A few years ago, a Principia professor’s son fell ill. Family members prayed immediately to see and hear God and to experience healing. Over the course of a week, the child seemed to become sicker. During that time, his parents reached out to two Christian Science practitioners and a Christian Science teacher. Each of these healers asked to be released from the case shortly after taking it.
After an evening of concerted prayer, the thought came to the child’s parents that they needed to take him to a hospital. They recognized this as the voice of Love, and they heeded it. Upon arriving at the hospital, doctors informed them that their son’s appendix had burst. The boy received surgery, recovered from the incident, and returned to the Principia School a short time later.
Was this event a Christian Science healing? At the time, the professor recalled his C.S. teacher telling him that, fundamentally, Christian Science practice consists of two things: listening to God and being obedient. By that count, the parents were faithful practitioners. Still, when the thought came to take his son to the doctor, the professor worried that his family would not be able to stay at the college. Why? Principia’s Policy 4 stipulates, “Members…will be expected to rely on Christian Science for healing.”
Does Principia’s practice of this policy prohibit the path this family took? The professor was grateful to find that the school not only respected his family’s choice but also helped him manage the logistics and costs of the hospital visit.
After the drama passed, the professor met a colleague who offered, “You have nothing to feel guilty about!” Whoa. Guilt? That was the first time the thought had occurred to the professor. Even as the colleague meant to be kind, his comment revealed a dark undercurrent of thought at Principia. It is the belief that the use of medicine is somehow a failure to practice Christian Science and is not worthy of our community.
Numerous Principians who supported the family represent the idea that Christian Science is a way of being – that it is the practice of spiritual authenticity, of “listening and being obedient.” On the other hand, the notion that one might feel guilty for taking his child to the hospital represents the belief that the material outcome of prayer, not one’s obedience to the divine, proves the worth of one’s practice. Healing without attending physicians? Valid. Healing with physicians present? Less valid.
I’ve encountered this thought many times here. It surfaced in a remarkable way when a friend and recent alumna shared a healing with a Principia employee. She’d gone to the hospital in pain. A physician informed her that she had appendicitis or an ovarian cyst and that she needed emergency surgery. She was not impressed by the diagnosis or by the prescription, and she returned wholeheartedly to prayer for spiritual transformation. She had a quick healing without medicine or surgery. The Principian with whom she shared her testimony replied that Christian Scientists should not get medical diagnoses, and he questioned the completeness of her healing.
The effect of this thought in our community, here and beyond Elsah, is terrible. In graduate school, I was diagnosed with a serious condition and informed that I required immediate surgery. A thousand miles from Principia, my first thought was, “What would they think?” Eventually, I felt peaceful with a choice not to pursue medical treatment, but for weeks it was difficult to pray honestly for guidance for fear of getting the “wrong” answer, whereby Principians, my biggest family, would judge me. I cannot count the number of alums who have described the same dilemma: “Do I listen to God or do I avoid judgment?”
Attachment to material outcomes seems to be not just cultural but also institutional. Although Principia allows community members to take medicine temporarily, grants leaves of absence for medical treatment, and provides medical insurance, it limits medical permissions such that Principians facing chronic or serious conditions may not take medicine or receive treatment for more than a quarter or two before being asked to leave. As a result, a Christian Scientist taking insulin while working through the claim of diabetes would not be allowed to stay in the community, no matter how sincere her practice and no matter the spiritual growth and insights she brought to the community.
I understand that Principia limits medicine in the community because it does not wish to condone mixing medicine and Science for healthcare. Principia does not want to create an environment where people become dependent on drugs unnecessarily. But, until we are able to heal our own community members through the affluence of our love, who are we to turn away those who are struggling just as we are? Who are we to know what is “necessary” or what constitutes “mixing methods” for another?
I hope Principians learn simply to be grateful for each other and trust each other’s healing to the Spirit that moves us all. I hope we learn to value community members for their struggles and not hide them when they don’t get the results to which we are attached. Even if the use of medicine here were to increase, more love and less proscription would better encourage individuals to “listen and be obedient.” What more could we ask?