"In atmosphere of love divine/ We live and move and breathe/ Though mortal eyes may see it not/ 'Tis sense that would deceive./ The mortal sense we must destroy/ If we would bring to light/ The wonders of eternal Mind/ Where sense is lost in sight." The opening hymn at First Church of Christ, Scientist showed forth a great deal, starting with that word "atmosphere." Architect Irving Gill's design for the church -- the high, cream-white walls, unadorned but for the simple, soft curving arches of the windows and alcoves -- did more to create a feeling than to draw the eye. And while the stained-glass dome overhead was certainly ornate, it also added to the general atmosphere, filtering the light, making it watery, slightly green. (The great bank of organ pipes that dominated the front wall, however, did seem a direct appeal to "mortal eyes" -- a majestic sight.)
"The mortal sense we must destroy." A shifting of consciousness, from focus on the material to focus on the spiritual, seemed central to the church's mission. After the First Reader read the 24th chapter of Genesis, in which Isaac takes Rebecca for a wife, she presided over a long period of silent prayer followed by "the Lord's prayer -- with its spiritual interpretation as given in the Christian Science workbook." "Which art in heaven" was interpreted as "all-harmonious," reflecting Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy's vision of heaven as "harmony, the reign of spirit." "Thy kingdom come" became "Thy kingdom is come." It seemed that we only needed the spiritual eyes to see. Hence, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven," became "Enable us to know -- as in heaven, so on earth -- God is omnipotent, supreme." It was a question of knowing. The final request, "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" was similarly rendered as a proclamation: "And God leadeth us not into temptation, but delivereth us from sin, disease, and death."
The healing of disease was another theme. Said the Reader: "If you desire a more active role in Mary Baker Eddy's design for Christian Science to reinstate primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing, you are most warmly invited to apply for membership in this church." After that, a woman sang Psalm 103 in a rich vibrato (mortal sense was not wholly neglected): "Bless the Lord, O my soul/ And forget not all His benefits/ Who forgives all your iniquities/ Who heals all your diseases..."
Before the sermon, the First Reader read a letter approved by Mary Baker Eddy that began: "Friends, the Bible and the Christian Science textbook are our only preachers..." The subject was Mortals and Immortals, and again, the shift from material to spiritual was stressed. After a text from the Psalms and a Responsive Reading from Isaiah, the First Reader was joined by the Second Reader, and the two traded off on multiple sections, first from the Bible and then from the textbook. Section One treated human frailty ("As for man, his days are as grass.") versus God's endurance, and concluded with Paul's statement that "Henceforth know we no man after the flesh; yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." Eddy's commentary: "The Christ is incorporeal, spiritual -- yea, the divine image and likeness, dispelling the illusions of the senses...destroying sin, disease, and death. Into the real and ideal man the fleshly element cannot enter. Thus it is that Christ illustrates the coincidence, or spiritual agreement, between God and man in His image."
In later sections, the teaching was brought to bear on the fleshy business of marriage: "In the resurrection, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God." And again, on the bearing of children: "In Science we are children of God; but whatever is of material sense, or mortal, belongs not to His children, for materiality is the inverted image of spirituality." Not that earthly marriage and childbearing were evil, only that, insofar as they were material, they fell short of the ultimate reality.
What happens when we die?
Drew, the Second Reader, says, "I'm not going to take the position of speaking for the church. That would be very presumptuous. But it's in the books -- the Bible and Science and Health." Congregant Reed Cardwell pointed out the exposition of the Bible's use of "year" in the latter's glossary: "One moment of divine consciousness, or the spiritual understanding of Life and Love, is a foretaste of eternity. This exalted view...would bridge over with life discerned spiritually the interval of death, and man would be in the full consciousness of his immortality and eternal harmony, where sin, sickness, and death are unknown."
2450 Second Avenue, San Diego
Denomination: First Church of Christ, Scientist
Founded locally: 1904; in present location since 1909
Senior pastor: none; First and Second readers are laypeople elected by congregation for one-year terms
Congregation size: 55
Staff size: 5
Sunday school enrollment: 7
Annual budget: around $100,000
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: no
Dress: wide range, but generally somewhat formal
Diversity: mostly but not exclusively Caucasian
Sunday worship: 11 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour