Occasional opportunities to minister to prison inmates has deepened my appreciation of an account of Mary Baker Eddy's visit to President Garfield's assassin in the winter of 1881. She wrote, "He had no sense of his crime; but regarded his act as one of simple justice, and himself as the victim. My few words touched him; he sank back in his chair, limp and pale; his flippancy had fled. The jailer thanked me, and said, 'Other visitors have brought to him bouquets, but you have brought what will do him good.'" (Miscellaneous Writings 112:17)
A visit this June to the Main Adult Detention Facility (Sonoma County-Santa Rosa, CA) calls to thought the words of a hymn: "Healed is thy hardness, His love hath dissolved it, Full is the promise, the blessing how kind; So shall His tenderness teach thee compassion, So all the merciful, mercy shall find." (Hymn 278:3)
The following report gives an insider look at what happened from the viewpoint of one of the two Chaplains that accompanied me.
Chaplain's Report: “Angry No More” Jail lecture
Institution(s): Main Adult Detention Facility (Sonoma County-Santa Rosa)
Chaplain: Angela Sage Larsen (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Primary Local Committee: NorthBay@LightinPrison.org
Date range: June 7, 2017 - June 7, 2017
Permissions: OK to share narrative report publicly.
Christian Science Societies in Healdsburg and Lakeport, and First Churches of Christ, Scientist in Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, and Petaluma sponsored a Christian Science lecture by Michelle Nanouche, CSB; Assistant Chaplain Linda Bishop and I accompanied her for what was an extraordinary and holy experience. 40 women attended and we discovered that though it has been 3 years since a chaplain has visited this facility (and a change of administration), at least 2 women were studying Christian Science literature that had been left in our attempt to re-introduce Cristian Science to the facility.
Though the administration was eager for us to come, before today, there was a sense that there would be a wait for regular visits until there was more of a demand. Before the lecture even started, there was a demand--and not surprisingly, after the lecture, the deputy requested us to supply them with options for when our regular times for church services could be!! (In the question and answer session, one detainee asked, "How often can 'Christian Science' come??" The deputy joked, "Every week!" Which seemed doable to me!)
Michelle's lecture, "Angry No More" was just what the detainees needed, and they said so with grateful tears after the lecture. As Michelle addressed anger being sin--but addressed it in a compassionate and understanding, relatable way--the resistance of a few detainees visibly dissolved as they cried at the end. (I loved the lecturer's response to the crying--she likened tears to "mental sweat," and said we wouldn't run a marathon and not expect to sweat; so when we have a mental workout, it's ok to shed some mental sweat.) Michelle addressed abuse, sharing her own healing experiences; she addressed anger not being equal to or justified by love (for example, being angry at someone for hurting one that you love); she beautifully included Mary Baker Eddy's life experiences and discovery throughout the lecture in such a natural and harmonious way. The story of Mrs. Eddy (then Mrs. Patterson) not only forgiving but helping her then-husband's mistress especially resonated with the women. There were too many remarkable moments to count: when lightbulbs went off, hardness of heart was dissolved, epiphanies arrived at, and surprising insights sprung up.
Michelle brought out how forgiveness was not only possible, but natural, based on Christ Jesus' example; she emphasized and explained the Sermon on the Mount and its significance and where it is found in the Bible. One takeaway that I and others appreciated deeply was Michelle's likening sin to anger and replacing sin with the word "anger" in this quote from Science and Health: "Suffer no claim of [anger] ... to grow upon the thought. Dismiss it with an abiding conviction that it is illegitimate, because you know that God is no more the author of sickness than He is of [anger]" (Science and Health, p. 390).
The questions the detainees asked were insightful and articulate. Before the Q&A session, Michelle said that they could peel their questions away from the sad stories they might be tempted to tell. Instead of repeating and repeating a sad story (which never helps), they could focusing on asking their question and get answers that could help them move forward. This was an excellent means of helping the women articulate their questions. She told us that if we are to suffer, we should make sure we have something to show for it and be able to help/bless others with our story! Examples of questions include:
All of the answers Michelle gave were obviously inspired--they were clear, simple, and profound, addressing the questions themselves, as well as the thought that motivated the question. In short, the answers were deeply loving and the questioners felt loved. After the lecture, the women came up in small groups to ask questions about the books and literature we brought to give them. They were eager, appreciative, and bright.
One woman told me she was trying to find her place as she was born Muslim but had an atheist father and a Catholic mother--her father being especially outspoken about his beliefs. I told her that often atheists were thinking people who could not accept things at face value, like accepting there is a God who could allow evil things to happen. I told her that Science and Health was written for and dedicated to "thinkers," and Mrs. Eddy understood how to address those hard questions; I assured the woman that she would find what she needed in that book along with the Bible (and that of course, we'd come back to see her too). She was so gentle and genuinely inquisitive.
Another woman asked if we had "Daily Breads," a publication from another denomination. I told her about the Bible Lesson sermons we have and showed her in Science and Health the spiritual interpretation of the line in the Lord's Prayer that has "daily bread" as "grace for today." I showed another woman who was asking about the relationship of the Bible and Science and Health the First Tenet, which states that "the inspired word of the Bible is our sufficient guide to eternal life." I told her that Science and Health would help her understand the "inspired word of the Bible." She enthusiastically took both books.
One woman rushed to the table of books, grabbing a Science and Health like a parched person would accept a big cup of water. She clutched it to her chest, breathing, "I need this book.”
The lecturer told us and the administrators that it was the best facility she'd ever visited; she said that obviously the women were respected and treated with love and compassion--she could tell because of how they acted. The administrators were so pleased and confirmed that their priority of low (no) recidivism would be reached by respecting the detainees (male and female at this facility) and providing spiritual education for them as well as vocational skills. In short, it was a big, happy love fest and Linda and I can't wait to go back. She will be taking more Science and Healths tomorrow as we ran out and there was still a demand for the book!
As always, I'm humbly honored and overjoyed to see the Holy Ghost at work in human consciousness intimately revealing to each of us, exactly how we need it, the presence and omnipotence of divine Love. How amazing to have this experience on the heels of Annual Meeting and the field report from Third Church, Christ, Scientist, Dallas who attested to institutional work revitalizing their church!
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