I envy those folks who say they grew up in a Christian Science household, but their parents were warm and nurturing. I was not that fortunate.
I was raised in the Christian Science church by a mother who converted to Christian Science shortly after my birth. I grew up in the middle of the polio epidemic and I remember my classmates lining up for the first inoculations of the salk vaccine while I waited in the classroom. I was legally exempted from any medical testing, any health classes and any discussions surrounding health or the human body. I was required to leave the classroom if such a discussion started. I felt like a freak.
I never was allowed to discuss any problem or any illness with my family. The reply to me was just to ‘know the truth’ and ‘straighten up your thinking’ and I would get over it. Christian Science talks about being loving, but spending my childhood experiencing terrible sore throats, fevers, and tonsils so swollen I couldn’t swallow, while all the time being told I wasn’t sick and to get up and go to school was not loving. Being forced to go to school sick—and if I threw up and my mother was called, she would be angry when she picked me up—was not loving.
Whenever I read about a child dying under the care of a Christian Science practitioner I know that I would have been there too, except for pure dumb luck, because my mother definitely would have let me die. I spent the early part of my adulthood mentally berating myself because I was unable to have all these so-called healings and thinking that it was because I just wasn’t a good enough Christian Scientist.
It’s such an emotionally abusive way to bring up a child and it continues to touch our lives even after we leave the church. In my life, it reflects in my inability to acknowledge my own weaknesses and the weakness or illness of others. I simply have no empathy for anyone’s illness or bad fortune, including my own. Underneath it all I still feel that whatever happens is my fault or the fault of other’s thought processes. And even though I know that is not true, it doesn’t stop that voice inside my head from saying ‘straighten up your thinking’.
The story goes that someone introduced Mother to a Christian Science practitioner when I was an infant, and she was ‘healed of her sickness,’ whatever it was. From then on she was a rabid Christian Scientist—that is, until she got old and sick, and then she wasn’t.
Now, many people believe that a Christian Science practitioner is a person who prays for you. This is not quite true. The practitioner is paid to do the metaphysical ‘work’ on your behalf and to sometimes talk to you, telling you and reminding you of the Truth of your non-existence, in order to correct your erroneous thinking that is causing your illness. Practitioners do not commonly make house calls and frequently have no contact with their patients during a particular illness or challenge. This is also known as ‘absent treatment.’ For others, practitioners function as a sort of talk therapist.
My mother had gone to many doctors, who found nothing wrong. Reading between the lines of her stories, which were always sort of secretive, I believe she was suffering from postpartum depression after she had me and she began to have panic attacks. Panic attacks are a very real thing, causing blood pressure to rise, heart rate to increase and an intense sense of dread. The person often feels as though they are dying.
A good Christian Science practitioner would speak lovingly, assuring the patient that all is well, that this situation is all just a matter of erroneous thought. Perhaps my mother’s psychological problem was ‘healed’ by that and perhaps it just went away as her hormones settled down. Who knows?
At some point when I was very little, Mother went through Christian Science class instruction. Knowing what our financial situation was and the huge lack of money, it must have literally taken food out of the family’s mouths for her to take class. This was at a time when my dad was raising chickens, selling eggs door to door, and killing and cleaning the stewing hens for customers he had developed.
Mother went into Chicago for two weeks to be taught the deepest, darkest secrets of Christian Science. One of the subjects taught was ‘malicious animal magnetism’ which is something you were to avoid at all costs. Malicious animal magnetism is other people working against your metaphysical work. I don’t pretend to know all there is about malicious animal magnetism (MAM) because I never went through class, but I sure heard about it all my life.
You were never to let anyone know you were sick, afraid, hurt, whatever; you had to keep all these feelings secret to avoid being a victim of malicious animal magnetism, to ‘protect the work’. Are you laughing yet? I am now, but as a child having all this drummed into your head affects a person forever. Putting it down in black and white, I find myself just shaking my head and laughing because it’s nuts.
After class, Mother went back each year for her ‘Association’ meeting. She was especially proud of the fact that her teacher was taught by a student of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science. Most of my mother’s time was taken up with her Christian Science friends, reading the weekly lesson sermon and discussing whatever Mrs. Eddy said about whatever topic they were on. My mother was also constantly running to Chicago to talk to her teacher as if she couldn’t do anything without her. The best hens that my dad killed, cleaned, etc., and the best eggs always went to Chicago whether we had anything or not.
The teacher lived in a gigantic old mansion-type house and I remember having to sit on a chair outside her office for hours while they discussed Christian Science. Many times that is why I waited for hours for her to pick me up somewhere. She was either on the phone with her teacher or down the street at the local practitioner’s house. I wish I had a dollar for every hour I spent outside that woman’s office while my mother hung on her every word. Mother also gave her the best eggs, the best cream, the homemade butter. She was rabidly obsessed with Christian Science, the practitioners and her Christian Science teacher.