It’s now a familiar scene. Comfortably seated at home, a device propped up and connected to wi-fi, live streaming an event. In my case, I’m attending a church gathering. I belong to a local church, but today my church’s world-wide membership is meeting together, as it does annually. Some, like me, are connecting online. Others made the trip to our headquarters, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, located in a neighbourhood of Boston, Massachusetts where the original 1894 modest stone-spired church still stands.
For those of us attending online from all over the world, there is a feeling of gratitude to have the instant connection that technology offers, not only to participate in the event, but to connect as fellow members. We are present and connected despite being so far away from each other. Wait now, isn’t that statement a seeming contradiction, a paradox? It appears on the surface to contradict itself, until a deeper meaning resolves that seeming disconnect into harmony.
From my own experience, and from my study of the Bible and Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry, Christianity is full of solvable paradoxes. For me, this is one of the features of my faith, study, and practice that I find so engaging and compelling: taking quiet prayer and wrestling with scripture to work these meanings out. Yet I also find it takes a fellowship of God-oriented, supportive people to keep it real and shared, and not let it be solely academic or self-focused.
This brings to mind a classic paradox: Jesus’ statement, “Lose your life to save it.” It's been said that belonging to an organised religion reduces us, or boxes us in as individuals. I’ve had moments of such feelings. But one church member attending our recent annual meeting in person put it this way, “Singing hymns with several hundred fellow adherents of my faith, I find it’s not so much losing my voice in the collection of voices as it is joining the surrounding vocal ocean and being part of – humbly contributing to – something larger than myself, something beautiful because it is church in action.”
I agree. A group of people who come together to boost and encourage each other is a disciplined Christian practice. Striving to be living witnesses to the scriptural proclamation that “God is Love” is to open up to divine Love, the community, and all humanity (gosh that is hard at times!). Also, it's humbling to join with a group of people who strive to be just, accountable, and ethical while at the same time drawing upon a Christ-sourced compassion to be non-judgemental in the face of messing it up, “missing the mark” or not fulfilling dearly held hopes. Embracing both justice and mercy is a daily spiritual act of salvation (bringing into wholeness). The world feels the effort.
A willingness to wrestle through paradox remains an ongoing feature of my spiritual journey. It's a true adventure. The seemingly contradictory nature of paradox may suggest destabilisation, unnerving the very effort. I admit, it has felt that way at times, but it doesn’t last long against the inner reserves of commitment and faith. Rather, what I have found is evidence of a broader strengthening of my mental health, less anxiety, and a better ability to see the reality of present divine goodness, including its human expression.
For me, leaning into the constant flow of Christ’s love, and a timely full-armed hug in fellowship, showers onto my human imperfection a gentle stir towards healing. That’s connectivity at its best.
Beth Gibson is the Christian Science Committee on Publication for British Columbia, representing Christian Science throughout the province. She is a member of Victoria’s First Church of Christ, Scientist; as well as a member of the headquarters church, which is affectionately referred to as The Mother Church.
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, at https://www.timescolonist.com/blogs/spiritually-speaking
This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, July 22nd 2023