It was obvious. Summer vacation was at its peak. On the road, carloads of families and friends were coming and going – bikes piled in racks on the backs of cars, canoes strapped to the tops, boats pulled by trailers – enjoying a week, maybe two, with their loved ones.
My own family and some dear friends were returning from a week in a rented cottage in the mountains. There we enjoyed walks, real treks, swimming, picnicking, fishing, games around the fire in the cool evenings, mornings reading on a porch with a serene view.
On the highway, though, observing this stream of families just enjoying being families, I found myself returning again and again to an offhand but withering remark someone made during our week together about a family we knew. It seemed unjust and cruel.
It’s my practice to pray when I’m disturbed about something, and so when this kept coming to my thought, I turned to God to confirm in prayer the spiritual facts. Someone had recently shared with me a spiritual fact about the concept of family in an e-mail message. She wrote, “Family is evidence of God’s love for all of Her children – not a collection of disparate personalities, not a source of discord or frustration. Family, as a reflection of God’s love, is harmonious, a source of strength and peace.” Though this lifted my thought somewhat from the slur on that dear family, still the cruel remark returned and seemed more impressed on my thought than even these comforting statements about the spiritual concept of family.
Family is an adored idea in the hearts of many, evoking warmth, love, affection, and support. But like all things human, families are subject to failures, faults, even deep sadness. I realized that to get the loft needed, I had to go higher. And what helped me was an unexpected realization.
For months I’d been thinking about God’s sons and daughters as His spiritual, complete idea – the reflection, the very image of God, as described in the first chapter of Genesis. Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, amplified that description in her work “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” where she wrote, among many other descriptions, that “man is the image of Love” (p. 475). And I was contrasting this concept of spiritual man with the mortal personality we are accustomed to thinking of as us – a mixture of good, even bright personal attributes, and an assortment of shortcomings, faults, and frailties.
The spiritual individuality, our actual identity, was expressed masterfully by Christ Jesus. One small episode has meant much to me in highlighting the difference between the material personality he shunned and the spiritual identity that he lived. In Matthew’s Gospel a man approached Jesus with this understandable greeting: “Good Master.” Jesus answered him, but corrected the greeting with the question “Why callest thou me good?” and added, “there is none good but one, that is, God” (Matt. 19:16, 17).
Had Jesus accepted that the good he expressed was personal, he would have subtly claimed a mortal personage, a mixture of good and bad. His faithfulness to his true nature, the Christly idea, saved him from the mortal trappings of personality, hinging on mortality, which includes sinning, being sick, and dying. Turning a mortal identity down in an apparently harmless context literally saved his life. His resurrection was the result of understanding his spiritual selfhood at all times.
Then it dawned on me in the middle of the night. If we are each God’s spiritual idea, actually unburdened by mortal personality and free to express our likeness to God, then family, God’s loving idea, is also free from having a personality. In spiritual reality, in all of God’s universe of ideas, there are no bad families, unloving families, dysfunctional, broken, or cruel families. There is just God’s family, which Mrs. Eddy described when discussing how “[a] human sense of Deity yields to the divine sense, even as the material sense of personality yields to the incorporeal sense of God and man as the infinite Principle and infinite idea, – as one Father with His universal family, held in the gospel of Love" (Science and Health, pp. 576-577). We all fit in this family; we are all at home in Love.
The “Our Father” from the Lord’s Prayer is the head of every household. And that opening address in this healing prayer is spiritually interpreted as “Our Father-Mother God, all-harmonious” (Science and Health, p. 16).
With this realization, my thought was at rest, and I could see this as a waymark for my prayers – not just for a particular family, but as the basis for upholding the peace and goodness of family as God’s idea.