[Translation from French, March 2013 issue] PSYCHOLOGIE REUSSIR is always on the lookout for any innovative idea to help you succeed in your personal and professional life. When we met Michelle Nanouche, an American living in France, and she shared with us her belief that a systematic form of prayer is a route to personal and professional success, our Cartesian skepticism bristled. Then we listened. We liked. We let you judge.
The editorial staff of PSYCHOLOGIE REUSSIR, always desiring to make known ideas that correspond with our editorial line, have opened these columns to a Christian Science practitioner. It is well in evidence that the ideas developed in this interview belong to their author and they should be considered by our readers from an informative angle. The report of Parliamentary Investigation n°1687 of 1999 and n°3507 of 2006 entitled "Cults and money" and "[Report on] the influence of cult movements and the consequences of their practice on the physical and mental health of minors" include no unfavorable commentary on Christian Science. In Belgium, a Parliamentary report dating from 1997 studies the dangerous cultish behavior associated with minor religious movements. Christian Science was not examined and does not appear in the synoptic table of the 189 spiritual movements studied for the report. Like all spiritual movements that relate to the health sector, Christian Science has its fierce detractors and its most convinced supporters. Our readers will form their own ideas... However, we have found it interesting to bring to your knowledge certain aspects and results of this alternative teaching.
PR: Michelle, in December, Réussir (n°1, p. 27, since renamed Psychologie Réussir) published a study from Dr Herbert Benson from Harvard Medical School evidencing the positive impact of meditation and prayer on health and well-being. Can you tell us a bit about your own practice of meditation or prayer and its impact on your life?
MICHELLE: Happy to. Even as a child, I turned to prayer for comfort and to help me stay focused in school or to do well on tests. I prayed to help me get well when I was sick or hurt. My innocent attempts as a child to lean on and trust in something greater than myself helped me through a lot of things. With positive experiences came a growing faith. So it wasn’t such a stretch for me, later on, to build a career out of helping others find solutions to their problems through prayer. I pursued work in my teens and early twenties that would bring me in close contact with others experienced in prayer, specifically the system of prayer taught in Christian Science. In order to help others, I felt I needed to understand more of the science aspect of prayer, the divine Principle, or spiritual rules of prayer – how it works, how to achieve consistent results. After a few years of research and practice, I started accepting and helping clients. It was really a grassroots practice born of personal experience. I was in my twenties.
PR: Are you saying that it is your profession to practice spiritual principles through prayer on behalf of others ? Can you tell us about that ?
MICHELLE: Yes, I practice prayer for others. It’s my fulltime job. I have been doing it for 25 years now. People may think that the ability to help others through prayer was, and even still is, limited to certain specific people. But that isn’t true. The Bible shows how systematic effective prayer is accessible and available to anyone who is willing to give it a try.
PR: Do you see yourself as a priest or some type of spiritual guru?
MICHELLE: I am definitely not a priest or a guru. I am not particularly special. Well, that’s not true! We are all pretty special in our own unique way. But, I mean to say, I am no go-between between anyone and God. I am simply a professional devoted to helping others make progress and find success and better health through developing a prayer practice that works.
My work takes many forms. I have an office, of course, in Paris, where I consult with clients. But I also do telephone consultation when necessary. And I write regularly for Christian Science magazines and for my blog called Spirituality and the Search for God: A blog on healing prayer (www.michellenanouchecsb.com/my-blog.html en anglais, et www.michellenanouche.com/mon-blog.html en français). Private work with clients is billable time. But the articles, website and blog give people free access to loads of content to help them find their own way to solutions through prayer. I am also currently on an international lecture board and give lectures throughout Europe and the United States; and I have even been to French-speaking Africa. And if that isn’t enough work, I am an authorized teacher of Christian Science, which means I offer a course once a year to prepare others who want to practice prayer professionally.
PR: So are you saying that you do not claim to have a supernatural gift but that the people coming to consult with you could actually practice these principles for themselves?
PR: Can you tell us a bit about what Christian Science is?
MICHELLE: Sure. Christian Science, simply stated, involves the scientific practice of the method of prayer brought out in the Bible - and practiced by patriarchs, prophets, Christ Jesus, apostles and many people today - that results in healing. Healing is a technical term in Christian Science that encompasses a lot – security, progress, safety, restoration to good health, mental and physical balance, better morals, elimination of stress, happiness – pretty much everything we are all generally looking for in life.
PR: How come most people have never heard of it? Is this a secret teaching and is it very expensive?
MICHELLE: I scratch my head over that question myself. How is it that something so helpful seems to be overlooked or pushed aside by the average thinker? Part of it, I suppose, is lack of exposure. There are very few public practitioners in France, and those of us that do practice are kept quite busy. It’s certainly no secret. Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, the Founder of Christian Science, is the complete exposition of Christian Science. The book has been available since 1875 in English, and it was translated into French in the early 1900s. Everything one needs to know to practice it is all there for the price of a book (14 euro on amazon.fr). But I wonder if some of the lack of attention can be attributed to the general noise of materialism in our culture that tends to lure people away from spiritual and moral development. I can’t say for sure. But it is here and being practiced. And one can certainly do it himself. Or, if having someone accompany you would be helpful as you explore the system, practitioners, like me, are available to help on an as-called basis for much less of a fee than other types of professional counselors.
PR: Let's say that I'm a businessman coming to see you with a work problem, maybe a relationship issue with my boss. How would you help me? Or I could be an entrepreneur dealing with financial challenges, how would you help?
MICHELLE: Well, first off, there’s no pat response or prescribed way of addressing such situations. Each case is as unique as the one bringing it to me. I would be interested in getting to know the client – a bit about his or her experience and interest in spirituality. This doesn’t necessarily involve any deep analysis. One doesn’t need to be particularly religious to benefit from these ideas. But as a practitioner, it helps me to know a bit of their background and interests in spirituality so that I can begin to use a vocabulary that makes sense to the person. A lot of God-talk to an atheist, for example, could shut down good communication between us. I would adjust my vocabulary and introduce other terms for God – such as universal Principle, or Love – to convey the sense necessary to help the client shift from focusing on his problem, to working out from the solution. My role as a practitioner is to pray, pure and simple. And my clients are open to that. But as far as incorporating Christian Science in his own life, that is up to the client.
I should probably point out that prayer in Christian Science doesn’t involve wishful pleading for personal outcomes. The problem with such prayers isn’t in the desired outcome, which may be a good one. It’s in the misconception of God as some man on a celestial throne saying yes to one and no to another. That flawed sense of a partial, changeable god, absent from his creation, and dispensing help on a whim, is what renders such prayers ineffective. Prayer in Christian Science requires a better, more accurate understanding of an unchanging Principle of good that is always present with right answers. Like the principle of math is always available to one who simply affirms and applies that principle to their equations. Math isn’t a problem to one who knows the principle. Life’s questions aren’t problems when one knows more of the divine Principle of life.
I will tell you about one case. It involved someone who felt blocked in his work. He was convinced that if he were the one making the decisions, instead of his supervisors, things would go so much better for all. Something needed to change because his attitude at work was deteriorating. The practitioner’s role, when invited to help in such a case, is to pray for the client and to encourage him to open his eyes to unexpected good ideas that are at hand to lead him out of the frustration and confusion. The practitioner doesn’t offer human advice or influence the actions of the client. He or she simply prays and encourages the client to understand why he can expect an answer. And that’s what I did.
So, one day the man found himself once again ruminating over work. Then he had a complete redirection of his thought: “So what? Maybe you would be a better supervisor, but maybe that's not the point! Perhaps you've had the opportunity to fine-tune your leadership skills, but now it's their turn." I didn’t say this to him. He thought these unexpected and original thoughts himself. He knew he had his answer. This was an opportunity to learn to be a supportive and more effective team player. He stopped feeling victimized by his circumstances at work and put his effort into being more supportive of his superiors. He stopped criticizing, and the depressing thoughts he had about work dissipated. What's more, his bosses’ quality of work improved. A fine working relationship developed that lasted for many years.
PR: Do you have to be a spiritual person in order to benefit from prayer?
MICHELLE: Spiritual isn’t just another term for religious. Spirituality is essence. It is the essence of who we are. One might think he isn’t spiritual, but that is often just a vocabulary problem, or the result of bad past experience with the term. Spirituality isn’t a lifestyle choice. It is the essence of who we are. We are not so materially-dimensional as we might think. We might define ourselves, for example as loving, joyful, orderly, practical – the list of good qualities is infinite. That is the essence of who we are, and good qualities indicate our spirituality. So no, you don’t have to consider yourself spiritual. But from my perspective as a practitioner, I need to be able to discern your spirituality, to see you as you really are, in order to be any help to you.
PR: You said earlier that anyone can practice these principles. What would be your starter ideas or practices in order to achieve success in life?
MICHELLE: I would suggest two, right off the bat: honesty and gratitude. Make a practice of being truthful and upright in your thought and actions, and increase your awareness and appreciation for the good in your life. I am not just pulling those two ideas out of a hat.
Science and Health points out, “Honesty is spiritual power. Dishonesty is human weakness which forfeits divine help.” The word divine here includes the definition of “very good”. Dishonesty puts one on the constant treadmill of fear and avoidance. Who needs that stress?
I once had a client who came to me terrified because he had neglected to do his accounting for taxes. He had a habit of pulling numbers out of the air and not being able to substantiate his income. I prayed for him. And I assured him that, in fact, he was a good and honest man. I never told him what to do. I just reminded him of his true essence. He decided to hire an accountant, and for the first time he gave a full and accurate accounting of his work. He felt so good about himself afterward that he changed his ways entirely and began handling his books properly and paying his taxes correctly.
On gratitude, Science and Health asks, “Are we grateful for the good already received? Then we shall avail ourselves of the blessings we have and thus be fitted to receive more.” When I first started out in my practice as an auto-entrepreneur, I had a miniscule income. I wasn’t always sure where the rent would come from. But I knew I shouldn’t measure my success by such a limited material standard. I focused rather on my increasing income of good ideas – of love, and grace, and joy, and gratitude. And I knew I could spend that freely. As I was grateful for what I had, opportunities to experience more grace and to express more gratitude began to appear. I did everything with joy and gratitude. Even paying my bills. I considered every check I wrote and every bill I paid to be a symbol of gratitude for the service performed. I was grateful for my family, friends, neighbors, community. It was fun to see where I could give, how I could serve others, and to watch for the signs of grace that would flow. And it always did. My life was being fitted to receive more and more good. The evidence of grace was steady and marvelous. It took the form of increased inspiration, increased time with my family, increased opportunities to help my church and community, increased effectiveness at work and, in the end, also a marked increase in income.
So I would say, start there – with honesty and gratitude. To build a successful life you need to be your authentic self. And when you are, you will find the joys increase and the burdens lessen.
PR: Thank you, Michelle.
Copies of Psychologie Réussir are available on newsstands throughout France after March 1, 2014. The photos above are blog illustrations only and do not appear in the original print version.
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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