Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Leaving your nets...or seeking a different catch

The first section of this week's lesson about Christ Jesus tells about the beginning of his ministry. In Matthew's gospel, we read about what he said when he invited Simon Peter and his brother Andrew to become his first two students. He had been preaching, telling those who would listen that the kingdom of heaven is right here, right now. Now he was to take a very important step in his own spiritual journey, he was to become a teacher. One wonders if this is not what God had already told him, Follow Me, and I will make you a fisher of men.

He is out and about one day, walking by the sea of Galilee. He sees two men, fishermen, casting nets into the sea. These men were already disciples of John the Baptist so perhaps this call was not so sudden and unexpected as it appears. I would love to imagine that they were talking about the things John was saying while they fished. John was preaching about 'he who was to come'. These men, then, were moving from disciples to apostles as they were going to be learning from the Messiah himself. So in effect, they did not lay aside their nets, they just changed them, they sought a different catch. He calls them while they were at work, just as he calls Matthew, the writer of this gospel, while he was busy collecting taxes. (an interesting thought for those cherishing the idea of become a fulltime Christian Science practitioner) Another thing that occurs to me is that Peter and his brother and the two sons of Zebedee, who were partners in their fishing ventures and owned many boats, were wealthy. Matthew, the tax collector, was rich. John was known to the high priest and had a house in Jerusalem. All were called to leave that behind, or at least change their focus, to travel with Jesus on his ministry, to learn from him a new trade, as it were. They were referred to as 'unlearned and ignorant' but that simply meant that they were not trained in a school by a rabbi. Even the sons of the wealthy were taught a trade.

So the invitation is issued and accepted. They are to 'follow him'. They are to become fishers of men. These first four are to leave their nets, the others to leave their source of income behind as well. Just what is it we are asked to 'leave' behind when we start on a spiritual journey for answers and healing? Just what is we gain? Mrs. Eddy says what Jesus gave was "the true idea of being, which results in infinite blessings to mortals." With this teaching we come to know about divine Life, Truth and Love. We come to depend only on God, divine Love, who always has met and always meet every human need.

What are you willing to 'leave'? What change of thought is going to be working in you? Only you can answer that. But, if you are willing to do it, you can pick that net back up and use it in a new way, cast it on the right side. Imagine what you can gather in! How do we go about doing this? What steps do we take on a practical level? A good student watches the Teacher. Pay attention to what Jesus says and what he does. Make it your own. Start with the Beatitudes, those right attitudes we can be expressing that lead to blessings and happiness. See how each one applies to your own experience. Understand that you are truly blessed by God. Look for evidence of that around you today. Be grateful. Show by your actions to others that you are not afraid to share the goodness. I'll be writing about that tomorrow...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Writing on the ground

This week's Bible lesson is about Christ Jesus. All the years that I have been studying the Bible and reading these weekly lessons, if there is one thing that I have learned, it is that there is always more to learn, more to see. So whenever a familiar story or passage appears, I rub my hands together and say, 'Oh boy, this week I am in for a treat because I am going to see something I hadn't before'.

One section relates the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman dragged before him by the scribes and Pharisees. They almost seem to have planned this, just to try and trap him into condemning her to the Mosiac punishment of stoning, or going against the established law. So who were these men? The scribes were writers employed to copy the Scriptures, an arduous and fatiguing work. They simply copied the Word, but could not interpret its meaning. The Pharisees were interested in the holy text and teaching of the law to the minutest details. Neither group was noted for compassion. Both saw religion as being consistent with conformity to the law. Their decisions could be taken as binding. They added to the Word many traditions which Jesus did not consider to be binding as they did not come from God. They obviously percieved him to be a threat and hoped to incite violence against him.

So here they are, surrounding a cowering woman, demanding that Jesus pronounce judgment on her situation. How many times have we felt cornered by family, friends, co-workers, church members to make some decision, even to choose sides in an issue. What's touching me so strongly today is just how the Master dealt with this, a pattern for how I can deal with similar situations for myself or for those who call me for prayerful support.

Jesus must have recognized that it was not their business to accuse and judge the woman. They had neither the legal or moral right to interfere in civil disputes. I'm sure he was praying to react in just the right way. Writing on the ground was a symbolic action well known in antiquity, signifying unwillingness to deal with the matter at hand. Jesus was not taking responsibiliy for something that was not really his concern. He did not engage in an arguement. Things might have turned out differently if Eve had simply knelt down and wrote on the ground instead of getting into a conversation with the snake. But I do not think he was idle. We will never know just what he doodled on the ground. Considering what happened next it might have been names. He might have written out several of the Commandments. He might have listed a few sins. They should have taken the hint.

They continued badgering him. His next move is what interests me most. "...he lifted himself up." For me that means he turned to God in prayer, he elevated thought to see past the ugly picture presenting itself and looked to Divine Principle to see that only God's laws were in operation. To divine Love to bring healing to the situation. To divine Truth to only see the real man present. That is the perfect 'Step Two'.

Only then does he speak, inviting whoever among them was without sin to throw the first stone. THAT stopped them. Jesus again stooped down and continued writing on the ground. They were forced to look within themselves and did not like what they saw. They filed out, one by one, beginning with the eldest. Eventually only Jesus, the woman, and his disciples were left.

How lovely this next part is. Jesus again lifts himself up, again takes thought to a higher level for now he must deal with the woman. The text says, 'he saw none but the woman'. I always applied that to the fact that the angry crowd had dispersed, but it could also be how he continued praying about the situation. He saw no other woman there but the innocent, pure child of God. Wouldn't you love to be able to handle a situation that way! See no other person but the child of God before you. This next is also so important....where are those thine accusers? Where are those who would find you guilty, see you as less than the perfect reflection of Good? In reality, there is only God and His creation. Nowhere in that creation are they those who would find fault or plan some else's downfall or act in a vindictive way. The accuser never really exists for God fills all space.

She must have realized who stood before her because she replies to his question that 'no man' is there to accuse her. But she may have feared that he, being so much more, might. He gently takes that fear away. Neither did he condemn her. And since he had already declared that "I and my father are one" then neither did God condemn her. But for her part, she is to go and sin no more.

The lesson includes the Beatitudes and I will expect to gain something new and wonderful from those this week as well. I hope you will too. Be sure and share. I'd love to hear it.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Being still

As I prayed this morning, I turned to an article in this week's Sentinel. The focus of that whole issue is how to pray about the weather and that is very timely with what is going on in Florida. One article mentions two places in the Bible where storms are stilled. That is what I will be thinking about today, how to be still when one seems to be surrounded by turmoil or danger. The first reaction should be to stand beside God as Elijah did in I Kings 19. Running for his life from a vengeful queen, Elijah had taken refuge in a cave deep in the wilderness. God came to him there and asked him, ''what are you doing here?" Then Elijah followed God outside and stood beside Him as he saw first an earthquake, then great wind and a fire. But he could see that God was not in those things. After all the tumult died down God spoke to him with a 'still, small voice'. Isn't that what we want to hear when we are frightened and fearful, a quiet reassurance that in fact we are completely safe.

The second incident is in Mark's gospel. Jesus has had a busy day. He and disciples are in one of Peter's boat, far out on the sea when a sudden storm threatens to capsize them. Jesus was sleeping. The disciples wake him, terrified by the storm. He 'arose, and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm'. Oh, how dearly would we all love to be able to do that! Blown this way and that by circumstances that seem beyond our control, battered by relentless waves of debt or resentment or guilt. And then, with the Christ beside us we feel that wind cease. What would follow would be a great calm. Think about it, do you really think a ship with the Christ aboard could sink?

And then there is that reference in my favorite Psalm, "He leadeth me beside the still waters", the best way to see a perfect reflection. Or Psalm 46:10, "Be still, and know that I am God". Go on to Psalm 107:29, "He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still". There are more! When you feel the need, search in the Bible and find others.

Mrs. Eddy uses the word 'still' over 60 times in Science and Health and twice that many in Prose Works. I also love to turn to the hymnal for inspiration. Just look at the third verse in hymn 49, or both verses in hymn 74...and there are many more.

That's what I'll be doing today and I can hardly wait!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Where could we possibly get that much bread?

There is a wonderful scene in this week's Bible lesson from Mark's gospel. Many of us have been to a Christian Science lecture. They usually last about an hour or so. Well, Jesus had been teaching a growing multitude of listeners for about three days. At this point, he called his disciples together. He did not want to send the receptive crowd away but they were running out of food. He says something very interesting. He does not want them to head home in this hungry state for 'they will faint by the way'. That echoes something he speaks of in the Sermon on the Mount. There he was describing how the Word of God is recieved in the parable of the Sower and the seed. He says there that sometimes the seed falls 'by the wayside', landing on hard or stony ground. That seed cannot sink down into the soil but remains exposed to the feet of passersby, ground down. You may know some people who give that appearance. Those 'seeds' become prey to the birds and are carried away and devoured. You can follow that train of thought easily and see how it could be applied to these listeners. He wanted them to be able to remain with him longer and get his message to the full.

Those disciples, bless their hearts, seem a bit taken aback. And here comes the big question: Where could we possibly get that much bread? Especially here in the wilderness? Have you ever asked yourself that question when faced with a bill coming due, a mortgage payment you can't meet, an obligation that just seems beyond your means to fulfill? How can I possibly come up with the money to satisfy what seems like thousands of demands? Especially when both the check book and the savings account seem pretty empty.

Jesus simply asked them "How many loaves have ye?" Just what do you see as your available supply? They came up with seven loaves and a few fish. Hmmm.

Jesus first organizes the people into groups, having them sit on the ground. This must have set up some sense of anticipation. Then he takes what they had gathered and gave thanks. Do we sit down at the first of the month and give thanks for what we have? Do we acknowledge that Our Father has an unlimited supply for us? Do we feel confident that He will meet our every human need, even if we don't see just how that will happen? Jesus apparently did. He broke the bread in pieces and gave those first to the disciples. They then repeated this action and the bread and fish just kept appearing. They did eat and all were filled. With seven baskets left over!

Those of you who know me may have heard my own 'loaves and fishes' story but I will repeat it here, breaking this bread for those who may not have heard it. Many years ago I was employed as a librarian at a school. My contract ran from September to June. I also had a short summer school program. One year, as the summer was coming to a close, we were facing the month of August with no income and about $2,000 worth of bills due. I prayed and prayed but could not come up with any ideas for a way to earn what I needed for that month. Who would possibly hire me for just one month and what could I do that would earn that much money? It seemed impossible. But I gave thanks for what we did have and turned whole heartedly to God for an answer. Days and weeks passed. Two days before the end of July I got a call from a friend who was also a librarian. She had been contacted by the principal of another school who had a dire problem. Their librarian had been called away on a family emergency and was not expected back until just before school started. They had recieved their library order for the school year, about 30 boxes of books, that needed to be checked in, catalogued, and put on the shelves. My friend already had a commitment for August so she was calling me to see if I could help out. I told her I would be happy to. The principal called later that day and we arranged to meet on his campus the following day. He was so grateful that I was willing to help. He was leaving town himself but gave me a key to the library and an envelope. He hoped that would be adequate. I put it in my pocket and didn't open it until I got home. Inside was $2,000 in cash.

Don't be tempted to ask the wrong question when you face a hungry multitude. You should know instead exactly where you could find that much 'bread', even in the 'wilderness'. As it says in Matt 6:8, "Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him." Don't forget to say thank you!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Meeting at the well

What a clear picture John presents as he describes the meeting at the well. Jesus and the disciples were travelling in Samaria. They came to Sychar. Within it is a famous well named after the Patriarch Jacob. It had been a long walk in a hot, dusty climate. Jesus sits on the edge of the well to rest. This ministry in Samaria is recorded by John to show Christ Jesus as the Saviour, not only of Israel, but of the world. And he seems to have done that one person at a time. What a lesson for those of us who practice Christian Science and want to share it with others. The Samaritans were considered an alien race that boasted of being Israelites. They kept the Sabbath, observed Jewish feasts and other practices. But they held other beliefs about where the temple should be built. Jesus had just heard that John had been cast into prison and he avoided the cities where Herod was powerful.

He arrived around midday, the sixth hour. This was not the time the women normally would gather at the well for the day's water. So this woman may have chosen to come then to avoid them as they would have been rude to her and condemned her lifestyle. Jesus breaks down the barrier and opens the door to a conversation by asking a favor of her, a drink of water. Many times, as we go about our errands and daily tasks, we find ourselves in a situation where we might like to reach out and offer some words of comfort. Many things might hold us back. Not Jesus. The woman is surprised that he has spoken to her. Jesus now can speak to her and lead her to his real message. What he had to offer was the gift of God, just as we do when we share a Sentinel or invite someone to a lecture or a church service. Living water. Refreshment. An unlimited supply of good.

The woman's reply identifies two things that one often hears when someone wants to rely on prayer for healing but has doubts. She considers his offer but does not see how he can deliver as 1. he has nothing to draw with and 2. the well is deep. People want to believe prayer alone can meet the human need but they have to overcome the belief that it can't. That spiritual means alone are not enough to draw upon. That material means and aids are necessary. Just how would he be able to give her 'water' without a bucket or rope or dipper. How can I get this physical healing or meet this demand for supply without some visible source as my answer? Of, this is a huge problem, this well is deep, this is beyond your reach. It is not and never could be beyond the reach of divine Love or outside of the power of divine Truth.

God is our infinite, unlimited, unchanging source of all good. And it is He wish and plan to care for us like the loving Parent He is. What He gives is ours by grace, we don't have to earn it, we can't buy it. We just have to be willing to accept it. And be grateful. And be joyous. If a change of thought is required, we need to be willing to think of things in a new light and not return to old ways of thinking about God and our relationship to Him. What we gain is the understanding of our oneness with the loving Source of all good.

Next time you find yourself 'at the well', don't hesitate to find a way to open that conversation. It is that 'cup of cold water' that someone is desperately needing. It can only bless both of you. This week's Bible lesson shows how we have that same mind that was in Christ Jesus, the only Mind there is. We can walk through our day knowing what he knew. Cheers!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Be as a watered garden

This week's Bible lesson on Soul starts off with some wonderful images. The Golden Text from Jeremiah reminds us of one of God's promises: "...my people shall be satisfied with My goodness, saith the Lord." I looked up 'satisfy' in the dictionary and will be working with some of its meanings this week. It means to fulfill, to free from doubt or question, to discharge an obligation, to meet a need. I see ways to apply that promise to many of the things people call me about when they are asking for prayerful support.

Within the Responsive Reading is an even more vivid image. I love gardening and nothing is more distressing to a gardener than to come upon a garden that has not been watered enough. The plants are dry and dusty, wilted and drooping. The ground is cracked and hard. It just cries out with thirst. Yet, once it is given a refreshing soak it is amazing to see how the picture changes within a short time. The plants are washed free of dust and shining, the stalks are once again upright, the flowers come back and even the ground looks soft and moist. So you can see why I was so excited by this verse also from Jeremiah: "...and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all." Wow! That's just what happens when we turn from the distressing mental or mortal picture we seem to be facing and turn instead to the arms of divine Good.

I often work with the 23rd Psalm and its description of The Good Shepherd. Now I can add these verses as a description of divine Love, Our Father, as The Good Gardener. I can see how He tends to His beloved children. We can find that kind of refreshment and all our needs can be satisfied. One of the hymns says, "who doth His will, His likeness still, is satisfied".

Go about your day today knowing that with God you can feel satisfied, you can satisfy all your debts, you can be as fresh and revitalized as a watered garden. That's what I'll be doing.

Friday, August 8, 2008

A New Threshing Instrument

Today I am praying with Isaiah 41: 15, 16. "Behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth: thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff. Thou shalt fan them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwind shall scatter them: and thou shalt rejoice in the Lord, and shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel."

I love any passage that begins with the word 'behold'. The dictionary says that word is used in the imperative to call attention. So we are to pay particular attention to what follows. Jesus uses it often in his teachings.

Threshing is th process of separating the grain from the straw. This might be done on a threshing floor designed for the purpose out under the open sky on a hill. First the sheaves were loosened upon the ground and oxen driven in a circle over it. Then when the wind blew, the threshed grain was tossed high in the air with a pitch fork, the threshing instrument, and the chaff was blown away. The clean grain fell to the floor to be harvested.

I look to Isaiah's words for two types of inspiration. One way to work with them is to see that divine love will provide a new 'threshing instrument' to help me separate the tares and the wheat in my experience. Some problem has not yielded to my initial prayers and it is time to take a fresh look at what needs to change in my thought.

A second way to see this, in connection with my work as a practitioner praying for others, is to see that God will make 'me' that instrument. I will get just the inspiration I need to see that unreality of the lie about God and His perfect creation.

Either way the result will be that, with the ideas God provides, at all times and under all circumstances the problem can and will be healed. Some things seem to loom over us like mountains; immovable objects, something just to big for us to climb over or around or through, Goliath-like adversities. Despite their claims to be permanent or unchanging, these can be reduced to a less frightening picture and then even hill-sized problems can be carried away. It might take a simple breeze to do it, or it might require the strength of a whirlwind, but it has no substance of its own and cannot resist being removed.

And when this happens, we must see and understand that it would not have happened on its own, it was divine Truth making us free. We can rejoice in the disappearance of the problem, but even more in having learned something about God's loving care and protection. More about our place in His affections. A clearer glimpse of the right to peace, health and supply.

Thanks, Isaiah.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Preen your wings daily

I was very pleased to get another way to expand my growing understanding of our daily spiritual growth. Mrs. Eddy mentions having 'both wings plumed from flight'. I could see applications for that in not trying to hold one very uplifting thought or truth while still having the 'yes, but' thing keeping the other wing down. You just end up going in circles. You need both wings lifting you upward with no negative beliefs dragging you down.

That thought was clear enough but what really moved it up a notch was to substitute the word "preen" in there. At first I resisted that idea because of my preconcieved idea of what "preen" means. I took it to mean an action that was egotistical, showing off, or self-congratulatory. Fortunately, I looked it up in the dictionary and while that is one of its meanings, it is not the primary one. Here is where real inspiration came.

The primary meaning is to smooth or clean the feathers, to trim with elaborate care. A bird must daily preen its feathers, smoothing any that are rumpled or out of place. If they don't it will hamper their ability to fly. They must also clean their feathers, removing any dirt or accumulations. We can all see the wisdom there and how that applies to our thinking and our life. This process takes time and undivided attention, something we rarely seem to give ourselves, and yet how important, especially early in the day, to do this. With all our 'feathers in a row', any misaligned thoughts straightened out, all the dust and debris removed, our flight is assured. And as you fly you ascend upward. Elevated thought, elevated living.

So that is my suggestion for today and this week. Preen your wings. Sometimes birds have to remove damaged feathers, even a quarter of an inch can affect their flying. But once they have put in this time preening they are free to soar. Soar and sing.