My father lay dying. It was 5am in the morning. I leant down and kissed his forehead. I love you dad, I whispered not sure if he registered. I walked over to my mother who had been standing a little away from his bed and held her in my arms for a good while. The taxi would arrive any minute. The plane back to Brisbane departing at 6 am. Whatever happens you’ve done your best mom, I told her. I could see she wasn’t convinced. She had loved this man for over sixty years. A dutiful devoted wife. He is my life she told me. With that I kissed her on the cheek and left her tending to her waning paramour. My mother had nursed him for almost 5 weeks single-handed and as his health declined over that time so had hers. She looked tired and frail. She was afraid.
Before leaving I had counselled her to call for medical assistance. Because of her faith she had not yet done so. Ultimately it was her call as Dad was by now incoherent. As much as I disagreed with her position I respected it was her decision.
Returning to Brisbane that afternoon, I received a phone call from a family friend. He informed me that my mother had finally conceded she was no longer able to care for my father at home by herself. She also conceded that it was time to seek medical assistance. She had called a doctor to the house and he had acted immediately calling an ambulance, which rushed my father to hospital. My friend told me the doctor took one look at him and said; call an ambulance.
Five weeks earlier it turned out, he had experienced kidney failure and that had been the main reason for his demise. He was saved at the last minute by miraculous medical intervention and ultimately recovered in hospital, albeit with some complications. For a man in his mid eighties he did very well and as I heard, gave the nurses plenty of cheek whenever he got the chance.
Why did my mother and father take so long to call for medical assistance? The reason is that they are practicing Christian Scientists. Part of their faith is that they use the power of prayer for healing. They do not believe in medicine.
Please know that I am not going to get into any derisive commentary about their faith or the way they practice it. I am also not going to attempt to fully explain their convictions or the current practices of this religion. What I do want to discuss is the paradigm of what I perceive to be: a closed mind or a fixed belief causing harm. As you can imagine there has been a lot of soul searching in my family around all this. You can probably imagine the conversations. The polarity occurring between the belief at one end and the non-belief at the other. So much so that for some including my mother there is extreme guilt for calling in medical assistance. At the other end there is extreme anger for her not doing so. Another polarity is that once medical assistance has been called then all prayer through Christian Science must cease. One excludes the other. I do not understand this and I have to ask, why?
What I do understand is that our thoughts are a powerful source of energy. In a sense, we are what we think. Thoughts can change the world. One has only to attend an Anthony Robbins seminar, listen to Esther Hicks or read the ideas supporting Quantum Physics to appreciate this. One has only to practice it oneself to realise it. I do understand the reasoning behind attending to good thoughts, to working to keep positive attention and in the case of Christian Scientists to read the bible and the Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker-Eddy to affirm and deepen scriptural knowledge.
What I don’t understand is why a practice or faith has to become non-inclusive of other practices or faiths. Especially when in the case of Christian Science, holding exclusively to a belief, clearly had detrimental consequences.
It is certainly a human trait to lock into mindsets and beliefs, which is most likely an attempt to create security in what is perceived as a world of insecurity where anything can happen and usually does. Somehow it seems that we believe that our fixed beliefs will keep us safe. How often does it happen that we hold a fixed idea about something only to have it wrenched from us at the point of crisis? Why wait for crisis?
Some would say this is an ego state that attaches to fixed beliefs in the vain hope crisis will be averted through the enforcement of certainty and control. Controlling beliefs.
To the fixed state it appears that even when the flow of life is interrupted the indication that something is calling for our attention is not regarded as a signal for inquiry or change.
If a more open state of mind is developed to foster sensitivity to the interruption of ‘flow’, might it be possible to also keep ideas about life in a more fluid state? Perhaps it might be possible to move from controlling beliefs to ‘operating beliefs’? Beliefs that represent our values and yet are sensitive to change, to new dynamics, to interruption.
This is not to imply that we should dissolve all morals and ethics, rather, to see that when disorder and disease arise it most likely is a sure-fire sign that something needs our attention.
What I want to say to Christian Scientists is that—is it not possible for a faith that was born around 200 years ago to evolve? Is it not possible that the practice of Christian Science and medicine, be it eastern or western, can become mutually inclusive? Of course there needs to be respect and consideration for different needs. However what I have always experienced as a young man growing up around Christian Science is that medicine and matters to do with the material world became a source of fear. Not to be talked about. Not to be discussed. In my experience the very act of wanting to talk about or discuss this conundrum was shunned. Avoidance won the day.
I realise I am not going to resolve all the issues around dogma and fixed beliefs in one short reflection. I do want to share my experience around this and trust my family will respect the discussion. What ever happens from here I do know this: there has to be a basis of mutual respect and love when dealing with different faiths and beliefs. If my parents had decided not to call for medical help and my father had passed away I would have been very sad of course but ultimately would respect this as, their way. I do not agree with it and would urge anyone in this situation to encourage an alternate course of action.
In my heart I see that it is not about faith-to-faith or intra-faith exclusion, where one practice cannot work with another. I see that the flow of life is inclusive and inter-connected. Perhaps we will all know this one day soon enough. Perhaps even this last statement might constitute an ‘operating belief’.
MChallis © 2015
Hi there. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here so frankly. I’m sorry to hear about your family’s experience.
I found this blog on twitter and I thought I’d reply to your perhaps rhetorical question of why CS treatment and medicine seem regarded as mutually exclusive. I am a lifetime student of CS, so while not yet a full-time practitioner and still with very limited experience healing other people, I feel I have a thorough understanding of the teaching.
Lately I’ve been learning more about the process that Eddy went through in testing her healing system as she was discovering it. While not scientific in the most strict of interpretations, it did involve a lot of trial and error, and by the time she published S&H, she had become very sure of the efficacy of the system through that experimentation that she had done. This is where the “rule”of not mixing medicine and prayer comes from. She tried it and found that patients who were also using medicine did not respond to the prayer treatment as well because their allegiance and confidence was divided between the two methods.
As I understand, CS does not forbid people relying on prayer from seeking medical care; likewise it does not say that someone who is taking medicine can’t pray or study CS. What S&H says is that people who are practicing CS, as in healing other people through it, would be wise to only treat those who are willing to put their whole confidence in the CS treatment.
I do think that a misunderstanding of this has taken root in the CS community and needs to be examined. CStists should not have to feel guilty for getting medical care, and should never be ostracized in their churches for doing so. And no one should feel that they are required to give up their endeavor to understand God and their spiritual identity simply because they went to a doctor.
I hope this is a useful and answer to your question. Thanks again for writing.