Would you ever talk to a Christian Scientist about health?
Let’s just say, the initial response I received was less than encouraging.
I had just been appointed as the media and legislative rep for the Christian Science Church in Northern California and was looking for ways to connect with those reporters and editors who I thought might have some interest in what I had to share. An introductory email seemed like an obvious way to get the ball rolling, but what I was really aiming for were face-to-face meetings.
Trouble is, there aren’t a whole lot of people working in the media these days who have the time or the inclination to sit down and chit-chat about religion.
“I know,” I thought, “I’ll say that I’d like to talk with them about health – something central to the practice of Christian Science and clearly a topic that matters to everyone.” The assumption, of course, was that anyone reading my email would immediately grasp the connection between the spiritually uplifted mind and body and respond to my request for a meeting with enthusiasm.
Then again, maybe not.
“Let me be blunt,” said one editor from a prominent San Joaquin Valley newspaper during a brief follow-up call. “Having a conversation with a Christian Scientist about health care is like asking the Amish how to drive a car.” Ouch.
But not everyone was so dismissive. A reporter from one of the larger papers here in the Bay Area responded right away, saying that until she read my email, she had never made the connection between Christian Science and the subject of health. She asked when we might get together.
This turned out to be one of the first of now hundreds of meetings with media types throughout Northern California over the past 6 plus years – reporters, editors, producers, talk show hosts – all of which have focused, to a greater or lesser extent, on the subject of health.
Never has my purpose been to “sell” someone on Christian Science, a religious practice that draws its inspiration from the prayer-based system of healing practiced by Jesus. By no means, however, is it a practice that precludes those who have joined its ranks from a more conventional approach to health care, if they feel that’s appropriate. What I’m most interested in – and what I trust those I meet with are interested in – is connecting the dots between on-going advances in medicine that take into account the mentality of both patient and doctor and a healing method that dates back thousands of years.
A distinct advantage of living where I do is that the place is practically crawling with people whose work within the medical arena confirms this trend and who have been willing to talk with me about what they’re learning. This, in turn, provides plenty of fodder for my conversations with the media as well as my own writing on the subject of health.
One of the most interesting was Dr. Dean Ornish, founder and president of the Sausalito-based Preventative Medicine Research Institute (PMRI) and professor of medicine at University of California, San Francisco.
“There isn’t any other factor in medicine – not diet, not smoking, not exercise, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery – that has a greater impact on our quality of life, incidence of illness and premature death from all causes than loneliness and isolation,” he writes on his website. “Love and intimacy — our ability to connect with ourselves and others, is at the root of what makes us sick and what makes us well, what causes sadness and what brings happiness, what makes us suffer and what leads to healing.”
When asked during a conversation I had with him if this extends to our relationship with the Divine, Ornish replied, “Anything that can create that experience of connection to something beyond one’s self is healing.”
There have been a number of similar conversations over the last couple of years, all of which have touched on this same idea – a cancer researcher; an OB/GYN and New York Times bestselling author; a pediatrician who treats children with ADHD without drugs and a Stanford health consultant who has figured out that maintaining an attitude of forgiveness can have a huge impact on our physical well-being.
What does this have to do with Christian Science?
The discoveries being made by these and many others working on the cutting-edge of healthcare parallel, at least in some ways, what Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Christian Science Church, realized nearly a century and a half ago, that “Health is not a condition of matter, but of Mind….” Although what Eddy refers to is a singular divine consciousness and not a collection of human brains, the underlying conviction that matter is not the be-all and end-all of our existence is the same.
Interestingly, in what some might consider an ironic twist of fate, it was actually a medical doctor who suggested that Eddy write what would become the textbook of Christian Science, having watched her heal a patient of his who was dying of pneumonia.
Even if I’m not able to measure the impact of my sharing this sort of information with the media, I have noticed an increase in the number of articles and news reports dealing with the mental and not merely biomedical aspects of health – the value of prayer and meditation, the role of gratitude and compassion and both the preventative and curative upside of getting rid of fear.
This, in and of itself, is pretty encouraging.
Eric Nelson’s columns on the link between consciousness and health appear regularly in a number of local and national online publications. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California. Follow him on Twitter @norcalcs.