I was born in California, but I was a baby when we moved to Boston, so I’d say I’m from Boston. My parents are from the east and west coasts of the US, and they met in Chicago during an annual meeting for Christian Scientists.
A lot of my early memories of Boston are connected to Back Bay, where my father’s worked at the Christian Science headquarters. I would go up to my Dad’s office and I would look down and see the cars that looked like match box cars, and the fountain on the plaza where kids would be running outside. A lot of memories circle around that place.
Boston is a base; it’s where I’ve figured out a life that’s affordable, and close to friends and family; it makes me feel grounded. I’m not planted here as solidly as some other people are because I travel quite a bit, but I’m involved in a local church, which is important to me. It’s possible that I would move somewhere else in the future, but it would have to be for a very strong reason.
Christian Science is not something I often bring up. I’m a member of the broader, international church and I’m involved in a local church as well. It’s an American, Christian religion, founded in the late 1800s. In Christian Science, there is a big emphasis on reliance on God in every aspect of experience, including healing, as the early Christians did. If God is true, then we can resort to Him for whatever we need and grow in closeness to Him.
It’s a practice that I inherited from my parents insofar as they were an example to me. It was something that really affected a sense of peace in the atmosphere of the household, in a good way. When I went away to college, I realized that something was missing, and I identified that as this practice. At that point I said, if this is something that’s missing, I need to start doing it. That’s when I started studying it every day and going to church regularly on my own.
I would wake up before my roommate did and would go to a fluorescent lit hallway in the basement to read the weekly Bible Lesson, which gave me a sense of home. The place looked nothing like home, but the practice was home. It started to ground me in my own sense of reliance on God, rather than reliance on my parents or other people around me. Feeling that isolated in the early days of college was difficult, but I’m glad that it set me on that course.
I rarely bring it up because, in my experience, the reaction tends to be that people don’t want to hear it; people don’t want to have religion pushed on them. I want to respect other people’s choices, whether those involve another religion or no religious practice at all. I’m not about to convince someone to adopt this religion through a conversation. They would have to choose to explore it for themselves.
It’s frightening, the way some people have religion thrown at them in an almost weaponised way. I hear from people who’ve been told that they’re going to hell because this or that. I’ve been told I’m going to hell because of my beliefs. Most of these conversations have happened in other parts of the country, but people remember them and are affected by them. It’s a very condemnatory, black-and-white, we’re right, they’re wrong thing. It’s also associated with a political movement, which uses religion to get people to support a particular political agenda. Of course many, even most, religious people are not at all like this, but that’s often the first thing a lot of people I know associate with religion, and they have very negative feelings about it, which I can understand.
I feel that in America, especially these days, Christian religion is associated with conservative politics. I see Jesus’ teachings as profoundly radical, accepting people with all their differences, helping those in need, and loving humanity in a profound way.
For me, religion is something I can turn to, a home territory in difficult times. It’s demanding and it requires the discipline of reflecting on how I think about something. I’m drawn to situations that allow me to grapple with an idea, to think about it, to see what it has to offer; Christian Science offers a number of ways of doing that.
When I was in college, in my second year, I had a teacher who was very unkind. He was patronizing in a pretty extreme way. I took private lessons with him too, and when I showed him my work, he was very insulting—both sarcastic and dismissive of what I had done.
I decided I couldn’t go back for another lesson with him, but I soon found out that I couldn’t withdraw from the class without a failing grade, which would have been a problem for my future plans. No one else at the school, including various deans, could do anything for me, though they were sympathetic.
The idea of speaking to him again about the issue filled me with dread. My friend said she could tell when I was about to go into his office by the colour of my face. There was just a constant sense of being underqualified and ill-prepared, and also subject to unkindness.
The Bible Lesson that week included this passage from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy:
This scientific sense of being, forsaking matter for Spirit, by no means suggests man’s absorption into Deity and the loss of his identity, but confers upon man enlarged individuality, a wider sphere of thought and action, a more expansive love, a higher and more permanent peace (page 265).
“A higher and more permanent peace” was exactly what I felt that I needed. The whole experience had been very turbulent for me, making me question any sense of talent or purpose or direction that I had. In this passage, that peace was paired with “a more expansive love.” I realized that in order to move forward and find that peace, my sense of love would have to be bigger. It would have to be big enough to include this person.
I read that passage in the lounge at the conservatory before going in to meet with him to discuss the situation. I prayed thinking about those ideas of permanent peace and expansive love knowing that God is Love and that’s where it all came from. I held onto that idea and I walked in and we began with the same conversation we had before; he said he couldn’t give me a passing grade because I hadn’t “done anything.”
Normally, I would have accepted that answer and walked out. But I found myself quietly explaining what the consequences would be. He said he didn’t want me to be affected in that way and signed the form. My whole sense of the situation changed completely, and I had what I needed.
Religious practice is demanding. What I’m learning in Christian Science puts constraints on my reactions to situations. It’s tempting to indulge in hating someone who’s being difficult, but it doesn’t help. The idea of going deeper, beneath the surface, not in an invasive way, but to draw on God’s love, makes things possible.
Jennie is a writer and musician who lives near Boston.