With Valentine’s Day coming up soon, we share this previously published piece from Emerging Gently on the topic of Love.
This is #10 in a series of posts looking at the 26 Christian Science Weekly Bible Lesson subjects, chosen by Mary Baker Eddy, and rotated twice per year. These lessons are the sermon at each Christian Science church worldwide, and are read by Christian Scientists daily. Today’s subject is “Love”. Look for other posts in the category “Lesson Sermon Subjects“.
Love…another big subject, sort of like “God”, but not quite so big. Everyone wants and needs it, and there are many different ideas of what “love” exactly is. In reference to the Lesson Sermon subject of the same name, “Love” is a synonym for God (hence my capitalization of the word in keeping with what I call “Christian Science Grammar”). I’ll try to keep this focused on Love, and maybe touch a bit on the Christian Science take on love.Love (with a capital “L”)…
Love in the sense of being a synonym for God means God’s caring about us (humans) who are God’s “children” or “reflections” in Christian Science as I came to see it. In Christian Science we all are often referred to as “reflections of God” as well as his/her “children”. In that sense, we’re almost, but not quite, like God. This is a point of Christian Science theology that causes some controversy between Christian Science and most mainstream Christian faiths–this elevation of human-kind to a level almost equal to God.
“(1) The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
(2) He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
(3) He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of rigteousness for his name’s sake.
(4) Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
(5) Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou annointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
(6) Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” (Psalm 23 ~ King James Version)
Love to me, in the synonymous-with-God sense, means God’s love, caring, and protection of us, and (supposed) healing of us. That’s what it came to mean to me as a Christian Scientist. As you read Psalm 23 above, you’ll get a very true sense of how I came to see this sense of “Love”. It’s a nice, warm kind of love from an benevolent (most of the time, unless you’re a Canaanite or Philistine) almighty being that I don’t necessarily really believe in anymore–well not the Judeo/Christian/Islamic version. I don’t believe in God as a sentient, separate, almighty intelligence, and I’m not really sure how much I ever did accept that sense of God when I was a Christian Scientist. So, while this concept of Love is still a nice one as far as I’m concerned, I don’t really fully accept it anymore. I don’t believe in the “sky” God of the Bible, so I don’t believe there is that being “out there” that loves me or cares for me, and I’m perfectly fine with that. I outgrew my need for imaginary friends many years ago; “God” just took me a bit longer. I believe in the love expressed towards me by my friends and family, and the love I express to them. It’s a positive energy that exists in the universe, and is a part of the fabric thereof. If there is a sense of “God’s love”, if you want to call it that, that I believe in, that would be it.
Love (small “l”)…
What is love (not capitalized) to a Christian Scientist? Pretty much what it is to most people, to be honest. I’m not going to discuss sexuality and Christian Science issues at length here in this post (that’s a quagmire of weirdness I don’t feel like stepping through right now), so don’t bother asking. But love, as in romantic love? For most Christian Scientists, it’s largely what it is to the rest of us, just with a few odd hang-ups around the sex part. While sex is an integral part of romantic love for most people, there are some odd hang-ups there in the Christian Science universe (I knew long-time married couples who proudly stated to anyone who’d listen that they had not had sex in many years). Hard-core Christian Scientists will view sex as an inconvenient part of the procreative process and outside of that purpose will want nothing much to do with it. Mary Baker Eddy had enormous hang-ups regarding sex and romantic relationships, never mind that she was married three times.
Christian Scientists will often tend to put a Christian Science-y spin on love as they will on most issues. To them, love is the love and affection you feel towards another person, although the Christian Scientist will say that it emanates from God, and it is that love of God that is expressed through you to the one you love. This tends to make it somewhat disconcertingly impersonal, and many is the sad tale I’ve heard of people who grew up in Christian Science homes who rarely experienced true love and warmth from their parents. I don’t quite know how us puny humans have this magical ability to channel the almighty God’s love to people we happen to love, but apparently we can. That applies for the non-romantic love you feel for your parents, siblings, or close friends too. It’s all your expression of God’s love. To the Christian Scientist, everything that happens, everything you do, everything others do (as long as it’s good) is God’s action. The bad stuff? It’s all an illusion and it didn’t really happen. How convenient! Nice way to avoid problems–deny them into submissive unreality.
I have written many posts on this blog. Two of the past posts I have done have been about celebrating Christmas or Yule or the Winter Solstice, after leaving Christian Science.
I have talked about how my Christian Science parents taught me that “Santa Claus isn’t real,” because “we don’t lie to our children.” See “Santa Claus Isn’t Coming to Town.” When I was a bona-fide Christian Scientist, I was one of the biggest champions of the message, “Christmas is about Jesus’ birth! Tell everyone!”
After leaving Christian Science, I thought I became Pagan. I learned of the celebration of “Yule,” on December 21. I have since learned more things and realized I don’t want to celebrate “Yule,” because I think I understand now that it’s a Wiccan thing, and I am not Wiccan. Last year, we celebrated the Winter Solstice, which I will continue to do, and for me, it’s separate from Yule.
My beliefs have changed many times now, and every year, I sit back and re-evaluate what’s important to me. I have done this annual evaluation – since my kids were younger. We even evaluated which Christmas ornaments we liked in our collection, donating the ones we didn’t like, keeping the ones we did.
This year, I finalized a divorce from my kids’ dad. Both of my kids are in their late teens and have chosen to stay at their dad’s house due to good Internet access and their friends being there. I could no longer afford rent in that area and have chosen to move to a different state and start a new life where things are much more affordable for me.
I am flying my kids to see my family in a few days, and we will have an early celebration without a name to it. I will have our little ceramic light-up tree, and stockings I bought for them, filled with things. I am also making all their favorite seasonal cookies.
My larger family (all Christian Scientists) will be there the next day, and we’ll have a big Christmas celebration, opening gifts to each other and having brunch and a special evening meal after spending a day together. That will be a lot of fun.
On the actual Christmas Day, I think it will just be my partner and me and my dogs, like it is every other day of the year. I’m expecting we may have a nice meal we think up (for Thanksgiving this year, my partner grilled us nice steaks, and I made us mashed potatoes and cookies). It’s nice to do things simply, and just focus on who you are with and what is going right in our life right now, rather than having to fuss and work and stress about making it a perfect holiday like we remember when we were kids.
I am making enough Christmas cookies to share with my larger family, my partner’s larger family, and my neighbors. It is fun to just go to homes and wish them a happy day and share cookies. I look forward to doing that with my local neighbors one of these days.
On the Winter Solstice, I will probably still go out and see the sunset. I live in a tiny house now, and don’t have a fireplace or a firepit. So I’ll probably light a candle and maybe burn some tracing paper that has my wishes on it. We shall see. Fire safety is super important to me, I do not want to start a wildfire, so I am always extremely cautious when lighting a candle or a fire. One year, we whispered our wishes into pine cones and placed the pine cones back where we found them, for fae folk to carry our wishes forward. Maybe I will do that this year, too. Who knows. We shall see.
I invite you to consider figuring out what works for you each holiday season, and what doesn’t work for you. Do what you love and don’t do so much that you stress badly about it.
Will you please leave a comment with something you love to do during this season? I would love to see what others do this time of year.
I send you wonderful light and joy for this holiday season!
Content Note: This article contains detailed descriptions of the symptoms and effects of a mental health condition that may be alarming to some readers. The Ex-Christian Scientist recommends that anyone who is dealing with a mental health condition seek qualified assistance and treatment.
I spent the majority of April 2003 with one foot in and one foot out of reality. I was just finishing up a three year journalism program and internship. During this time, I began feeling incredible anxiety, panic, and fear—unlike I had ever experienced before. I casually mentioned this to one of my professors, who told me to see the college’s therapist. This person was actually more like a guidance counselor than someone with the qualifications of a licensed therapist. She strongly advised me to see a doctor.
I was raised in Christian Science since birth, so the idea of visiting a physician to get a handle on this issue was completely foreign to me. Despite this, I came home from our session and decided to walk down the street to a plaza that had a walk-in medical clinic. I spent all of 10 minutes with the doctor, who barely listened to me before prescribing Paxil for anxiety and depression. Praxil is an extremely potent drug that was pulled in 2009 from distribution in the United States due to numerous lawsuits regarding tendencies for suicide, birth defects, as well as extreme withdrawal symptoms.
I took the Paxil as prescribed for a period of two weeks. During that time, I began experiencing some extreme symptoms, including hallucinations and grandiose ideas to the point of feeling omnipotent. I was already a considerable night owl due to my field of study, so my parents thought nothing of me hammering away on my computer and talking to people on the phone at all hours. They had no idea that I thought I was George W. Bush and that I considered my bedroom to be the Oval Office in the White House.
The people I was talking to at night weren’t really on the phone—I was having imaginary conversations with Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and every single United States president that preceded George W. Bush. We were busy, so I believed, with drafting up plans to capture the world’s most wanted terrorist, Osama Bin Laden. Meanwhile, in real life, I had been sending a bombardment of emails to classmates, friends, professors, and angry sources for prior interviews and stories I had written for local papers. I thought all of them were either members of my cabinet, senators, and/or ministers heading up various departments of my government. On the evening of April 27, 2003, “we” got a lead (or so I thought) pinpointing Bin Laden’s exact location. Our plan was to use sitcom stars and celebrities as CIA agents, and to send up the space shuttle to nuke the Bin Laden using a laser beam. If you think this sounds crazy, it was.
I hadn’t slept in two whole weeks and found myself in a complete crisis on April 28, 2003, which so happened to be my mother’s birthday. I woke my brother and parents up that morning telling them that my plan to kill Bin Laden had been leaked to the press and that we were all in mortal danger. I thought I could see the U.S. Capitol and White House through my window, and advised them not to venture outside because snipers were on the roof and the Secret Service would be showing up to evacuate everyone and take us by motorcade to my aunt’s street. I thought that Air Force One was there and we would head by air to an undisclosed location.
The next thing I knew, my parents lied to me and told me that the Secret Service had a new plan to allow them to drive me to the White House—a white house, but not the actual White House. They pulled up to the local emergency room and told the doctors exactly what had happened. The next thing I knew I had passed out in a holding room. I woke up with four psychiatrists standing over me, waiting to start an interview process which I thought at the time was more of an interrogation to figure out over the course of a 72 hour psychiatric hold exactly what mental illness I had. In the end, the chief of psychiatry at the hospital delivered my parents a verdict: I had bipolar disorder.
My father, who was a staunch Christian Scientist, and my mother—who was not, were in a state of shock and denial. My dad thought that the Paxil I was taking was the culprit, and once it was flushed out of my system completely, I would be fine and could go home. Both of my parents thought there was no way I could be mentally ill, and that the psychiatrist was way off with his assessment. They had never heard the term bipolar disorder before, and so began the process of him educating them about the disease. Neither of them felt I should be surrounded by people who could become violent at a moment’s notice who were on the same ward as I was. All my parents knew about mental illness was what clinical depression was, and about people who were wired wrong committing violent crimes that made the local news.
I spent three months in a psychiatric ward getting well. During my stay, I was required to attend a special program where patients did crafts, games, and above all, group counselling—where we had to talk about our problems on a daily basis. We had to do this before transitioning to the outside, and then do the same program daily as an out patient once released, until told otherwise. It was strongly drilled into me by the head of that program that leaving it was a bad idea.
I absolutely hated the program, and wanted no part of it. My father also felt it was detrimental to me because, as taught in Christian Science, people shouldn’t rehearse a problem and give it credibility—rather than denying the lie and focusing on who man “really was” as taught by Mary Baker Eddy, and drilled into me in Sunday School. He felt that others insisting that they or I was ill was a form of malpractice against me—delaying my healing in Christian Science. So, instead of going to the program, I was driven around in the car to give me something to do. I was often taken to a Christian Science Reading Room during my recovery so dad could do metaphysical work and pick up the latest Christian Science Journal.
While this was happening, my journalism career ended up in tatters after an editor lost an article that I had written a month before it was to be published. The article was fine and contained zero inaccuracies when it was initially sent to him. When this person lost my draft, he had me write another one up; but, now I was completely out of it, and had no recollection of what I had written having been in a mental health crisis in hospital. It ended up being printed a few days after I got out. They later retracted it after I quoted a source in the article inaccurately and couldn’t produce tape or notes for back-up.
My official graduation from college happened in June 2003—before I was released from the hospital. My doctor ended up putting me on enough medication, and with chaperones to attend with me, I received my diploma and returned to the ward that night. Unfortunately, I knew that everything I had worked for years to accomplish was now up in smoke, and nobody would employ me—or so I thought at the time. Once I was released, I did fine for six months before suffering a relapse.
While I don’t blame my parents for any of this, Christian Science played a huge part in them not knowing what bipolar disorder was. None of us knew the symptoms of the disease and its undercurrent of hypo-mania that had been leading up to an inevitable crisis for approximately 10 years prior. I had crippling depression and then bursts of happiness throughout these years, and constantly slid between both poles rapidly, with zero warning but without any delusions as a child. I also always twisted mild teasing from peers into something completely different and totally out of context.
I couldn’t relate to any of my peers whatsoever. I even had my arm broken by a classmate during recess one day. It was several months before I reached high school, when the school district wouldn’t allow me to enroll in a school that these classmates wouldn’t be in so I could have a fresh start. My parents home schooled me until I found a school offering equivalent of GED to adults. During this time, the school board insisted I see a doctor and counselor because they thought I could be mentally ill and that this was the cause of my problems. My dad took me to a doctor, thinking there was nothing wrong with me at all.
At the end of the discussion, she gave him card and referral to a psychiatrist. I remember my father getting into the car, rippling the card up and telling me this was the standard brush off and a way to dump a client they didn’t want. He still prayed for years in Christian Science to fix my social problems until everything came to a head in 2003—10 years later.
I mentioned earlier that my career was in tatters. The only good thing that came from this awful experience—that still impacts me daily—was a second chance. I was in total despair one day, and reached out to a friend who asked me if there was anything I wanted to do in journalism that I hadn’t achieved, or that involved writing for magazines or newspapers. I told her that I really wanted to be a film critic. We ended up finding a lead and a site that has published my interviews, features, and reviews for over 17 years now.
This work has led to guest appearances speaking about the Academy Awards and other film-related topics for U.S. and Canadian radio and television. I would have never had this opportunity without being diagnosed as bipolar, eventually following medical treatment to the letter, and ditching Christian Science completely; and having constant care under watchful eye of a psychiatrist for over two decades now. While there were numerous missed opportunities over the course of 10 years prior to experiencing my full blown psychiatric crisis, I do not blame my father or mother for anything that I experienced. My father didn’t know any better, and he followed Mary Baker Eddy’s teachings for 60 years until his passing from terminal cancer in 2021. He believed, as I did until my crisis, that the TRUTH contained in her writings and teachings could heal any disease—including mine. When it couldn’t it devastated him.
My father was never the same afterwards, and blamed his genetics for everything I experienced with the disease. Our relationship became somewhat fractured, as he could see that the same traits within himself—with constant rapid cycles of depression, horrible temperament, and twisting of what others said. My psychiatrist believed strongly that he had an undiagnosed type of bipolar disorder, minus the delusions, for all of his adult life. While I got helped by modern medicine, he never took those steps for himself because of Christian Science. It is a fact I cannot change, and I continue to grapple with it every moment of every day.
I have noticed that with Ex Christian Scientists, we all have similarities and differences. And it all is due to the way our parents worshipped Christian Science (or not).
Some parents were super strict, like my step-mom. She was the daughter of a Christian Science Practitioner, who was also the daughter of a Christian Science Practitioner. My dad’s family, on the other hand, were much less strict in the way they worshipped.
When it was just my dad and me, he let me have honey when my throat hurt, just to soothe it. It helped me stop coughing. When he got married, that was forbidden, because it was a “material remedy.”
Other blog posts here have shared this strict attitude, too. “Elizabeth’s Story” shares when she had the measles at Principia Upper School in St. Louis, Missouri. She was miserable and couldn’t breathe. She figured out that a wet washcloth, draped over her mouth, helped her breathe. And yet, it was a material remedy, so it was snatched from her, and she was treated as if she was a criminal for even trying to have a washcloth to help her breathe when she had the freaking measles during an epidemic at her school!
My dad’s parents / my grandparents, on the other hand, took their kids to the doctor when things were rough. One of my uncles asked my grandpa a few times, “hey, dad, do you remember taking me to the doctor when I was little, for that ingrown toenail?” My grandpa remembered.
My grandpa later had surgeries for things as he got older. I am so glad he did, too, because he lived to be 100 years old, and my kids got to know him.
Whereas, my practitioner grandmother died much younger. She probably had a stroke or heart attack, though an autopsy was never performed. I am not sharing more of that story, because my family is still around, and they may read this blog some day and not be too happy if I share anything personal like that.
My dad, his dad and I all wear or wore glasses or contact lenses. Mary Baker Eddy wrote in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” that “Eyes [are] spiritual discernment.” Meaning, if you understand things spiritually, you won’t need eye glasses or contact lenses. My family saw eye glasses and contact lenses as “temporary means,” like someone might use crutches for a while, until they “demonstrate over” a problem like “the belief of a sprained ankle.” It’s temporary. Whereas something like surgery is not temporary, therefore it shouldn’t be done, because that’s a material remedy.
(But, wait, wouldn’t a wet washcloth to help with breathing, or honey to help a sore throat also be temporary? It’s so confusing.)
I heard a story by an Ex Christian Scientist, that a little boy had been run over by a truck of all things. And his head had been squashed. He had so many healings about it, and the last healing he needed was to have his eyesight healed. He wore eyeglasses. His family moved at some point, and wanted to attend the local Christian Science Church. They were shunned from the church because their son wore eyeglasses. So many wonderful healings this precious child had, and they were shunned because he wore eyeglasses. This is such a completely different experience from the one where I grew up in – with a family where more than 1/2 of us wear or wore eyeglasses or contact lenses.
So, I grew up with the different ways of worshipping Christian Science – the strict and the not-so-strict.
Leaving Christian Science, I was relieved to find out about the Ex Christian Science Facebook group. People from all over the world are in the group. We all share our stories. Some are horrific – club feet that weren’t treated by a doctor (easily) when a child was small. Problems that went on for so long that a limb had to be amputated, when it might have been something easy to do from the medical perspective these days, like take insulin for diabetes.
Christian Science has left many major scars on so many of us.
Other people, like the ones I went to Sunday School with, growing up, went to doctors. They got their shots, took cough syrup, used band-aids, and still went to Christian Science church and Sunday School on Sundays.
I know in my family, we were taught that the Sabbath was every day of the week. We were supposed to think about God 100% of the time. Any time we turned our thoughts away from God, we had the superstitious belief that we would get a problem like become sick with cancer, sprain our ankle, or maybe even die. But then my Sunday School friends didn’t think like that at all. And they never seemed to be punished for not thinking that way.
When I was very little, my bio mom left my life. Later, in my teen years, my dad told me, “she never really understood Christian Science.” That’s what so many people say. I am sure my family all tells each other this about me, now, too. The funny thing is, I went through Class Instruction (this is mentioned in so many of these blog posts) and for a while, I was also a Journal-listed Practitioner. I worshipped God all the time. I “prayed without ceasing,” as is mentioned in II Thessalonians. Believe me, I understood Christian Science.
I hear stories from the other Ex Christian Scientists where they remember their Christian Science Teacher (the one who teaches Class Instruction) say, “they never really understood Christian Science” when someone “leaves the fold” [leaves Christian Science].
So all of that prelude brings me to what I wanted to blog about today –
Many of us have had similar experiences. We may not all share 100% of the same experiences, but we all share some experiences with many people.
Many of us weren’t allowed to use band-aids, or we were chastised about it. I once heard a Wednesday evening testimony about a woman who went to the drug store and saw band-aids for sale. She reached for them, as if she wanted to buy them. But then she had a change of heart. She realized that “Science and Health” says that “accidents are unknown to God.” So, if she bought the band-aids, she would be superstitious that she would have an accident that week and then need a band-aid. So she didn’t buy them. And this was a healing! She never needed a band-aid. On a kaleidoscope, let’s pretend this is pink.
Another group of us may have had some physical trauma to our leg or our foot or ankle. And have had no care for it. No wrap, no ice, no pain relief, so cast, no medicine, no crutch to support us. We probably lay in bed, maybe even feeling guilty for elevating our feet or legs to relieve some of the painful pressure. Let’s call this blue on the kaleidoscope.
Another group of us probably had heart problems, but didn’t know it until we left Christian Science and started going to doctors. I have heart problems. For me, this has shown up as being short of breath when running track in high school. I was short of breath when walking up a flight of stairs. I remember some guys moving a bed in to my house, up a flight of stairs to our bedroom. They made fun of me for being short of breath at the top of the stairs. I was mortified. I couldn’t understand why that was true for me – I was a weight lifter, I could rock climb, I took walks, I loved to canoe, ski, I was very active. But walking up a flight of stairs left me winded. Low and behold, about 10 years later, I found out I have heart problems. Back in high school, I wondered if it was asthma, so I prayed a LOT about asthma. I don’t have asthma. I have heart problems. Thank goodness for things like heart surgery and heart medicine. If I hadn’t left Christian Science, and hadn’t gone to a good cardiologist, I am positive I would have been dead by now. Let’s call heart problems red on the kaleidoscope.
Some kids, like me, weren’t allowed to have cough syrup. I had it one time when I was staying at my bio mom’s house. She had gotten me a babysitter, and the babysitter offered it to me when I wouldn’t stop coughing. (It turns out, I learned this at the age of 50!) that I have seasonal allergies. They are so bad, that every year throughout my life, I have coughed quite severely for weeks on end. And the coughing turns into either bronchitis or pneumonia. Every year of my life since I was an infant. This year, I finally started taking a swig every morning of children’s grape flavored Zyrtec during allergy seasons. And, low and behold, I didn’t cough. I didn’t get bronchitis, and I didn’t get pneumonia. Something so easy to do – a morning allergy medicine. A children’s dose at that. And I have experienced so much relief. Let’s call allergies green on the kaleidoscope. And let’s call coughing turquoise on the kaleidoscope. Bronchitis can be orange, and pneumonia can be a deep red-orange color.
There are so many kinds of trauma in life in general, like mental abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, child abuse, hitting, punching, kicking. While too many Christian Scientists also subjected their kids and each other to these kinds of abuse, these aren’t specifically Christian Science related. They are real, and they are terrible. But they aren’t just a type of abuse limited to Christian Scientists. Let’s call these kinds of abuse black on the kaleidoscope. I have definitely heard of every kind of this abuse in the Ex Christian Science circles. But they didn’t happen to everyone. But they happened to a lot of people. I was particularly horrified to hear about this kind of abuse at Christian Science facilities including schools and camps. The staff at those places put on haughty “holier than thou” attitudes, then turn around and commit some of the worst atrocities I have heard of.
Here’s an interesting thing in Christian Science. Somewhere in “Science and Health” or in her Prose Works, Eddy talks about not partaking in coffee or caffeine. Many people don’t know, but she actually brewed coffee at her home so that people who did the work around her house would have some if they wanted it. My step-mom and her family took this to the extreme – they drank no coffee of course. They also never ate coffee flavored yogurt or coffee flavored ice cream. My grandfather grew up in New England, and while I forget which state it is, perhaps it’s Rhode Island, but it could just as easily be Massachusetts or Delaware too, they have coffee flavored things just as readily as they might have vanilla or chocolate flavored things. Things like milk shakes at McDonald’s. My grandfather’s favorite flavor of ice cream was coffee flavored ice cream. He offered it to my step-mom often. She consistently turned him down. Whereas when I was a little child, I ate it eagerly, knowing that it was a little bit forbidden. It made me feel like a rebel to partake in the coffee flavored yogurt. It tastes so good!
Here’s a funny thing about caffeine – I could never understand why, if chocolate also has caffeine, why it wasn’t forbidden, but coffee was. Also, I had a friend in Sunday School whose dad, as far as I know, is just as strict as my step-mom. When we became adults with fiancé’s, he made fun of my (never a Christian Scientist) boyfriend for drinking coffee, when he, himself, my Christian Science friend, drank a Mt. Dew (a soda that has more caffeine in it than Coca-Cola, as far as I understand it). Let’s call a resistance to drinking caffeine and coffee brown on the kaleidoscope.
One other thing that was common in Christian Science households growing up was emotional abuse. Telling kids they can’t feel sad, or angry, or disappointed, or frustrated. Anything that isn’t grateful, joyful or happy is not to be felt. If someone died, you have to feel happy and grateful. No grief allowed. No sadness, no tears. Let’s call this yellow on the kaleidoscope. it’s emotional abuse. It’s emotional invalidation. I once said, “I hate .” I don’t even remember what it was that I said I hated. But my dad immediately said to me, “you don’t hate anything.” My step-mom, of all people, told him that was invalidating. She got very angry at him for saying that. “Maybe she DOES hate . Don’t tell her she doesn’t!” That was quite a confusing moment for me. They disagreed about a Christian Science doctrine, as far as I could tell. She had always been the more strict person regarding Christian Science doctrine, so it was shocking when my dad said something that would be in line with strict Christian Science doctrine, and she stated the exact opposite. Usually, my step-mom would be the one to put the yellow in my kaleidoscope, but this time it was my dad and not my step-mom.
One thing I observed as I got older, while I was still enmeshed with Christian Science church and doctrine was that older Christian Scientists got fat. In the Christian Science “nursing” homes (sanatoriums), nurses love to feed their patients ice cream and milk shakes. I have started reading a book about Florence Nightingale, and feeding milk shakes to patients can be the only way to get calories into their bodies when they aren’t able to eat or consume things easily. I figured out that since we aren’t allowed to deal with our emotions in a healthy way, and we aren’t allowed to have drugs, cough syrup, shots for the flu (I got the flu every single year, growing up. It’s awful.), or any kind of thing to help us feel better, the only remedy we were allowed was food. So we all ate our emotions, our sadness, our traumas, our pain. We ate, ate, ate. It was the only drug available to us. It’s legal, and no one at the store cards you for buying food, no one judges you for having food in your house. It’s considered “normal” and “okay.” I have also noticed that a lot of us who left Christian Science have eating disorders now. That’s no fun, and it’s common. Let’s call this purple on the kaleidoscope.
Some people experienced a broken bone in Christian Science, that wasn’t set properly by a doctor, in a cast. This is awful. Leaving Christian Science, years later, the bone has set and probably isn’t properly set and causes other problems. Problems I can’t even imagine, that cause pain and suffering for the rest of the person’s life. Let’s call that white on the kaleidoscope.
There are many other things that folks have experienced in Christian Science that I haven’t personally experienced. I was able to share things here that I have experienced, that I also noticed that others who have left Christian Science have had experiences that I haven’t had, but they can share those experiences with other people. As I am typing this, I am blanking out on what those experiences are. Maybe one has popped into your head as you read this. You can assign it a color, or perhaps you’re okay if I assign it the color of green on the kaleidoscope.
So, if you take all of these colors and put them into a kaleidoscope and turn it, and look through it, you might recognize the colors in there that are familiar to you, problems you experienced in Christian Science. Perhaps you recognize the purple eating disorder, the black trauma, and the pink band-aids, but you don’t recognize the brown coffee / caffeine issue or the blue feet or leg issues, or the red heart issues. Other people might have the red heart issues, the green color of a problem I haven’t experienced, the turquoise of the allergies and the red-orange of the pneumonia, and the white of a broken bone never set properly.
Some people have lost their parent or a cherished relative or friend, at too young of an age, thanks to radical belief in Christian Science. It’s horrible to lose someone so young. I know of parents who have lost their child due to radical reliance on Christian Science and a Christian Science Practitioner saying, “you can’t go to a doctor, or the child will die, because doctors study matter, but we study Life. Studying matter brings only death. You don’t want death do you?” It’s horrifying, but this is absolutely what has happened to too many people, too many children. Dying of something that would have very likely been easily treatable by a doctor, if they had been taken sooner, rather than relying solely on Christian Science “treatment” or prayer. I don’t even know what color to assign this one. Maybe indigo. Some folks have indigo in their kaleidoscope. I have a touch of indigo from an extended family member who died in middle school.
I notice on this blog that we often get comments that say, “that’s not true, I never experienced that.” The commenter is basically saying, “you’re lying, no one in Christian Science believed that way.” It’s gas-lighting to speak this way to a survivor of trauma. Maybe they experienced trauma you didn’t experience. It doesn’t mean “no one experienced it.” It means that they experienced it, and you didn’t.
We all have at least a few of these colors on our kaleidoscope. And some of us share many of the colors, but also have other colors in our own kaleidoscope that others don’t have, and vice versa.
I hope this helps folks picture the traumas and the overlap and also the disconnect that we all can have, as survivors of Christian Science.
Please be compassionate when you comment on this blog. You may identify with many of the posts here, and other posts may seem outlandish. But, I assure you, these stories are true from the survivor’s perspective. They are every bit as true as the stories that are printed in the Christian Science periodicals like The Christian Science Sentinels, Journals and Heralds.
Thank you for reading. I wish you peace and a kaleidoscope of colors that have happy meanings instead of the meanings of trauma.
Filled Up Full originally appeared on Kindism.org, it is reprinted here with slight edits and permission.
The other evening one of the children thoughtfully pulled all the books off the bookcase in the playroom. I took a few deep breaths, reminded myself they’re testing their limits, and then recruited the children to help neatly stack the books so we could put them back on the shelves. As we sorted through Dr. Seuss, and Richard Scarry I came across Filled up Full a children’s book which simplifies very basic Christian Science beliefs written in the 1970s.
I thought I had taken all the Christian Science propaganda out of the kid’s room, apparently I missed a book.
I checked back through the shelves to make sure this was the only piece of offending propaganda, my MIL frequently sends us home with “books for the kids” and occasionally adds CS lit from my husband’s childhood. Travis Talks with God was no where to be found (I think it is in a box under the my bed). The pamphlet with the bicycles was also gone.
After the children were in bed I decided to flip through the book that is in every Christian Science Reading Room, Sunday School and Childcare Room in the United States. It was published in 1974 and hasn’t changed since. Every Christian Scientist I’ve reminisced about childhood CS lit with (a fair number, I did go to Prin!) remembers this book (and Travis Talks with God). The copy we own was priced at $2.50 and was probably purchased in the early 1980s.
There isn’t much of a story, just some water color illustrations of animals and children with rather bland accompanying text:
See this kitten? She thinks only kitten thoughts. She doesn’t think of wading like a duck. She wouldn’t crawl like a turtle. Because she’s a kitten — filled up full with kitten thoughts!
It goes on in this way with different animals only doing one thing because they’re filled up full with their own thoughts, and then it gets to a little blond girl:
See me? I’ve filled up full with thoughts from God. So there’s no room for grouchy thoughts, or even little mean thoughts. God’s truth makes me strong. God’s love makes me kind. I’m filled up full with thoughts from God.
Of course being full of thoughts from God also means you won’t be selfish, or lie. You’ll share and be honest. You won’t be sad or bad, you’ll be happy and good.
In the very back of the book there is a “Dear Parent” letter. I agree with part of the premise:
Dear Parent, Most of us have seen what happens with a child repeatedly hears “You are very bad.” The child often accepts the image even proudly committing further disobediences while assuring everyone that “I’m very bad.” This book can help your child see that no one has to accept a “bad” image. No one has to accept dishonest, or mean, or selfish thoughts. Far from it. As this book shows, it’s natural to be good. But right from the start every one of us must learn to preserve his innate goodness by filing his day with thoughts from God, with thoughts of Truth and Love, and then acting as those Christly thoughts tell him to act.
No child should hear “you are very bad” all day long, and children are inherently good (if somewhat trying at times) but I disagree about the God part of it. Exactly which God is this who is Truthful and Loving? Has Ms. Dueland read the Old Testament recently? That’s not a nice God. That’s an angry, vengeful, mean, spiteful, petty God. Or do you mean the New Testament God who kills his own son? No thanks.
So while the squirrel is busy being filled with squirrely thoughts, what should children be filled with? The German word for child is kind, which is fitting: children should be filled with kind thoughts.
There is no mention of the squirrel’s squirrely thoughts coming from God, so why would the child’s kind thoughts need a source? Is it because children don’t always have kind thoughts? Well where do those thoughts come from? If they’re not from God then who/what is sending them? Well, those are erroneous thoughts, they’re not real (at least not in Christian Science), but I’m having them anyway.
Yes, lets discount a whole range of children’s feeling as “erroneous” and “unreal.” That strikes me as a really healthy idea. Um, NO! If a child is feeling “bad” or “mad” or “sad” how about you talk to them, instead of just telling them to “be filled up full with thoughts from God!” It is important for children to be able to identify and express their emotions, not have them dismissed as un-God-like.
When I started this post I was about to pardon the book and return it to the kids bookcase but now I’m not so sure.