Annual meeting talk prepared by Anna Lisa Kronman – October 21, 2017
I often visit Fern Lodge helping patients as a Christian Science practitioner. One day as I came in, there was some scurrying going on. A patient who was not mentally clear had taken off down the road on her own, in search of her home. She had tried to get around safety precautions on numerous occasions, so the staff was alert to her attempts at leaving. When she did manage to escape, getting her home was always a difficult proposition. She had a very distorted sense of reality, and had been known to flag down drivers, or hit folks trying to help her. On this particular summer day, it was hovering near 100 degrees as she strode off.
Now, it would be understandable if there were some dismay, anxiety, or even anger expressed by the staff, who were now needing to find and retrieve a possibly very cranky, tired, and confused octogenarian in addition to their other duties. But I saw none of that. One nurse had already taken off with a wheel chair to help her back. A kitchen worker was busy getting two glasses of ice water and some cool wet towels to offer to the patient and nurse, and she was about to drive in her own truck to pick them both up. As I talked briefly to the kitchen worker, Kathleen, there was no trace of anything but love in her actions. She said, “This is what I would love to be doing 24/7—just helping people,” and it was clear she meant it. Before she could start her truck, the nurse and patient returned, smiling and joking, both happy to get a drink of ice water and the refreshing cool towel. The patient willingly returned to a comfy chair, and the episode was over.
Witnessing this small event in Fern Lodge’s day, what got my attention was the uniformly loving response to a difficult situation. There were no angry words; no blame; no fearful concern. Just Love-impelled coordinated action. That brought everyone safely back to where they needed to be. Now, that afternoon didn’t mark the end of the lady’s wanderings or trying to get somewhere that no longer existed, but each time she managed to leave and return, she was met with love, encouraged with love, and treated with love. The escapes have greatly diminished, and one day I was astonished to hear her talking rationally and reading understandingly. Sometimes Love will accomplish what nothing else can.
As you may know, 2017 marks 50 years since Fern Lodge’s incorporation as a Christian Science nursing facility. As a Christian Science nurse employed there for about 30 of those 50 years, I have had a front-row seat to both its challenges and triumphs. Fern Lodge is a pretty modest place, but when the executive board realized last year that 2017 was something of a milestone, we felt it was right to recognize it. And how to best do that? Celebrating years for years’ sake alone didn’t appeal to us. But actively seeking and “gathering in the good” that has happened, did. This directive from Malachi in the Bible became our guiding theme: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”
The New International Version puts it this way: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this, says the Lord Almighty, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” As part of our gathering, we looked back to see how Fern Lodge had blessed its community through the years. We remembered and honored key helpers along the way. Since Fern Lodge’s mission is to heal, we invited people to share those healings and tell their stories. We held an Open House inviting everyone to come join with us in this bounty of recognized good. Our collecting, appreciating, and sharing this bounty more widely became our tithe of gratitude. We could see that this appreciation would prepare us and propel us forward into our next 50 years of service. To get ready for this Open House, I had the happy task of asking present and former staff, family, and patients, What impact has Fern Lodge had on your life?
One of the first employees I asked was our maintenance person, Ben, a dear man who lovingly greets each patient by name and is always willing to go out of his way to solve a problem. I asked in a casual sort of way, “What impact has Fern Lodge had on your life?” He looked me straight in the eye and said, “You mean, how it saved my life?” I was a bit startled at this immediate response. He shared later how his family life was in tatters when he began working for Fern Lodge. The demands the work put upon him, and love that accompanied those demands, compelled him to get his life in order, and supported that process. It turned his life around. Now he is passing that love along, a smile and a solution at a time.
I asked Kathleen, the kitchen worker who was so ready to help the wandering patient that hot afternoon, “How has Fern Lodge touched your life?” She was also instant in her appreciation for what Fern Lodge is and does, and how it has been an anchor for her. She had been at a very tender spot in her family relations when she began work, and it felt like a refuge for her to come there and just love people, cooking, cleaning, however she was needed. She found that the reliance on prayer she observed strengthened her own sense of God’s present love for her and her family, guided her gently forward, and supported her desire to participate more in her own church. She continues to love in her widely-embracing way, and to feels very blessed to be there… and makes wondrously good cookies!
I observed Joe, who was working as a gardener then, giving his job great attention and care. I asked, “What impact has Fern Lodge had on your life?” He told me that he had been at a job that he did not like, that increasingly did not fit the way he wanted to live his life. He saw a want ad looking for someone to help in the kitchen. What stood out to him in big letters was that this was a CHRISTIAN place that needed help, and he wanted to be there. He has given a lot, eagerly, earnestly, and lovingly, deeply appreciating the atmosphere that encourages his best thinking and doing.
As I gathered these responses, I started to sense a theme. Of course, I had been aware of love and appreciation through my years of association with Fern Lodge, but I was struck by the instant flood of gratitude that just asking that question would bring. It renewed in me a deep awareness of what a power this establishment has been and continues to be for many people.
“Has Fern Lodge had any lasting impact on your life?” I asked Mary, the daughter of a former patient who lived at Fern Lodge about fifteen years ago. She answered at once, overflowing with gratefulness as if this had happened yesterday. She said her mom had been at another facility, and because of her noise and other disruptive behavior, was required to leave on very short notice. Mary was given 24 hours to find a new place. Though Fern Lodge was full, the Director of Nursing was willing to rearrange some rooms to make a place for her. Mary’s gratitude for that grace is still profound. Not only did Fern Lodge take her mother in, it patiently comforted her when she would be terrified, loud, or rambunctious. Mary told me that she learned that that Director of Christian Science Nursing would come in after her shift was over and just quietly pray, saying nothing. A practitioner was also praying daily for her, so she was immersed in care and prayer. Gradually, the disruptive behavior dropped away. The innate sweetness, alertness, dignity, and clarity that rightfully belonged to her mom emerged. She was a treasured member of the Fern Lodge family for many years, as was her daughter Mary, who would come every weekend bringing a movie and popcorn for all, to everyone’s delight. Mary said, Fern Lodge feels like home.
What’s the basis all this? Love. Universal Love. Here’s more good news: Love is available to everyone. It is the most powerful agent on earth. Love is God. Mary Baker Eddy, Christian thinker, theologian, and founder of Christian Science, wrote of Love (Mis. 249:27):
What a word! I am in awe before it. Over what worlds on worlds it hath range and is sovereign! the underived, the incomparable, the infinite All of good, the alone God, is Love.
Love is not something put upon a shelf, to be taken down on rare occasions with sugar-tongs and laid on a rose-leaf. I make strong demands on love, call for active witnesses to prove it, and noble sacrifices and grand achievements as its results. Unless these appear, I cast aside the word as a sham and counterfeit, having no ring of the true metal. Love cannot be a mere abstraction, or goodness without activity and power. As a human quality, the glorious significance of affection is more than words: it is the tender, unselfish deed done in secret; the silent, ceaseless prayer; the self-forgetful heart that overflows; the veiled form stealing on an errand of mercy, out of a side door; the little feet tripping along the sidewalk; the gentle hand opening the door that turns toward want and woe, sickness and sorrow, and thus lighting the dark places of earth.
As a Christian Science nursing facility, Fern Lodge takes the practice of love seriously. And the thought-provoking and perhaps amazing thing is, this works as a viable means of health care. In the midst of our nation-wide angst and debate over the best and most affordable health-care in recent years, it turns out that the pure practice of love is actually one of the best ways of achieving both results– good health and affordability. Fern Lodge, along with her sister Christian Science care facilities, has been quietly turning to Love, God, as its primary care-giver for over 50 years, and the results are well worth noting. Elders are treated with dignity. Joy is normal. Health is expected. Dominion is encouraged. Physical problems are not unfortunately inevitable, but are demonstrably healable.
Significantly, Fern Lodge has been offering this Christian Science nursing through the decades without regard to a person’s ability to pay. Over the years, hundreds upon hundreds of grandmothers and grandfathers without financial resources have been helped, and over $5 million has been given in benevolence. Where has that money come from? A great deal of it has come from individual contributors, wishing to support this good work.
Let’s pause now for a moment to answer a few basic questions you may be wondering about. Some folks here have been to Fern Lodge and know it well, but there are others that have no context for all this.
For starters, what exactly is a Christian Science care facility? It is an environment where Christian Scientists who need nursing care can pray and be fully supported in their choice to rely upon spiritual means for healing, even as they receive the physical care they need.
So, what is Christian Science? Such a good question, and one that would fill the rest of the afternoon and more to begin to answer! Very briefly, Christian Science takes its authority straight from the Bible, where it states in Genesis 1 that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them… And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” Along with that, it says in the book of John, “God is Love.” Christian Science is the Science of Jesus’ healing works.
What is a Christian Science nurse? Isn’t that an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms? When I was nursing, I loved getting asked that question. I think of it as the most Christian arm of Christian Science practice. Jesus exemplified it in his own living. You may be familiar with his story of the good Samaritan, where he points out that the one who takes loving, practical care of another is the true neighbor. A Christian Science nurse is a Christian Scientist who has had training in care for others, from feeding and walking to bed-care and bandages. It is done without medicine. And it is practiced from the premise of man’s being whole and intact, not fractured, ailing, diseased, or dying.
So, do you have doctors there? No. Each patient is however working with a Christian Science practitioner, who is giving that person Christian Science treatment.
OK, what is Christian Science treatment? Briefly, it is taking a major step back from appearances, all that clamoring drama, and turning to God, infinite Love itself, for Her perspective on Her loved son or daughter. The practitioner is listening for, contemplating, cherishing, and mentally insisting upon the allness of God, and the consequent powerlessness of whatever is at odds with that goodness. In that prayer, the practitioner may be considering seven synonyms for God: Life, Truth, Love, Spirit, Soul, Principle, and Mind, seeing the patient in perfect relation to this divine, and inseparable from it. Healing, then, is not seen as trying to fix something that is messed up; rather it is bringing to light the spiritual truth that has always been there. If you had a grimy window needing attention, you would remove the dirt, not the glass. When the grime is gone, the clean window shines. The original remains intact. Christian Science treatment removes the grime.
What is the difference between what a Christian Science practitioner does and what a Christian Science nurse does? Both are pray-ers! Both are listeners. Both are interested in helping the folks in their care move forward, but their specific jobs are different. You might think of a Christian Science practitioner as a spiritual lawyer or advocate, well-versed in the (divine) law, defending her innocent client from false charges, sometimes very vigorously. This is primarily a mental task, but often includes in-person and phone visits. A Christian Science nurse will be likewise as tuned in to God’s law as possible, but he or she has a hands-on mission as well. The nurse helps with whatever care is needed, every hour, every day.
Who can come be a patient there? Anyone choosing to rely upon this spiritual method of healing, Christian Science, who has a need for Christian Science nursing, can be helped there.
Do Christian Science practitioners and nurses also help people who are not in nursing homes? Yes, they can and do.
Do you have to be a Christian Scientist to work at Fern Lodge? All the nurses are students of Christian Science, but many other workers are not. All employees, however, need to love.
This brings us back to Love as foundation and backbone, and brings out a key difference between this and other nursing homes: Fern Lodge is not only a professional, accredited care facility, it is a Christian ministry. Fern Lodge is not the only Christian Science facility around, however. They are located throughout the United States, and some in other countries. This talk could have been about any one of them. Though the experiences would be different, that theme of love runs through every one.
Today I’ve shared just a sprinkling of the many good experiences that people have given me; you can read many more in displays in the hallways of Fern Lodge as part of this celebration, and on our website. We have also covered a few basics about how Fern Lodge operates. However, don’t think Fern Lodge hasn’t had its share of challenges! Far from it. It’s had plenty of opportunities to work out some hard problems, and is still a work in progress. So, what happens when things are not going so well? Where is that good God when things seem to spiral out of control, in the workplace, in the headlines, in our communities, or in our lives? Is turning to a spiritual view practical when it comes to really hard stuff? How has Fern Lodge, or the larger context of Christian Science nursing, coped, when life itself is threatened?
I was a party to one such tough test few years back. At the time, I was a nursing instructor at Fern Lodge, and this particular day I was on the nursing floor. A patient I’ll call Ruth had an acute need. She was having trouble breathing, very fearful and very distressed, and I was asked to stay with her. I could see immediately that it was an extremely serious situation. Now, in a Christian Science care facility, the approach to both routine care and acute situations is the same: turning to ever-present Love as Source, governor, substance, and law. There are no I.V.s, no beeping monitors, no oxygen masks, no drugs. The God-reliance is real. Happily, it is also effective.
So, here I was in this dear lady’s room, and as she was gasping for breath, she was also doing two other vital things: she was not giving up, and she was asking me to call her Christian Science practitioner, every ten minutes. That practitioner was giving her Christian Science treatment, that specific, powerful acknowledgment of God’s rule of man instead of matter or material circumstances.
I am going to pause here to mention another friend I had, Phil, who also was struggling with an acute problem at this time. Phil was a recorder-playing buddy of mine, and he was in the hospital to help him deal with some failing health issues. When I had visited him a day or two before, he told me the doctors had given him six months to live. We shared some encouraging ideas, and I decided on my next visit I would offer him the textbook of Christian Science, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy, because it had helped me and many folks reverse such sentences by seeing they did not have to accept those verdicts.
So, back to my friend Ruth, struggling for each breath, also in a life-threatening situation: she was choosing a spiritual approach for healing. In her room, my role as a Christian Science nurse was to support her God-reliance in the best way I knew how. That included calling her practitioner, holding the phone so they could briefly talk, also reading or singing comforting and strengthening hymns, powerful messages of God’s present love and care. It included listening and declaring out loud with her that God was her life, that she could not be separated from Life, God. It also included giving her a drink of water when she was ready for that. After about two hours, the acute crisis had passed, and another nurse came in to take over.
Soon after that, I went again to visit my friend Phil in the hospital. His bed was empty. Sadly, he was already gone.
In contrast, the next time I saw Ruth, about a week after this experience, I barely recognized her. She was sitting up in her wheelchair, beaming. She had just gotten her hair done, and looked ten years younger. There was no trace of labored breathing. Even though I have seen Christian Science demonstrated in very practical ways throughout my life, I thought, “Wow! This stuff really works!” After a while she went home, and over ten years later, Ruth is still an active member of her community. I spoke with her a few days ago, and she was happy to have me share this victory with you all.
The juxtaposition of those two experiences, so close together, made a deep impression on me. Both individuals were struggling severely, but they made different decisions. One agreed with Life and the other agreed with death.
Now, Fern Lodge doesn’t oppose hospitals or disparage folks who use them. In fact, it fully supports the right of each individual to choose the care they feel is most likely to be effective. The people who staff hospitals and medical clinics are often the kindest people you would want to meet. However, the basic premise of medical care is that man’s core being is material, and thus inevitably failing. The bedrock of Christian Science treatment is that man’s core being is spiritual, thus subject to harmony. Seeing the contrasted outcomes of these two dear people made me so grateful that this method of healing, including Christian Science nursing, is available to anyone who wishes to turn to it.
Here’s one final story. A little girl whose mom was a cook at Fern Lodge would sometimes come with her mom to work. She started working there herself when she was old enough. She did not grow up studying Christian Science, but learned about it when she came to work there. A few years back, she began experiencing a severe problem that took her away from work for a time. She initially sought medical help, and was diagnosed with cancer. She began a year-long treatment that included doctor visits, prescriptions, medication, bed rest, and great family concern. The problem did not get better, in fact grew worse. After a while, she decided to stop the medical treatment altogether, and do what she saw happening at Fern Lodge.
She turned to God as her loving Father-Mother, Love itself, and prayed simply and humbly to see and feel this love. She rejected the matter-view of herself as a very sick mortal, and embraced the spiritual view, God’s child now, as the only legitimate view, and stuck with this. There was improvement, and after a while she felt like the woman in the Bible who touched the hem of Jesus’ robe. The Bible account says, “And straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of that plague.” A follow-up doctor’s appointment confirmed that indeed, she was completely free from any vestige of the cancer. Since she had discontinued all medical drugs and treatment, the doctor commented, “I don’t know what has healed you, but you are entirely clean.” She was healed, physically and spiritually. She remains a joyful, cherished member of the Fern Lodge family. She can be heard sometimes in the breakfast kitchen cheerfully encouraging the patients there to pray and be grateful!
Fern Lodge, made strong by the contributions of each person who comes there with a loving heart, is thriving and ready to face its next 50 years, with God’s grace.
As a final thought, consider this: if a modest, off-the-beaten-path care facility can be this successful force for good for its employees, patients, and families for the last half century by choosing love, practicing it, and sticking with it, might that not give us all hope that we all can do this, whatever our circumstances? Wherever we are, whatever work we are doing, whatever we are engaged in, we can choose a more spiritual view. We can choose love over hate, harmony over discord, peace instead of pain, life rather than death, and wholeness in place of separation. Thank you for already being that light, right where you are, a force for harmony and force for good. Thank you for your on-going support of Fern Lodge and the good it is accomplishing. We all get to go forward!