AS my husband and I traveled through the desert Southwest, the scenery was drab and dry, mostly sand, rock, and tumbleweed. The trees were scrubby and far apart. It reminded me of the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness. But when I later looked up wilderness in the Glossary of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, I discovered that I had been missing some of the deeper meaning of the children of Israel's desert wanderings. Mrs. Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, gives a two-part explanation of wilderness. The first part, ``Loneliness; doubt; darkness,'' embodies what I'd been seeing. But the second urges us to a more spiritual perception: ``Spontaneity of thought and idea; the vestibule in which a material sense of things disappears, and spiritual sense unfolds the great facts of existence.''1
I was struck by the idea of considering the wilderness as a vestibule where spiritual unfoldment takes place. A vestibule is a small, enclosed porch. It's as close to the house as you can get without actually being inside. It's not a scary or desolate place to be at all. Though we sometimes seem to be wandering in the wilderness, in the long term it can also be a place of momentous import and spiritual enlightenment.
In the wilderness Moses and the Israelites were supplied with daily manna, and streams flowed from a rock for their provision. They didn't wander aimlessly, either; they were led to the Promised Land by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. In the wilderness they learned to obey God. It was a place of mental struggle where they gained spiritual victory.
Understood this way, then, the wilderness isn't a place to avoid if we want to grow spiritually. And recently an experience of my own showed me how valuable our own time in the wilderness can be. Something reminded me of a vulnerable time of my life (age fifteen) when I was very confused and scared over repeated abuse. At the time, I had regretted my inability to tell anyone about the incidents, but I hadn't been able to bring myself to ask for help. It had been many years since the incidents occurred, but the memories suddenly came back to haunt me. I couldn't concentrate normally on tasks at hand. I pondered and regretted the drastic effects this had had on my relationship with my father and others. My father had not known of the abusive incidents and had been puzzled and hurt by my fearful reaction to him for several years afterward.
I had thought the events and their impact on me were over. So why was I troubled by the memories now? I battled constantly with the old memories for about a week. But because of what I'd learned from Christian Science about the wilderness as a vestibule for spiritual growth, it wasn't frightening. Mixed with tears of regret were inspiring flickers of light and hope.
I found comfort in knowing that this wilderness vestibule is a passageway or a hall -- not a lounge. You don't sit down in a vestibule; there's no furniture to sit on. You're not expected to linger there, but to keep moving, to keep progressing Spiritward, and to go in through the door. Christ Jesus assures us, ``I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.''2
I knew that the struggle in the wilderness couldn't hurt me. Quite the opposite: it would culminate in a victory. And it did.
I began to see, more clearly than ever before, the falsity of each claim that the sexual abuse could continue to control my life. I realized that because my life is governed by God, by divine Love -- nothing less -- no immoral or violent act by anyone could hinder or trespass on my relationship with my Father-Mother God, which is the basis of my relationship with everyone.
The guilt and false labels I had put on myself were illusionary. In truth, man is God's child, the very expression of purity, the agent for wholesome, productive activity. I saw myself not as the victim of sexual abuse but as the spiritual child of God, having dominion over any mortal sense of body or brutality. I was free to pursue God's purpose; free to share the lessons of this experience with others; free to walk out of the wilderness into the promised land where sin has no hold on the man of God's creating.
Spiritual man -- our true identity -- is never vulnerable to evil. Evil would try to make us feel weak, insecure, victimized. But the omnipotence of God's tender love for his children neutralizes the counterfeit power of aggressive abuse. Divine Love establishes man as innocent, holy, confident, untouched by carnality.
This doesn't mean sin goes unpunished. We pay dearly for every wrong thought and act until we see through the belief that sin is real and powerful. Christianity challenges us not to be deceived by sin, by thoughts or acts opposed to God's will. Sin has no reality, no home in our thinking, no agent through which to act, no pattern to follow, no power to trick us. Sin has no validity, no necessity, no past or future, no partnership with anything good or real, no goal or target or victim, no consciousness or intelligence or memory, no pleasure. Sin has merely the ability to self-destruct. As we see that sin has no reality in God's kingdom, sin will be destroyed in our lives. This brief wilderness experience brought me release and freedom from believing in the power of sin to control our lives. You, too, can find victory in the vestibule and progress Spiritward.
1Science and Health, p. 597. 2John 10:9.
You can find more articles about spiritual healing in the Christian Science Sentinel, a weekly magazine.