The patient's role in healing
A colleague shared something her Christian Science teacher once said: “You can’t have ‘Heal me, but don’t change me.'” Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures explains, "The effect of this Science is to stir the human mind to a change of base, on which it may yield to the harmony of the divine Mind." (Mary Baker Eddy, 162)
As a patient gives consent to what God as the divine Mind is doing for him, things change. While a patient may tend to watch the body, or what he perceives to be his problem, for signs of improvement, this isn’t the only place where change is happening. Working together through prayer, practitioner and patient become witnesses together of the power of the Christ to produce/reveal harmony in human minds and bodies.
In Christian Science treatment, change is a normal response and should be expected. But sometimes in the process of change things may look and feel a bit messy. Christian Science uses the term "chemicalisation" to describe "the process which mortal mind and body undergo in the change of belief from a material to a spiritual basis." (Science and Health, 169)
Have you ever set about cleaning a cupboard by dumping out all of the contents on the counter? Were you to stop too soon and judge your progress by the mess, you might lose the vision of what you are trying to accomplish, get discouraged, and shove all the junk back in the cupboard to be dealt with later, or maybe not at all.
Let’s say you told a friend about your cleaning project and enlisted her help. She may not be able to decide for you what to keep and what to throw out as useless, outdated, irrelevant or just WRONG, but she could help you keep your vision clear, encourage you to keep going and not be distracted by the short term mess. She might ask you to think about whether the things you are hanging onto are useful, beneficial and a blessing. She might remind you that it was courageous to start the project and that the same courage that got you started to clean up the messy cupboard would support you as you sorted things out.
So now, let's say the case isn’t a cupboard, but is a physical problem generating some fear. And the friend you call is a practitioner that you invite to help you through her prayers. The practitioner would pray to witness to your spiritual perfection – that you are, in Jesus’ words, “perfect as the Father is perfect” as the image and likeness of God. Through her silent or audible mental treatment she would not and should not make human decisions for you relating to your care, but she would systematically cast out useless, outdated, irrelevant and just plain wrong fears that pull you down into disease. From the mount of spiritual vision she would see you out of the mess. She might even tell you what she sees about you, reminding you silently and sometimes audibly that you can see it, too. Christian Science healers are engaged to give Christian encouragement, to express patience and remove fear, and to inspire and help their patients with “legitimate Christian Science, aflame with divine Love.” (Science and Health, 367)
You, as the patient, would have a role to play, too – that is, to consent to the treatment and to the change of base that it produces. This doesn’t just happen at the point of asking for prayer. Sometimes, as patients, we need to give consent DURING treatment to what a practitioner is seeing, saying and knowing about our case. Just as we may invite a friend into our house, we may invite a practitioner into our mental house to help us sort things out, but it is still OUR house. Decisions are made there that are ours – alone with God – to make.
I called a practitioner for help one day because I was sinking under a problem. I just wanted out. She asked me a question and gave me a little homework, something to think about while she prayed for me. I got off the phone and blew up. Was she kidding me? I was already sinking and now I had to do THIS on top?
Fuming and ruminating, I didn’t do it at first. Then a thought interrupted the fuss, suggesting that were I to look at my case the way the practitioner did, I might not feel so lousy and burdened. So I did the little homework she had given me, and in so doing I changed the base of my thinking from the problem to the spiritual solution at hand. I was quickly healed..
In short: The practitioner prayed. She gave me something to consider and do for myself. I consented to change my base of thinking as I did the little homework. And I was healed.
There is a passage in Yvonne Fettweiss's and Robert Warnack's book Mary Baker Eddy: Christian Healer that is oft-quoted as though it is the final word for all things relating to the responsibility of practitioners and patients in treatment.
“When a student doesn’t heal, it’s his own fault. I am out of patience at hearing a student ask his patient to work when the patient is up to his ears in the waves. Don’t ask anything of your patient. Show him your Science and when he is healed he will work.” (Said to pupils during an 1889 class, page 151)
These comments are sometimes cited to prove that a patient has nothing and a practitioner has all to do in the work of healing. But as Jesus’ own example shows us, that isn’t necessarily true. Of his recorded healings we see that sometimes he made demands on his patients and sometimes he didn't. Sometimes he spoke to them at length and sometimes he didn't. Sometimes he expected things of them before, sometimes after, and often not at all. In other words, his approach adapted according to the needs of the case.
So did Mary Baker Eddy’s. She wrote letters and made statements, such as that oft-quoted one, to individual practitioners and certain groups of pupils, speaking to their specific need and the needs of their cases. Would these comments apply to some others, also? Of course, they would. But at other times she addressed similar situations in different ways. This is why having access to her many counsels is so good for us. We have lots of good guidance to help us find our way in healing.
Here are some other examples showing how she herself dealt with the sick:
“Take the First Commandment for your medicine-it cures all disease.” (Written to Septimus Hanna in 1897, L05195)
“Now rouse yourself to know that you are not living in the body but in God, in Spirit, in the good you do and are; Then you get out of the belief of health into the understanding of health, and are out – and out through Science, not suffering. Keep your thoughts away from me and grounded on divine Principle, not on a person.” (A letter to John Lathrop in 1903, L04262)
The chapter titled, "Interlude: Advice for Healers" in Mary Baker Eddy: Christian Healer has loads of comments on the healing practice. They illustrate a variety of approaches to working with patients - sometimes engaging them, and sometimes not, in the work. We need to exercise wisdom and discernment to know which insights relate most directly to our present cases. When it comes to private correspondence and conversations, however inspired they may have been to meet the demand of the hour, what applies to one does not necessarily apply to all.
What is written in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, however, does apply to all of us. Mrs. Eddy wrote the Christian Science textbook as a scribe under orders from God. Science and Health underwent assiduous scrutiny, refinement of vocabulary and perfecting of content, - to a much higher degree than any other of her writings. She asked practitioners to place Science and Health in the hands of all their patients. Patients, therefore, shouldn't be surprised if a practitioner encourages them to open it and see what it says to them.
A Christian Scientist requires my work Science and Health for his textbook, and so do all his students and patients. SCIENCE AND HEALTH, 456
The wise Christian Scientist will commend students and patients to the teachings of this book, and the healing efficacy thereof, rather than try to centre their interest on himself. RETROSPECTION AND INTROSPECTION, 83
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. HEBREWS 4:12
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I have practiced Christian Science professionally in
some form since 1979.
But my journey with
Christian Science started
in a Sunday school
where as a young child
I was taught the Scriptures and some simple basics
of Jesus' method of
scientific Christian healing.
A significant experience
at the age of twelve
opened my eyes to
the great potential
of this practice.
After impaling my foot
on a nail,
I prayed the way I had learned
in Sunday school.
the pain stopped
and healing began.
By the next morning the wound had disappeared completely.
the great potential
of Christian Science,
there would be no
© 2011-2023 Michelle Boccanfuso Nanouche, CSB. All rights reserved. Pages updated 2 December, 2022.