View from the Pew
Christian Science a way of healing
Ask someone who's in love to define its essence, and you hear about its effects -- that head-spinning, heart-thumping, feet-off-the-ground stuff. Try to get a clear understanding of the fulfilling emptiness of enlightenment from the most earnest Buddhist. Find anyone who believes in the soul as a separate organ who can convince you that's the source of vibes that seem to be heartache from regret, or a stomachache from guilt.
The answer is probably the same for all these human conditions: If you've got it, you know it. But it's not translatable to those who don't.
Christian Scientist spirituality falls into the same category for me. What most of us know is that adherents believe they have the divine power to cure themselves of any ailment, from zits to cancer. But when it comes to explaining how that works, they can be as communications-impaired as anyone else.
Interest in her idea of spiritual healing has waxed and waned in the 125 years since Mary Baker Eddy founded the Church of Christ, Scientist. Nowadays there is a lot of interest from nonmembers, sparked by openness in health professions to explore alternative medicine and an interfaith trend to sample and borrow from each other.
The local church will offer an educational opportunity next weekend for the curious and even the skeptic. Giulia Plum, who gave up a career as a psychologist to become a Christian Science teacher and healer, will speak on "A Spiritual Approach to Health and Healing" at 2 p.m. March 19. The public talk at the Ala Moana Hotel Ilima Room is free.
"All over the United States, there is a searching going on, an interest in different types of healing practices and systems," said Plum in an interview. "Science, in terms of understanding the body, is wonderfully helpful, but people are saying, 'There is more to me than this physical body. It is related to my health, and I need to figure out what it is.'"
Plum, whose practice is in Connecticut, lectures at the Harvard Medical School Conference on Spirituality & Healing in Medicine, an annual continuing education symposium. She lectures and appears on panels before health professional groups, businesses and college students.
"Ten years ago very few medical schools offered it, but now about two-thirds of them have a course on spirituality and healing." She said "patients have always prayed," and a recent survey by the National Center for Alternative and Complementary Medicine found prayer was a common denominator among patients.
Plum is certified by the church as a practitioner and teacher. "I have a practice that is healing. I have patients with all sorts of problems. It may be illness or an emotional problem or a career issue. I am able to help." She saves the story of her personal healing for her talk. Her faith-based career "was a natural step from psychotherapy. My motive was always the same: to help others. It has evolved as my relationship with God has deepened and grown."
The church's model of prayer healing is not the same as hands-on faith healing by another person, she said. It's achieved by the individual. "What Christian Science is about is bringing in our spiritual aspect ... in our day-to-day relationship with God." When people get that, they get healed, she believes. "There's a potential to be healed of everything," she said.
It still isn't clear to me how that works. Nancy Walden, communications person for the local Christian Scientist community, tried to help.
Mary Baker Eddy emphasized certain biblical passages in her "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." A key story is the Genesis account of the creation of humanity "in the image and likeness of God." It's not that God's a biped with the whole package of parts. "It is the spiritual image and likeness," said Walden. "Creation in reality is spiritual."
Healing works when a person sees himself as a spiritual being, Walden said. "Can God have an ingrown toenail? I don't think so. Then I cannot, either. Just understanding that, it heals the problem."
"Christian Scientists have found from their experience they don't need to go to a doctor," said Walden. "I can't say it works 100 percent." It is not forbidden to seek medical help.
She also has tales of personal healing, but she's not on a mission to persuade disbelievers and seek converts. "One thing we do not do is proselytize." The lecture is an educational opportunity, not a missionary outreach, she said.
Like Plum, Walden represents the Christian Science faith in the public arena. She testifies at the state Legislature about her brand of alternative medicine. She attends meetings of the Universal Health Care Task Force, created by lawmakers to prepare legislation.
"I go to the Legislature to be sure they don't pass laws that would prohibit us from practicing our religion," said Walden. "We advise them that this is a system of health care that we choose. We are concerned that Christian Science treatment be included as a reimbursable expense."
Walden said Dr. Roseanne Harrigan of the University of Hawaii Medical School recently reported to the task force that 42 percent of people in the United States use alternative medicine in some form. In Hawaii it is 48 percent.
Walden said, "When I tell people I am a Christian Scientist, I am embraced by so many people who are interested in something different from traditional healing."