25 October 2009
Key West, Florida
“Our Innate Happiness”
Writing to the Christian Scientists at First Church in New York, Mrs. Eddy made this provocative statement: “As an active portion of one stupendous whole, goodness identifies man with universal good. Thus may each member of this church rise above the oft-repeated inquiry, What am I? to the scientific response: I am able to impart truth, health, and happiness, and this is my rock of salvation and my reason for existing.” (My 165:16)
Two things stand out in this passage. First, I love the fact that each of us is identified as an Active portion of one stupendous whole, and that each of us is identified with universal good. Secondly, Mrs. Eddy defines our nature and mission. We are able to impart “truth, health, and happiness.” Periodically I’ve wondered about that selection — truth, health, and happiness – why not truth, health, & holiness, for example, and I haven’t really come up with a compelling answer. But because it’s unexpected, it does give me pause, and I enjoy thinking about the possibilities. If we’re able to impart happiness, it stands to reason we must have some clue about what it is we’re imparting!
This afternoon, we’ll look at happiness from several different vantage points and see, how, from the perspective of Christian Science, our pursuit and acknowledgement of happiness is a guide to our spiritual progress.
Happiness is defined in part as “characterized by or indicative of pleasure, contentment, or joy; favored by fortune; fortunate or lucky: a happy, fruitful land; apt or felicitous… Synonyms include joyous, joyful, blithe, cheerful, merry, contented, gay, blissful, satisfied, favorable, propitious; successful, prosperous.
More often than not, happiness is thought to depend on circumstances outside of one’s self, circumstances over which one may or may not have control. Seen from the lens of Christian Science, however, happiness is an innate characteristic of creation, a characteristic that permeates and defines the whole of the divine order.
The basis of our happiness and joy – divine nature
Mrs. Eddy asks, in the chapter on Recapitulation in Science and Health,
“What is God?” And then she answers, “God is incorporeal, divine, supreme, infinite Mind, Spirit, Soul, Principle, Life, Truth, Love.” Where, in that infinite divine supremacy, is there the option of sadness, lack, disease, or loneliness? I don’t see it. Do you?
We’re told repeatedly in the first chapter of Genesis that “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” God had just finished creating man in His image, and blessing him, instructing him to be fruitful and multiply. Do you think that was supposed to be an onerous task? Somehow I don’t think so. In fact, I think God intended just the opposite for His/Her creation: that that creation would be joyous, joyful, supplied with everything necessary, and perennially happy. That means you and me.
A number of years ago a good friend of mine shared a condensation with me which I’ve never forgotten. You will be familiar with the original:
“The sinless joy, — the perfect harmony and immortality of Life, possessing unlimited divine beauty and goodness without a single bodily pleasure or pain, constitutes the only veritable, indestructible man, whose being is spiritual. (76:22-26)
Well, the condensation went like this: “…Joy…constitutes…man.” I’ve never been able to read or think about this passage in quite the same way! Partially because it’s one of those paragraph-long sentences that Mrs. Eddy delights in, and because the condensation made it a whole lot more graspable. But more so, because it gave me a different way of identifying my being. Joy – the sinless joy, the perfect harmony of Life, possessing unlimited divine beauty and goodness without a single bodily pleasure or pain, constitutes your being, constitutes my being. Happiness and joy are innate to our being because they are innate to God’s divine being and because we are His/Her image/manifestation.
The spiritual vs. the material basis of happiness
Central to what we’re establishing today is the fact that happiness is independent of human circumstances, situations, aptitudes, events. Our Leader makes just this point when she says, “Happiness is spiritual, born of Truth and Love. It is unselfish; therefore it cannot exist alone, but requires all mankind to share it.” “For true happiness,” she says, “man must harmonize with his Principle, divine Love; the Son must be in accord with the Father, in conformity with Christ. According to divine Science, man is in a degree as perfect as the Mind that forms him. The truth of being makes man harmonious and immortal, while error is mortal and discordant.” (S&H 337:7) Based on her own experiences and proofs, she could also write, “All power and happiness are spiritual and proceed from goodness,” (Mis 155:4-5) and “Joy is self-sustained; goodness and blessedness are one…” (Mis 209:26-27)
But as we know, it doesn’t always seem that way. There are those little foxes that would spoil the vine: all the subtle and not so subtle arguments that happiness is mortal, not spiritual, that health is defined by the body and is not the native state of man – that it is more prone to disease than wellness – that income is matter-based, limited and insufficient, rather than divine and infinite, that companionship is mia, that our relationships are fraught with tension and discord, or that the conditions of our lives can lead to misery instead of beauty. The problem comes, it would seem, from where we’re looking for happiness. Mrs. Eddy defines the problem this way:
The so-called laws of matter are nothing but false beliefs that intelligence and life are present where Mind is not. These false beliefs are the procuring cause of all sin and disease. The opposite truth, that intelligence and life are spiritual, never material, destroys sin, sickness, and death.
The fundamental error lies in the supposition that man is a material outgrowth and that the cognizance of good or evil, which he has through the bodily senses, constitutes his happiness or misery. (S&H 171:25-2)
Too often, we’re looking to what our senses tell us for our happiness (or our misery). And more often than not, those senses try to convince us that life and intelligence are separate from divine Mind. In fact, almost everything around us tries to convince us that life is material, not spiritual, or at best, a combination of the two. But our Leader identifies all these as beliefs, only, beliefs which we can refute and replace. She advises us:
If we look to the body for pleasure, we find pain; for Life, we find death; for Truth, we find error; for Spirit, we find its opposite, matter. Now reverse this action. Look away from the body into Truth and Love, the Principle of all happiness, harmony, and immortality. Hold thought steadfastly to the enduring, the good, and the true, and you will bring these into your experience proportionably to their occupancy of your thoughts. (S&H 260:31)
Man’s inseparability from God
Jesus gives us a great example of what it means to “hold thought steadfastly to the enduring, the good, and the true…” One of the statements I’ve always enjoyed says this about him:
The real Christ was unconscious of matter, of sin, disease, and death, and was conscious only of God, of good, of eternal Life, and harmony. Hence the human Jesus had a resort to his higher self and relation to the Father, and there could find rest from unreal trials in the conscious reality and royalty of his being, — holding the mortal as unreal, and the divine as real. It was this retreat from material to spiritual selfhood which recuperated him for triumph over sin, sickness, and death. Had he been as conscious of these evils as he was of God, wherein there is no consciousness of human error, Jesus could not have resisted them; nor could he have conquered the malice of his foes, rolled away the stone from the sepulchre, and risen from human sense to a higher concept than that in which he appeared at his birth. (No 36:12-4)
In the parlance of some modern tv shows, Jesus had a lifeline. He could call upon his understanding of divine reality to help him work through whatever challenges appeared to be at hand. He always had recourse the reality and royalty of his being. We, too, have a lifeline. We, too, have recourse to the reality and royalty of our own nature. In fact, there are numerous instances throughout the Bible and Mrs. Eddy’s writings where we are assured of that spiritual reality and royalty of our being. Being conscious of our spiritual, divine nature as God’s image and likeness and of our inseparability from God, we are able to contradict any false belief that argues we’re less than whole, entirely happy.
Working out our own salvation
Notwithstanding that lifeline, Jesus had to work out his own salvation, and he insisted that his followers do the same. Jesus said, “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.” (John 15:10) Mrs. Eddy comes at the same idea from a slightly different vantage point when she says, “…obedience is the test of love; … one gladly obeys when obedience gives him happiness.” (’02 17:3-5) Later in the same article she says, “Happiness consists in being and in doing good; only what God gives, and what we give ourselves and other through His tenure, confers happiness: conscious worth satisfies the hungry heart, and nothing else can.” (’02 17:22-25)
I was struck, reading through a number of citations having to do with happiness, that there are two areas of obedience. The first has to do with keeping our thoughts focused and consistent. Mrs. Eddy: “If you wish to be happy, argue with yourself on the side of happiness; take the side you wish to carry, and be careful not to talk on both sides, or to argue stronger for sorrow than for joy. You are the attorney in the case, and will win or lose according to your plea.” (Healing 10:13) Throughout Jesus’ words and Mrs. Eddy’s writings there are a number of similar exhortations for us to guard thought, hold thought, watch thought, be consistent in acknowledging divine perfection in our prayers and our actions.
This type of focus is illustrated in the story of Hannah. The wife of Elkanah, Hannah had no children, a fact made all the more bitter because Elkanah’s first wife, Peninnah, had numerous children. The story indicates that Hannah was clearly unhappy about the situation. But she took her desire to the Lord, confident that the Lord would provide an answer. Even before the physical manifestation changes, her thought had changed – she was reassured that God had heard her, and she left the temple content. In fact, the story concludes: “So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad.” (1 Sam 1:18).
The second has to do with living consistently with what we understand to be the nature of reality. Here again Christ Jesus and Mrs. Eddy have walked the path before us, and pointed out some of the markers. In Miscellaneous Writings, Mrs. Eddy says, “
Self-ignorance, self-will, self-righteousness, lust, covetousness, envy, revenge, are foes to grace, peace, and progress; they must be met manfully and overcome, or they will uproot all happiness. Be of good cheer; the warfare with one’s self is grand; it gives one plenty of employment, and the divine Principle worketh with you, — and obedience crowns persistent effort with everlasting victory. Every attempt of evil to harm good is futile, and ends in the fiery punishment of the evil-doer.
Jesus said, "Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man." If malicious suggestions whisper evil through the mind’s tympanum, this were no apology for acting evilly. We are responsible for our thoughts and acts; and instead of aiding other people’s devices by obeying them, — and then whining over misfortune, — rise and overthrow both. If a criminal coax the unwary man to commit a crime, our laws punish the dupe as accessory to the fact. Each individual is responsible for himself.
Evil is impotent to turn the righteous man from his uprightness. The nature of the individual, more stubborn than the circumstance, will always be found arguing for itself, — its habits, tastes, and indulgences. This material nature strives to tip the beam against the spiritual nature; for the flesh strives against Spirit, — against whatever or whoever opposes evil, — and weighs mightily in the scale against man’s high destiny. (Mis 118:21-17 np)
Here again we have the assurance, that even if the challenges seem real, we have recourse to the divine nature of being. Mrs. Eddy reminds us that,
Theoretically and practically man’s salvation comes through "the riches of His grace" in Christ Jesus. Divine Love spans the dark passage of sin, disease, and death with Christ’s righteousness, — the atonement of Christ, whereby good destroys evil, — and the victory over self, sin, disease, and death, is won after the pattern of the mount. This is working out our own salvation, for God worketh with us, until there shall be nothing left to perish or to be punished, and we emerge gently into Life everlasting. This is what the Scriptures demand — faith according to works. (’01 10:19)
Happiness comes from serving others
The importance of establishing and defending our own happiness is two-fold. Going back to the statement I quoted at the outset, a knowledge of spiritual reality and our relationship to that reality allows us to “…impart truth, health, and happiness…” to ourselves and to others. Both Christ Jesus and Mrs. Eddy expected their followers to be healers, and the call is as imperative today as it was 100 years ago or 2,000 years ago. Mrs. Eddy talks about the extraordinary fact that Jesus words and works were committed to a dying language, and yet they haven’t died – they have been a vital, animating, illuminating force for redemption and regeneration for more than two millennia. Similarly, I’m often amused, and humbled, when I look out on the crowd at a Sunday service, that the power and majesty of Christian redemption has been entrusted to such a motley crew. Not unlike Gideon and the 300, it sometimes feels as though those who are committed to spiritual living and healing are part of a very small group. But like Elijah, who thought he was alone in Israel standing for God when God told him that, no, there were 7,000 left in Israel, we are part of a larger group. And the importance of our work for ourselves and for others is that it is bringing to light spiritual reality.
That reality isn’t something far off or remote, and God isn’t some distant, anthropomorphic being outside of ourselves. No, Jesus told us that the kingdom of heaven is within. Already. Each of us is divine, here now today. Each of us has full access to the spiritual reality and royalty of our being. And as we hold to that, we will see our lives, and the lives of those around us, take on more and more of the divine hues.
Happiness – guide to spiritual growth
Part of what’s fun for me about studying Christian Science is that I’m always finding provocative statements and provocative insights in our Leader’s writings, in Christ Jesus’ words and works, in the history and experiences of other Christian Scientists. This is another statement, from our Leader’s autobiography Retrospection and Introspection, that jumped off the page with an arresting freshness the other day: “To becloud mortals, or for yourself to hide from God, is to conspire against the blessings otherwise conferred, against your own success and final happiness, against the progress of the human race as well as against honest metaphysical theory and practice.” (Ret 78:21) We don’t want to be found conspiring against blessings already conferred, against our own success and happiness, against the progress of the human race, or against honest metaphysical theory and practice. On the contrary, the demand and the opportunity for each of us in this room today is to claim and to demonstrate that spiritual reality.
Mrs. Eddy continues a little later on in that same work,
A realization of the shifting scenes of human happiness, and of the frailty of mortal anticipations, — such as first led me to the feet of Christian Science, — seems to be requisite at every stage of advancement. Though our first lessons are changed, modified, broadened, yet their core is constantly renewed; as the law of the chord remains unchanged, whether we are dealing with a simple Latour exercise or with the vast Wagner Trilogy.
The lessons we’re learning about human happiness are truly guides to our spiritual progress. “Progress is the law of God,” our Leaders assures us, “and demands of us only what we can certainly fulfill.” (S&H 233:7) As we work out our own salvation, find that here and now the rich resources, contentment, and vitality of spiritual living are already ours, we will be ascending in the scale of Christian demonstration. And we’ll find that in fact, we’ve always been at that point of spiritual expression. We then find, that “when the real is attained, which is announced by Science, joy is no longer a trembler, nor is hope a cheat.” (S&”H 289:19-20)
“Loyal Christian Scientists, be of good cheer: the night is far spent, the day dawns, God’s universal kingdom will appear, Love will reign in every heart, and His will be done on earth as in heaven.” (Mrs. Eddy’s conclusion to her article, “Thy Will Be Done” in Mis).
May we all go forward today strengthened, inspired, convinced of the inexorable happiness of our being.