Christian Science Reading Rooms are unique in today’s world. They’re places where people come for quiet spiritual study and often just to pray. Where many have been healed through the deep inner communion with God that’s at the heart of Christian Science teaching.
This healing purpose, and humanity’s urgent need for it, has taken on deepened meaning and immediacy for many Christian Scientists in the wake of a tragic incident of violence in a Reading Room earlier this year. The following commentary by the Chair of the Christian Science Board of Directors expresses the spiritual commitment represented in Reading Rooms and felt by church members throughout the world.
by Robin Hoagland
Christian Scientists have lived and worshiped in communities around the world for over a century. This year, the thoughts, and earnest prayers, of our church’s members turned toward Ottawa, Canada, following the news in May of an assault in a Christian Science Reading Room which took the life of a fellow member (and for many of us, loved friend).
The news came shortly before our denomination’s annual meeting in Boston. It made us feel all the more deeply the need for spiritual light in the world—and grateful for the love of our neighbors and communities.
A church comment expressed what was in our hearts: “‘When a truly good and spiritually illumined person’ is unexpectedly taken from us, a Christian Scientist wrote in the Christian Science Sentinel some years ago, ‘perhaps one's first impulse is to feel the very heavens should open and weep at the magnitude of the human loss.’… Ultimately we can best ‘honor the real meaning of their lives through our allegiance to the Life that is God’ and to living more fully the image of God reflected in each of us.”
Something similar could be said of churches—and synagogues, mosques, and all religious institutions. The heart-breaking enormity of tragedy and dysfunction in the world challenges us all to honor the image of God in everyone regardless of their background or beliefs.
A noted religion commentator in the U.S., Krista Tippett, observed recently that society is “in an evolving encounter” with its “[spiritual] traditions and moral questions….” This makes for challenging times for many religious bodies, including the Church of Christ, Scientist. It’s also a time when Christian Scientists, like many other people of faith, are taking hold more deeply of the spiritual values at the core of our shared humanity.
The theme of our annual meeting was a statement of St. Paul’s: “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” The message underscored the need to “walk the walk,” as a church colleague put it, by “taking responsibility for how we act toward one another, so that we really are going to let Spirit, actual love for one another, animate us.”
Our denomination’s board of directors has been holding regional meetings with church members in North America and other parts of the world. We’ve wanted to meet face to face with members and speak together of the spiritual issues confronting our churches and society itself.
We’ve found among members a new desire to practice the “higher and holier love for God and man” that our church’s founder, Mary Baker Eddy, urged. We’ve seen again and again that it’s actual spiritual living and genuine love that matter most.
Many members have shared moving experiences they’ve had of healing, both of difficult physical disabilities and other personal challenges in their lives. Such healing isn’t confined to a particular church or tradition; it’s what happens whenever people are responding to the love of God, which is always pouring forth to hearts in need.
In a workshop at the annual Boston gathering, a member told of a man who had been homeless and found healing of addiction through his experience at a Christian Science Reading Room. He described the Reading Room as the only place he could go at the time where he could envision a different life for himself. His life was transformed.
In the aftermath of the violent incident in the Ottawa Reading Room, Christian Scientists feel urgently their need to live in a way that makes a difference in the world. We know this can’t be accomplished through efforts to proselytize others. It has to start in our hearts.
Living a selfless love daily. Finding spiritual light that truly redeems lives. Seeing the necessity of communities built on compassion, generosity, and expectation of progress. These are the demands of today and practical resources for hope and healing that individuals and societies can’t long live without.
Robin Hoagland is chair of the board of directors of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston.