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.
With Easter around the corner, we wanted to give some thought about what, how, and why we choose to celebrate.
I don’t remember where I first heard about Sasha Sagan’s book For Small Creatures Such as We, Finding Wonder and Meaning in Our Unlikely World, but I do remember it sitting in my online cart for months before I finally caved and bought a gently used second hand copy, somehow I ended up with an uncorrected proof for limited distribution, but that has not hampered my enjoyment.
In some ways, coming out of Christian Science, which is decidedly devoid of wonder and meaning, and working towards being a secular humanist (godless unchurched heathen), didn’t feel like much of a shift. I stopped going to church, but I wasn’t going all that often anyway. I had never gotten into the habit of attending Wednesday night services, and I certainly didn’t mark the books or read the lesson on a daily basis. The only notable service on the CS calendar is Thanksgiving, and aside from some truly spectacular testimonies, taking almost two hours of prep time out of your Thanksgiving day for an otherwise dull service really messes up the timing of the turkey.
Christian Science has no birth rituals, or concept of confession or atonement. There are no birthdays or anniversaries. No wedding celebrations, certainly no sex, and death is seen as a failing of the deceased. There are no feasts or fasts. There is the Lesson — you should read this daily, and there are The Books, and there is the Sunday Service and the Wednesday night Testimony Meeting and really, you should be there, what more do you need?
Leaving Christian Science opens the door to a world of possibilities for celebration and ritual. What do we want to celebrate, commemorate, or do and why?
Do we choose to celebrate Christmas as we did before, with the occasional Prin Holiday Sing, cookie-swap circuit for those church ladies who felt so inspired (we didn’t), and vague attempts at sharing the Nativity story and tying it in with CS? Or do we embrace secular-Christmas and celebrate family, togetherness, and add a bit of Solstice celebration in as well, with the return of light and warmth?
How do we celebrate Easter? What do we celebrate? Why? As children we would usually get new, often matching, outfits for church, having long outgrown the previous year’s floral abominations. My children still get new outfits, not for church, but because the seasonal shift usually needs new clothes. We celebrate with chocolate bunnies, an egg hunt, and brunch. Why? Why not? Because chocolate bunnies make me happy, and egg hunts are fun.
We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and some weeks we celebrate the simple fact it is finally the end of the week and work and school is done.
So why do we celebrate? I’ve struggled a bit with this, the children celebrate seasonal changes at school, and it made sense to acknowledge these events at home as well. Some things we celebrate out of a sense of tradition. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, a few calendar holidays – some with “religious“ origins. Does every celebration have a deeper meaning? No. Sometimes we celebrate because celebrations are fun, and people have celebrated for things for centuries, why stop now?
This is part of an on-going series, for all posts in this series see the tag Chrystal’s Story.
A note from Chrystal: I was born a fourth-generation Christian Scientist, and finally left the religion when I was in my 40s. In this blog series, I will do my best to share with you my 40+ year journey. I have done my best to make the journey sequential, but it’s also themed to a large extent, and sometimes it has been necessary to take things out of sequence to share a theme.
Earache Story (Part 1)
One evening, my younger son had an earache when he was a toddler. He had them every now and then. One of my brothers used to get those too, but my step mom taught me that “at some point he just outgrew those.” She told me that after the pain of an earache is gone, it drains out, and they are “healed.” My son had probably several of those – a painful ear that drained out the next day, and then was “healed.” I called a Practitioner one time because his ear hurt. It was late at night, and I sat in my rocking chair, holding my precious toddler, and trying to “keep my thought calm.” He kept putting his finger in his ear and screaming. I could barely hear the practitioner talking to me on the phone over the screams of my son. After a while, my son calmed down and went to sleep. I never saw drainage, and thought, “well, that’s just a healing in a different way.” (This story continues, but it comes up – after I left the branch church as a member. This story is “to be continued.” See: Earache Story – Part 2)
My “crazy” ideas, and the best events I have ever orchestrated in my life.
As my boys grew up, I became more and more involved in Christian Science branch church work. I organized the annual lecture for our church, I created a dedication ceremony for our new building from scratch. I bought a new dress and gotten my hair done for the occasion, and baked 2 enormous, beautiful cakes. I expected 100 people to attend, and I think we got less than 30 people; to say “I was disappointed” would be a gross understatement.
At the time, I was on the church board. When I was on the board, a gal we all knew who had been a long time member wrote to us and said something like, “I am gay. You didn’t knowingly choose someone to be a gay SS teacher, and I am giving you the opportunity to ask me to leave.” While the whole LBGTQ idea is anti Christian Science historically, we as a church board, were actually quite progressive. We wrote her an easy letter saying, “We love you for who you are. We didn’t even need to discuss this or vote on it. We invite you to participate in this church now and any time in the future in any capacity that you would like.” She felt so incredibly loved by our letter. She had truly expected to be booted out of the church. We absolutely accepted her. I felt like I was working on bringing the branch church into the future. (That member wasn’t there much longer. She moved away, moved back, joined a different branch church, then left that one too. I feel like there are layers upon layers in each of our stories, and none of us discuss them with each other. Each of us on our own little island.)
While this branch church was progressive when it came to loving a member who was gay, that church was ultra traditional, in that it didn’t allow memorial services or weddings in it. (Why would we need a funeral or memorial service when we don’t believe in death? The person didn’t die. They just “sailed in a boat and went over the horizon!” Why would we commemorate something that never happened?) This same church also only used to let Readers read only from the actual books (“The (KJV) Holy Bible,” and “Science and Health” by Mary Baker Eddy). But now that church allows even A.A. Meetings in the building, memorial services, HOA meetings, and if a Reader wants to read from their electronic device, they are welcome to do that too. It’s a fairly progressive church. They even allow memorial services there now too, though they are called, “Celebration of Life,” and look a whole lot like a regular church service with a small “testimony” time, when people can share memories of the deceased.
When my youngest son was in Kindergarten, I started up a Vacation Bible School (VBS) for Christian Science children. A friend of mine and I ran that for a few years. It was a wonderfully progressive thing to do with the children. One hour per week of Sunday School to learn “The Bible,” with kids not even showing up ½ the time didn’t feel like enough. So having a solid week of VBS for kids in the summer felt like a great idea. I went to almost a dozen local branch churches and recruited Sunday School teachers, students and volunteers to come from those places to be a part of our VBS.
You might be surprised to learn that at first, so many church members blasted me about this (can you imagine someone who professes to be a vocal part of a church they think is “The highest form of Christianity,” arguing with someone who wants to teach the children “The Holy Bible” in church?
Too many members actually said, “is that even allowed in our church?”
Seriously? (They were referring to the idea of having a camp for a week, from an insurance perspective. The insurance people thought the people who called to check were completely daft. They said: “you want to teach a Bible camp at your church? It’s your building, and that is a church activity, of COURSE your insurance policy covers it!”)
It was totally bizarre to me that Christian Scientists would wonder if we could teach The Bible to kids on days other than Sunday. They felt the only time to teach kids about The Bible was for that 1 hour every Sunday, and a VBS is just something that is simply not done at a Christian Science Church. I pointed out that we would be teaching The Bible to our children. I pointed out that The Manual of The Mother Church says, “The Sabbath children should be taught the 10 Commandments, the Beatitudes, and The Lord’s Prayer.” I pointed out that Christian Science teaches us that “the sabbath is every day; not just Sunday.”
“The first lessons of the children should be the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20: 3-18), The Lord’s Prayer, and its Spiritual Interpretation by Mary Baker G. Eddy (Matt. 6: 9-14), Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5: 3-11).”
– The Manual of The Mother Church by Mary Baker Eddy, Article XVIII. Section 11.
I was shocked at how much explaining I had to do to convince people that this was an ok thing to do, and that it would be a good idea. I had passion for this project, and it kept me full of energy to keep pushing for it. I found it interesting that the people who had been my biggest resistance eventually became my biggest supporters.
Parents loved it! They donated money to cover all the costs like snacks, crafts, paper, etc. It was really a nice experience for the kids. That was one of two times when I felt completely supported in one of my “crazy” ideas for the church.
Another crazy idea I had, was to run with an article I saw in The Christian Science Journal, called “Church Alive.” The Journal called on all branch churches to run with the theme “Church Alive” and do an event the weekend of Annual Meeting (the weekend before the first Monday in June). I had an instant vision of what it would look like. It was a beautiful vision, and I thought, “let’s do it! The Mother Church asks us to do this; let’s do it! It will be wonderful!” (Yeah, I’m crazy like that.)
Well, I brought it up to the members at my branch church. This branch church is proud for being the “largest branch church in the state.” (Most of the members do not come to meetings, and don’t show up for church services and haven’t in YEARS and need to be removed from the rolls. But the church seems to love the prestige of being “the largest branch church” so they keep the rolls stacked like that. That feels deceptive to me, but, that’s another story for another blog post.)
Well, I got so much push back on it. The board took forever. The article had come out in the fall, maybe in October. I had until June. To me, this was plenty of time. I had planned my entire wedding in 5 months, I could easily do this.
The decision finally came in late March: “Yes! Go for it!”
I remember rolling my eyes and thinking, “finally!”
After the decision came, I kept getting a lot of people saying “it’s too short of a time line! We can’t do it!”
I wanted to scream, “if you all had said ‘yes’ earlier, it wouldn’t be that short of a time line! Remember Jesus getting across the sea in that boat instantaneously? Christian Science teaches that ‘time is limitation.’ Stop believing in time!” But I just had to keep my mouth shut and let them grumble and show them we could do it & it would be fabulous.
TIME. Mortal measurements; limits, in which are summed up all human acts, thoughts, beliefs, opinions, knowledge; matter; error; that which begins before, and continues after, what is termed death, until the mortal disappears and spiritual perfection appears.
– Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, p. 595
I wrote to all the people I knew at all the area churches – there were about a dozen within our tri-state area. I got so much response! I had meetings at our branch church. Together with all the volunteers from the area churches, we found speakers, workshop leaders, 200 attendees, and we catered lunch including vegan options for everyone. The entire lunch experience went flawlessly, which is really saying something. People marveled at the wonderful lunch experience, which still strikes me as funny. We hired a musician from Boston to come and do a performance during the day, and we also gave him the opportunity to do a well-attended concert the night before. The day of our “Church Alive” conference, this musician sang “Siyahamba” with my very young son on stage, showing everyone how easy it is to sing the new hymns. (There is an incredible amount of resistance in the membership to sing from the new Hymnal Supplement. Also “Siyahamba” is one of the coolest spiritual songs ever, and I think it has become the hymn of the current generation of Christian Science kids.)
The whole event was to take place the Saturday before Annual Meeting (Annual Meeting is in Boston every year, on the first Monday in June). We saw the brand new community center that we were renting for the event for the first time the Thursday before that. I found out that day, that they had audio-visual capabilities. I developed a whole powerpoint, musical videos, and slide shows and everything after I found out the audio-visual capabilities. I also figured out how to stream a video of The Board of Directors talking to our audience through the audio-visual equipment. I had never done anything like that before. I figured out all of that in 2 days.
It was amazing, if I do say so myself. I consider the entire event to be one of my best shining moments in my life. To recap: I pulled together a team of volunteers and an amazing conference attended by about 200 people in the span of less than 3 months, and I did all of the amazing audio-visual in just 2 days. We not only stayed in budget, we also made a bit of money on the endeavor. I think that’s pretty darn cool.
The one thing that went completely askew was the one time in the group when I had to sadly “let them learn the hard way.” We had 2 choices for our keynote speaker. We could go with a very forward thinking Christian Science Teacher and Lecturer from another state (we had the money to fly her in) who is incredibly creative, or we could go with a local practitioner everyone knew who had started up 2 branch churches from scratch. The second woman had been a Sunday School teacher of mine, and everyone loves her. She’s wonderful and intelligent and kind and funny. However, she is not dynamic, and she is not a public speaker or a lecturer.
I have a leadership quality that lets the group decide, and then I get behind the decision. I don’t cause waves or hard feelings by saying, “you’re wrong here, you’re choosing the wrong option.” I pushed a little, but they were very set on having this local woman be the speaker. So, we had the local speaker come. She sat down during her keynote presentation. She read her speech from her own handwritten notes. Her speech was in no way dynamic, and it was very hard to listen to. Apparently, it had a lot of really great ideas and points in it (I couldn’t hear it from my seat in the back, but people who heard it & wrote on the comment cards, said she had a lot of great things to say). And almost every single feedback form we got for the day had high marks in every single area, except that the key note address was “not dynamic” and “hard to listen to.” That was the only failure of the day. I am not sure if I would push more next time, but it was interesting to observe this group do that to themselves. They chose a “known” over a better alternative that was “unknown,” even though their group leader had passionately and lovingly told them which option would be the better option. They just couldn’t trust or have faith in the idea. And it made me feel sad for them.
“She’s older,” I replied. “She’s not as young and energetic as you are.”
This answer seemed to satisfy my child, who skipped further up the path, leaving me to wait for Nana.
But more questions follow:
“Why does Nana sleep in until noon?” … “She didn’t sleep well last night.”
“Why doesn’t Nana join us on our walk?” … “She has some work to do.”
These answers are not lies, but they are not the entire truth. How much truth does a child need? How much privacy does Nana?
Nana is a Christian Scientist, born into and raised in Christian Science for at least two generations. She knows no other religious path, no other solution for any health condition that has arisen.
One day, my child might notice other people’s Nanas are often spry and youthful. Then my child will be less satisfied with the answers. Other people go to doctors; Nana doesn’t. Or rather, Nana isn’t accustomed to it. But Nana recently faced some “health concerns.” With a bit of urging from her children, she sought medical treatment.
Nana is “in the system” now—and expresses heavy regret for doing it. They want to run tests and make diagnoses. This makes her uncomfortable. Denial is a much cozier place than a doctor’s office.
She has always relied on Christian Science for healing; she claims, “It has always worked.” Now that Christian Science doesn’t seem to be working so well, she has doubts—not about Christian Science, about “the system” which exists only to run tests, diagnose, and find fault. In turn, this means more things for Nana to work out and overcome through prayer. More Sentinel articles to read, more Journal articles to ponder. More time spent praying, less time spent with the grandchildren.
There are tears. Is she “a bad Christian Scientist” to go doctors for medical aid? Her children try to comfort her, to no avail, despite these statements by Christian Science’s founder:
If Christian Scientists ever fail to receive aid from other Scientists — their brethren upon whom they may call — God will still guide them into the use of temporary and eternal means. Step by step will those who trust in Him find that — “God is a refuge and strength a very present help in trouble.” Science & Health, p. 444
If, from an injury or from any cause, a Christian Scientist were seized with pain so violent that he could not treat himself mentally — and the Scientists had failed to relieve him — the sufferer could call a surgeon who would give him a hypodermic injection, then when the belief of pain was lulled, he could handle his own case mentally. Science & Health, p. 464
Healing physical sickness is the smallest part of Christian Science. It is the only bugle-call to thought and action, in the higher range of infinite goodness. The emphatic purpose of Christian Science is the healing of sin. Rudimental Divine Science
But to Nana, these human compromises apply to others, not to her. She’s been a good Christian Scientist all her life; why is it failing her now? She is spiritual, not material, yet her body is struggling to live up to the spiritual standards. Her body is wearing out after decades of ignored medical challenges and neglect.
There is a vicious cycle of fervent prayer, no healing, guilt for her failure to be healed, then more fervent prayer. She isolates herself from her church community; they never have these problems.
Nana’s most difficult barrier fear of the unknown. Fear of what might be, fear of a diagnosis that would lead to more tests — more forbidden knowledge of the (unreal) material self. Fear of failing Christian Science. Fear of being ostracized by the Christian Science community. “All are privileged to work out their own salvation according to their light” Ms. Eddy writes at the start of chapter 13, but that does not mean the community will support them on their medical path.
Nana has been raised with these beliefs from day one. She has practiced them for decades and raised her children with these views. Nana also knows that, “[when the] sick find these material expedients unsatisfactory, and they receive no help from them, these very failures [of material/medical aid] may open their blind eyes. In some way, sooner or later, all must rise superior to materiality, and suffering is oft the divine agent in this elevation. “All things work together for good to them that love God,” is the dictum of Scripture.” Turning to medicine in the long run is futile. She must demonstrate Christian Science.
One day, I’ll have to explain Nana’s actions to my child. I don’t know if I have the words. My child is not growing up in Christian Science. My child doesn’t know who Mary Baker Eddy is. Yet eventually I will have to explain Nana’s religious views. I hope I can do it in a respectful way.
Why did I leave Christian Science when Nana didn’t?
I watched people I loved suffer and die when they didn’t seek medical care. I couldn’t do that to my child or myself. But we must watch Nana put herself through this hell.
I don’t know. Until now, I have felt compelled to shelter my child from it even while I guard Nana’s beliefs. It is a fine line to walk. And I don’t want to walk it anymore.
By an anonymous Ex-Christian Scientist Group Contributor.
I could fill a book with all the horrible experiences a Christian Science childhood provided. The alienation from my peers, the anxiety of never knowing when I’d prayed enough to stop the other shoe from dropping…
I remember laying awake with an ear infection. They say you can’t remember pain, but I remember it very well, and it was excruciating. My non-Christian Scientist grandmother usually kept completely quiet about my mother’s parenting choices, but I remember even her complaining that I should have some pain killers. The few times it happened, it mercifully went away on its own after a day or two, which of course was a great ‘healing’. I was genuinely absolutely terrified of getting it again.
I was saved from the worst deprivation of medical care because the rules regarding parental jurisdiction over their kids’ medical treatment are a bit different in the UK than in the US. Doctors can override parents’ wishes to withhold treatment, and if social services believe the lack of medical treatment amounts to abuse the child can be taken into care, which terrified my mother. Still, I didn’t get to see much preventative care and I barely knew what an aspirin was until I was fourteen.
One of my biggest challenges is learning to forgive my mother for my effed-up Christian Science childhood. I’m afraid so far I have made limited progress. It has provided me an excellent template when bringing up my own little boy, though. In any given situation, I can just imagine what she would have done and then do exactly the opposite.