this, we can detect, reject, and nullify them. Here are a few.
Too small a vision. This could take the form of accepting the view of one’s day as a series of tasks to be done instead of Love to be seamlessly expressed. Nursing, nurturing, fostering, cherishing, is vaster than just “doing things”. We don’t want to lose the overarching goal in the details, but we also don’t want to disregard details, either. Jesus said, “These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” The antidote for limited vision: as wide a vision as possible. See that neither practice is just a job. See both the healing practice and the nursing practice as expressions of infinite Good, governed by Principle, sustained by Life, impelled by Soul, defended by Truth. Actively acknowledge this. Choose this vision. Refuse to be small.
Personal sense getting in the way. This sometimes creeps in in the form of personal goodness or badness, personal ability or inability, personal strength or weakness. “I can’t,” or “I won’t,” or “You can’t,” or “You won’t” may claim to usurp expression of the only I AM. This imposition may press urgently on us to think we as nurses or practitioners are personally responsible for the patient instead of remembering God forever is. My earlier fear of “nursing a problem along, instead of healing it,” would fit in this personal sense category, for if either practitioner or nurse identifies more with the problem than its remedy, Truth, they are inadvertently personifying it, and have a much harder time seeing through it. Again, this thinking does not originate in anyone, but sometimes it seems to slither in undetected. The antidote: Claim one pure, ever-present all-knowing Mind, that always has every idea in perfect relation to itself and each other. This Mind is supreme intelligence that arranges, clarifies, maintains, enlightens. It is the only Mind there is, the only Life there is, the only Shepherd there is. We report directly to Life itself, and so does everyone requesting our help. There is no personal intervener, because in truth we are each one forever inseparable from Mind, Life, Love. We can (and must!) refuse a personal sense of Christian Science practice and Christian Science nursing, and we can with joy remember God enables us to do this.
Discouragement and its miserable buddies. This heavy mental intruder often brings with it a pack of other unwelcomes: doubt, fear, despair. It suggests tiredness, grumpiness, lack, envy. It says we have too much to do, not enough time, and insufficient inspiration. The antidote: radiant Soul! Gratitude. Singing hymns. Frequent refreshing with Mrs. Eddy’s life-saving instruction from Science and Health, page 393: “Take possession of your body, and govern its feeling and action. Rise in the strength of Spirit to resist all that is unlike good. God has made man capable of this, and nothing can vitiate the ability and power divinely bestowed on man.” These are tools with which both practitioner and nurse can face down error and be refreshed with Spirit. Along with Jesus, say Yea, yea, and Nay, Nay. Yes to infinite Love filling all space, providing every answer, meeting every need, and no to lack, separation, inadequacy, fear. Yes to good, no to evil.
To wrap this up, I would love to encourage us all to keep listening and watching to hear and see Love continuing to lead us as we practice this scientific Christianity and cherish one another. Let’s watch Love lead us out of the military model, the convent model, and the medical model to a more metaphysical model. Remember that pillar of cloud by day and fire by night that led the Children of Israel through the desert? We are still being led, and there are new things ahead, in both Christian Science practice and nursing. Let’s watch for them. We can appreciate the strengths we each bring to the healing table, and see we are striving for the same goal. Both the Christian Science practitioner and Christian Science nurse, that awesome twosome, and all of us as we follow our Leader, can joyfully adopt this direction from First Corinthians, thirteenth chapter, translated by Eugene Petersen in The Message: “Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.” It’s what we are all here to do. Thank you.
*Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy