Meeting the Belief of Old Age
A talk given by William Russell "Rusty" Hays, C.S.
May, 1987 at The Leaves
There is some confusion among Christian Scientists about meeting the belief of old age. For example, should we expect Christian Science to return our bodies or our patients’ bodies to certain cherished conditions of younger days? After all, Mrs. Eddy tells us to “shape our views of existence into loveliness, freshness, and continuity, rather than into age and blight.” (SH 246:29) But how do we do this? How do we do this when we’re faced with the evidence that age has already deprived our body of its vigor and strength? And equally important, what should we expect for our patients under the same circumstances?
I’m sure everyone here will agree that the experience called old age often represents mankind’s greatest challenge, and that probably no one here will be spared that trial. So it behooves us to decide today how we and our patients can make the experience of old age a period of loveliness, freshness, and continuity instead of decadence and disillusionment.
It helps to remember that all there is to body is mortal mind, and that one of the firmest beliefs of mortal mind, and one that we probably won’t overcome on this plane of existence for the foreseeable future, is the belief of old age, i.e., the law of progressively declining body ending in death. So as long as we think we are involved with a material body, we will have to meet head-on the lie of old age and death. And we do that by never accepting them as real for ourselves our or patients.
Christian Scientists are rightly taught to challenge old age with all their might. But here’s the rub. Too often their purpose for challenging old age is that they want to return their body to some prior physical condition they think is essential to their human good. If this is their purpose, it usually leads to disappointment.
When working out the claim of old age in Science, there’s the tendency of Christian Scientists to blindly expect Christian Science to keep healing their material body again and again and again, ad infinitum – they never want to give up their material body. But Mrs. Eddy once wrote,“You must get rid of the ‘old man’, the old woman; you cannot make them better and keep them. You are not getting rid of the old man if you try to make him better. If you should succeed in making him better, he would stay with you. If you patch up the old and say it is good enough . . . if you try to make the old satisfactory, you are preparing to keep it, not to put it off.” Mary Baker Eddy, First Edition, p.232, by Lyman Powell.
While we’re on the subject of the tendency to want to keep the “old man” (the material body) around, let me digress a bit. Don’t we sometimes find that we, as practitioners and Christian Science nurses, also have a tendency to want to keep the old man around for our patients? Think of that question in the light of what Peel, in his biography of Mrs. Eddy, tells us about her last days. He writes:“There was a general sense in the household that Mrs. Eddy was making toward an unknown destination, a new order of experience . . . . As the weeks went on, she became frailer and more ethereal in appearance, not taking enough nourishment ‘to support a kitten,’ as Rathvon noted in his diary. A few days later he added "It is hard to say whether it is not best to let the demonstration be made without any attempt at directing its course.“ (Peel, III, p.353)
Doesn’t he mean they were faced with the question of whether or not they should urge Mrs. Eddy to eat in order to keep the “old man”, the old human body, around? And don’t we face the same question sometimes with our patients? Rathvon didn’t offer an answer, and I’m not sure I can either. But I wonder if the answer wasn’t given by Mrs. Eddy herself when later she told her workers to, “Drop the argument; just leave me with divine Love; that is all I need.” (Ibid p.359) Is this something we can use in our work—not to direct God’s disposal of events? It’s something to think about.
Back to meeting the belief of old age when it comes into our experience. I think you’ll agree that from what we see and hear every day, the experience of old age can be joyous and progressive or, as it is too often, a bitter, frustrating, unhappy period. To meet this challenge, we must first ask, “What causes us to be bitter and unhappy in old age?” I propose that much of it comes from our unthinking consent that the human body is the source and means of almost everything worthwhile in our experience, and thus we believe that a declining human body is bringing all this good to an end.
How wonderful it is that despite the condition of our body, our understanding of Christian Science can make old age a period of activity, joy, progress, and buoyant enthusiasm for the future. This higher and happier way of approaching old age is what I’ll speak about. And while I’ll speak mostly of the practical aspects of dealing with old age, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s always our spiritual metaphysics that gives power to the practical.
In one respect, old age is the inevitable consequence of the belief that we can and must die. But instead of death being a certainty, the only thing that’s certain in the universe is Life, God. Edward Kimball makes this interesting statement: “Just think of it, within the entire range of all that is or ever was, there has been no death, not one.” We must each ask ourselves, “How could he make that statement? In the face of the billions of deaths that history records, how can he say there has not been a single death?” As each of us works out the question for ourselves, we’ll be going a long way toward handling old age.
In all things we must reason scientifically about what’s really going on. We must stand firm in the truth that all is Spirit and spiritual, and that there are not two sides to the proposition. Because God has created each of us in His image and likeness, and because the material body is not the creation of God, Spirit. In Truth you and I are not material, but spiritual and perfect now. The material body has never been the life and identity of anyone. Our identity was, is and ever will be the spiritual son of God. Every Christian Science healing we’ve ever heard of proves the truth of our present spiritual identity.
Based on this scientific proof that we were spiritually created, we understand that we were never born into matter, nor can our real spiritual identity age in matter or die out of matter. The only way to get out of the belief of matter is to live, to demonstrate that God, not a material body, is our Life, yesterday, today, and forever. From this standpoint, we can paraphrase Kimball. We can say, “Through all that is or ever was, there has been no decline, no old age, no death—not once in God’s kingdom.” Understanding why we can say this will have a direct influence on our old age experiences.
This brings us to my main theme about old age: Since each of us will probably face the belief of old age, we should decide right now that we’re going to make that experience a positive, progressive, happy experience. So how do we do that? I’ll give you the answer in one sentence . . . . . We use our experience of old age as an opportunity to make higher demonstrations of Christian Science than we have ever made before. Let me tell you what I mean. For years, we have looked at the body as the source and the means of every good thing we desire. We want something from the next room, we walk. We want groceries or companionship, we drive to the supermarket or to see a friend. If we need income, we go to work. The list is endless in the ways we rely on our body for everything we need.
So when we find our body incapacitated, we frantically go to work to heal the body so we can get back to using it in all these good material ways, and say. “Oh, isn’t Christian Science wonderful; I can heal myself of sickness and limitation so the body can walk or drive again and get those important things done I couldn’t otherwise do.” At any age, young or old, such abject dependence on a material body for our happiness, completeness, and fulfillment limits and delays our healing. Maybe a real example and a couple of hypothetical examples will help make this clear.
A woman, who had many important things to do and a very critical timetable, severely injured her leg in a skiing accident. Her first thoughts were like those above. She forgot that her body, including her injured leg, was just the objectification of her thoughts. She was so fretful and disturbed because her leg kept her from getting her work done, and so insistent on a quick healing of her leg, that she was giving matter precedence over God, Who alone does all things. As a result it was difficult for her to hear the Christ, Truth, sufficiently for her leg to be healed.
Finally she saw that there was something higher to be demonstrated than healing a leg. Her first need was to demonstrate that God does all things for us, irrespective of whether the body is incapacitated or not. Step-by-step each job she thought must be done by the body was worked out in Science. Every job was finished on time in the most unexpected ways, and all the while she was in bed unable to get up. She had reversed the modus operandi of mortal mind which says a proper functioning body is first necessary for our completeness and fulfillment. As you can imagine, as soon as she took the pressure off the body and proved that all things are possible to God, the body resumed its normal functioning. The leg that looked so bad was healed almost overnight, and soon she was again jogging several miles day as she usually did.
Now here are the hypothetical examples that also show the need to reverse our dependence on the body, and make higher demonstrations of God’s allness.
Picture this: Our car is being repaired. But the garage has just called, and we learn that our car won’t be ready when we need it, and the need is crucial. Question: Do we decide how Christian Science must help us? Do we work in Christian Science to see that the car is ready on time? Or do we rely on divine Mind to unfold in our experience, and under every material condition, completeness, fulfillment, right activity, etc., regardless of whether the car is ready on time?
To carry this example a little further, let’s picture ourselves at a point where we cannot drive our car anymore because of age or incapacity. Now we can’t visit our friends at will, can’t shop, get to church, or be self-sufficient, and self-sufficiency is more important to us than anything in the world. So do we employ Christian Science to enable us to drive again so we can do all these things? That’s the tough one. Certainly, we can argue that Christian Science restores health and activity, so why can’t we work to drive again? But aren’t we deciding how Christian Science should heal us based on our own self-will? Doesn’t Christian Science assure us that we must give up our dependency on whatever material things we think are necessary to our happiness or health or life; and if not given up they will be taken away until we are healed of the belief of our dependence on material things? Isn’t this the way to the kingdom of God, and isn’t this the blessing that Christian Science brings us?
If we are forced by so-called material laws to give up our car, may it not mean that our present human need is to establish our spiritual identity that is supplied by divine Mind alone, and establish it so clearly that we demonstrate day-by-day all that we need for happiness and completeness, until it doesn’t matter whether we ever drive again. This may be the way to drive again, or it may not – but it won’t be as important anymore. We’ll have everything we need every minute through Mind not matter, and we’ll have demonstrated real independence, independence of matter.
In absolute Science, you and I are not dependent on a material body for life. The body has nothing to do with Life, God. Age has nothing to do with Life, God. We are purely Mind’s spiritual ideas, and the life, activity, and completeness of an idea are as eternal as the divine Mind that unfolds them. This is the present truth of our being that we must tenaciously affirm if we are to progressively overcome the belief and effect of age. But we are deprived of the blessing of overcoming age as long as we look to the body rather than God as the source of all we hold dear, as the source of our life, our activity, our completeness, our happiness. And as long as we look to the body for these things, our sense of body will inevitably include the process of decline and deterioration that we fear, and we may approach the healing of age in the wrong way.
The greatest temptation Jesus faced in the wilderness was not to assuage hunger by making the stones bread, or to prove to the priests he was the Son of God by throwing himself off the top of the temple. His greatest temptation came in the form of this question, “If thou be the Son of God,” – suggesting that Jesus wasn’t the son of God unless he accepted the devil’s standards for demonstrating his sonship. And the devil constantly tempts us the same way, “If thou be a Christian Scientist,” and then the devil describes how we must work out a situation in Christian Science, and it’s always based on a belief in the reality of matter.
Elderly people whose body is failing them may listen to the devil that says, “If thou be a Christian Scientist, return your body to the point where you get the body going again so you can drive your car, visit with friends, live alone, stay out of a nursing home. Christian Science heals the body doesn’t it; so heal it again and again and again, ad infinitum. Keep it the wonderful material body it always has been.” Like our lady with the injured leg, they decide that a certain material condition is necessary for their happiness, and insist Christian Science restore their body to a prior condition they say is essential to produce that happiness.
But it is not the purpose of Christian Science to keep the material body around forever. Divine Love forces us to give up our love of, fear of, and dependence on the human body. If personal sense refuses to do this, the material things we think are necessary for our happiness and completeness will be taken away, and thus we are forced to replace these with spiritual things.
In considering what our future human experience holds, so we’ll be ready to meet it, I think one of the most significant pages in our Textbook is page 266. Let me read a portion of it.
“Would existence without personal friends be to you a blank? Then the time will come when you will be solitary, left without sympathy; but the seeming vacuum is already filled with divine Love. When this hour of development comes, even if you cling to a sense of personal joys, spiritual Love will force you to accept what best promotes your growth . . . Thus He teaches mortals to lay down their fleshliness and gain spirituality.” (266-6)
Although Mrs. Eddy predicts here what we will experience if we radically depend on personal friends for happiness, can’t we say that this prediction is also true of our dependence on any material thing—body, family, car, bank account, government, but especially the things the body is supposed to provide for us. We would do well to begin today to prove that God is truly the source of every good and necessary thing, or we will find ourselves dismayed and confused when Mrs. Eddy’s forecast comes into our experience.
So here’s the essence of my talk. In meeting the belief of old age, if we find the body is no longer capable of providing us with unlimited physical movement, a means of income, recreation, visits to friends, family, and stores, those things we’ve depended on the body for in the past, we can use this time as an opportunity to make higher demonstrations than we’ve ever made in Christian Science before. We can prove day-by-day that Mind gives us all those things we once thought the body gave us. In the process we’ll gain great spiritual growth out of matter and up to the kingdom of God, which is the real purpose of Christian Science.
So overcoming age in Christian Science is not resuming our youth or a certain physical condition of the past. It is thought going into new spiritual paths, and making higher demonstrations than our human history has ever before recorded. One part of overcoming age is to realize that what appears as a declining body is but the bugle call to rouse us to prove that the things we thought depended on the body are ever available through Mind, their real source. Robert Peel records Mrs. Eddy’s frailty toward the end, but does anyone here doubt that her joy and happiness, her real power, energy, and activity were diminished in the least?
Some years ago when my daughter, Susan, was a Christian Science nurse here at The Leaves, she told me of a Christian Scientist who sensed that the end was near and came to The Leaves from Florida, not to die, but to refresh herself with a higher spiritual understanding of the Christ. She didn’t come here to preserve her false material sense of body, but to preserve her true sense of body, her identity as the embodiment of God’s ideas. And several days before she passed on, she told Susan she had gained the most wonderful revelation of the Christ—far beyond what she had ever seen before. As a result, during her time at The Leaves she was the most joyous person, completely happy and contented.
Could not her experience typify what Mrs. Eddy meant when she wrote, “The dying—if they die in the Lord—awake from a sense of death to a sense of Life in Christ, with a knowledge of Truth and Love beyond what they possessed before; because their lives have grown so far toward the stature of manhood in Christ Jesus, that they are ready for a spiritual transfiguration.” (UN 2:20)
Couldn’t we, under the right conditions, suggest this woman from Florida as a model to others. And can’t we decide right now to let her be our model if we face old age ourselves? If to human sense our strength and energy appear to be declining, and our body becoming less comfortable, this need not deprive us of one good thing or keep us from fulfilling Mrs. Eddy’s admonition to “. . . shape our views of existence into loveliness, freshness, and continuity, rather than into age and blight.” (246:29) This period can be our opportunity to demonstrate our independence of matter, work that carries us higher than ever before, and which is our true work as a Christian Scientist.
In summary, we must begin today to handle the belief of old age; we must begin now to gain a clearer and clearer understanding that an aging body in all its facets—whether the belief that we’re twenty going on twenty-one, or ninety going on ninety-one,—is not and has never been our God-created identity. Life, strength, action, function has never been in the body, for Life is God alone. The only body we’ve ever had is our embodiment of Mind’s ideas. Since we are God’s identities, compound ideas of God, we have never been born into a material body, matured as a material body, nor do we decline with it, suffer with it, or die out of it. And we can prove these facts in our experience to the degree we consciously understand them.
We should decide today how we prefer to meet the lying belief of old age if it comes into our human experience. Let’s decide to meet it joyously like the lady from Florida with a willingness to use the opportunity to make higher demonstrations of Christian Science than we’ve ever made before. A joyful willingness to prove, despite the continuing evidence of a declining body, that God alone supplies everything we once looked to the body for.
And in regard to your place and the place of The Leaves in all this, Christian Scientists who want to work out the claim of advancing age in Christian Science, need a place to go where they will receive encouragement in making this tremendous demonstration. They need a place where those around them understand the necessity of individual salvation, and are not fooled by the material evidence of a declining body, but understand the glorious spiritual demonstration that is being made of God’s willingness to take care of man’s every single need.
They need a place where they are seen as they always have been and always will be—not a young or old material body, but an individual spiritual consciousness who has not one thought underived from God, hence whose Life is God. They need a place where they can, to a degree, put off their material sense of body for spiritual reality. They need a place where they will be encouraged to work harder than ever before to give up the material beliefs they have long beheld as body, and to become more than ever before the conscious embodiment of God’s ideas, which has always been and always will be their true body.
To those facing this glorious demonstration, this is the great blessing that The Leaves and the wonderful Christian Science nurses have to offer.