A Christian Scientist–and a biologist?

Over the course of my life, my study of biology and the natural world has provided me with numerous uplifting inspirations. In fact, I would say that my sense of communication with God has been supported by my study of biology more than anything else. When I realized this for the first time as a freshman in college, I was surprised. This revelation led to a period of self-exploration that has been rich with new insights and healing ideas.

Biology might not seem like the field of study that would most naturally support the practice of Christian Science. However, as with so many things, approach is key. If I sat down at the piano to play a beautiful piece of music, but did so with a sense of self-righteousness or false confidence in human ability, the experience would not be spiritually uplifting. On the flip side, if I set about studying the functions of an animal cell with a sense of God’s governance and an appreciation for His infinite creation, I would come away with a deeper understanding of Truth. Many of the experiences that have broadened my sense of spiritual selfhood stem from insights I gained as I brought my practice of Christian Science to bear on my academic studies. Let me share an example.

An ecosystem can be thought of as all of the organisms that thrive under the same set of environmental conditions. A prairie is a great example. Prairies consist of all the plants and animals that can live in certain soils, in certain latitudinal regions on the globe, and under a specific climatic state. All of these parameters maintain the prairie ecosystem; they create the conditions where prairie species grow best. If you change the setup, the community structure will gradually begin to shift, and a different suite of species will take over.

Along with global position and climate, one of the most important forces that maintains an ecosystem is disturbance. By disturbance, I’m referring to an event that would upset the normal flow and function of an ecosystem. In the case of prairies, for example, fire is a typical disturbance. And, as it turns out, it’s also a necessary disturbance. In the natural course of things, non-prairie species will try to establish themselves in a prairie ecosystem. The seed from a nearby tree will blow in, and a seedling will sprout. Shrubs from someone’s lawn will begin to encroach on the prairie. If nothing prevented it, these species would gradually take over, and the system would change until there was no longer any prairie left. Disturbance is one of the forces that stops this succession. If you burn the grass to the ground, it can grow back from the roots, unlike trees, shrubs, and other woody plants. As this theory explains, disturbance removes all of the species that would otherwise overwhelm the prairie.

To me, this is a very beautiful idea because of what it means in terms of my spiritual selfhood. Sometimes, unwanted characteristics or traits spring up in my experience and try to convince me that they are a part of my identity. I am like the prairie, slowly being invaded by species that don’t belong. But when the fire comes through, every thought or trait that is not a part of my identity as God’s idea is consumed. It simply cannot withstand the disturbance. What a great way to think about the challenging experiences that we encounter! They don’t present themselves to test our skill as Christian Scientists or our reliance on God. They help maintain our identity by obliterating those impermanent, mortal elements that would otherwise take over and crowd out our Godlike nature. The theory of disturbance is really the perfect complement to Mary Baker Eddy’s statement in Science and Health: “Through great tribulation we enter the kingdom. Trials are proofs of God’s care. . . . Each successive stage of experience unfolds new views of divine goodness and love”.[1] All of the trials we encounter are like a form of disturbance. They never harm any part of our true identity, but rather reveal to us a clearer view of who God is and who we are as His children.

My particular area of interest within the field of biology is entomology, the study of insects. My fascination with these wonderful creatures has been with me since I was a little girl. My entomological pursuits even took me to Guatemala two years ago, where I completed an internship at a university in the capital, Guatemala City.

At the beginning of my stay, I joined a group of biologists going for a weekend field trip. We drove to an inactive volcano a few hours into the rural country side. On ATVs (all-terrain vehicles), we finished the journey and stopped at a remote research cabin built on the volcano’s slope. That night, we set up a light trap, which is no more than a white bed sheet and a bright light strung on rope between two poles. Shortly after sunset, insects began arriving by the hundreds. They so filled the air that it almost became hard to breathe when you stood near the light. I saw tiny beetles that looked like they had been gilded with gold leaf and huge moths as big as my hand.

Standing there, drinking in this incredible natural spectacle, I was reminded of this passage from Science and Health: “Infinite Mind creates and governs all, from the mental molecule to infinity. This divine Principle of all expresses Science and art throughout His creation, and the immortality of man and the universe. Creation is ever appearing, and must ever continue to appear from the nature of its inexhaustible source”.[2]

That night was a very spiritual one. I had never grasped the concept of infinity the way that I did watching all these members of God’s creation fill the air. These insects were all treasured products of that “inexhaustible source.” Each represented one of the multitude of God’s cherished ideas—individual, beautiful, and worthwhile.

The word biology means the study of life. As I elevate the concepts I’m learning about, it becomes the study of Life, the study of God as Life and what that means to me as a thinker and a healer. The theories that we hold about the natural world, as they are being developed by scientists from every field, are perfect parallels to the spiritual laws that govern man and the universe. Our experiences with the natural world serve as constant reminders of God’s might and majesty. This only fails to be true when we forget that “divine Science, rising above physical theories, excludes matter, resolves things into thoughts, and replaces the objects of material sense with spiritual ideas”.[3] This statement is a fact and an imperative.

My career as a biologist does not make me fearful that life is material, nor does it convince me that I am material. A commitment to elevate scientific observation to the level of a “spiritual idea” engages me in a challenging daily process. Throughout, I am so grateful that Christian Science equips us all to discern what’s true about our spiritual selfhood. Even more than my career in biology, I look forward to experiencing an ever-expanding concept of divinity, both on a personal and universal scale.

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[1] Science and Health with Key to The Scriptures p. 66
[2] Ibid, p. 507
[3] Ibid, p. 123

By Elanor Stevens
From the April 2010 edition of the Christian Science Journal

Comments

  1. Julie says:

    Thank you so much, dear Elanor, for sharing these wonderful ideas. It gave me a whole new appreciation for the natural sciences.

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