Authors: Lucia Greenhouse
Tags: #Biography & Autobiography, #Personal Memoirs, #Religion, #Christianity, #Christian Science, #Religious
Copyright © 2011 by Lucia P. Ewing
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing
Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
CROWN is a trademark and the Crown colophon is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Fathermothergod: my journey out of Christian Science/by Lucia Greenhouse.
1. Greenhouse, Lucia. 2. Christian Scientists—United States—Biography. 3. Christian Science—Controversial literature. I. Title. II. Title: Father, mother, God.
Jacket photography courtesy of the author
For Olivia and Sherman
This book is about my experiences, told to the best of my recollection. To create a readable story of manageable length it was necessary to condense and combine some events and characters, and some things have been omitted to protect the privacy of those involved. Dialogue is re-created to the best of my memory; others may remember or interpret certain events and conversations differently, but I’ve tried to remain true to the way I remember them.
To succeed in healing, you must conquer your own fears as well as those of your patients, and rise into higher and holier consciousness
Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures
ne afternoon a
couple of weeks before my eighth birthday, my five-year-old brother, Sherman, and I scramble out of the school bus and race each other home up the steep hill, which we only do—and always do—on Wednesdays. Wednesday is Caramel Apple Day, because on Wednesday mornings, Mom volunteers at the Christian Science Reading Room, and on the way home she stops at the Excelsior bakery for their caramel apple special. We drop our books in the front hall and dart into the kitchen to find not only the white square cardboard bakery box sitting, as usual, on the lazy Susan in the middle of the table but also our older sister, Olivia, asleep on the tattered red and white love seat, with a blanket up to her chin. Her long brown hair is pulled back in a ponytail. Her chin, cheeks, nose, forehead, and both hands are covered in little red spots.
“Hi!” Sherman says.
Olivia opens her eyes.
“Chicken pox,” she says miserably.
“Do they hurt?” I ask.
“They really itch,” she says, wincing.
Satisfied with her answer, our eyes turn to the caramel apples.
“You want one?” Sherman asks.
Olivia shakes her head no.
Mom appears as we help ourselves to the bakery box.
“Olivia has chicken pox?” I ask.
Mom doesn’t answer.
“Mom? Chicken po—”
“In Christian Science,” she reminds us gently, “we know that there is no illness. No disease. No contagion. Olivia is not sick. She is God’s perfect child. We are all going to work very hard to keep our thoughts elevated.”
“Does that mean she doesn’t have to go to school?” I ask Mom.
“It means I
,” Olivia says.
“No fair!” Sherman protests. “How come?”
“Well, even though we know Olivia isn’t sick—can’t be sick,” our mother says, “we need to follow the school’s policy on certain … matters.”
“I can’t go back to school until the chicken—I mean, until … they … crust over,” Olivia says.
We know from Sunday school that we’re not supposed to name illness, because by naming something, we are giving in to
about it. Mary Baker Eddy tells us to “stand porter at the door of thought.”
For the next several days, life at our house is unbearably dull. My brother and I go to school; our sister doesn’t, until her spots crust over. After school, our friends don’t come to play kickball or ride bikes in our driveway. We are told it’s because of
, a scary thing other people worry about but we Christian Scientists don’t believe in. We know that contagion is about germs spreading; we also know that
(something we can tell is bad just from the way our parents and other Christian Scientists say it) claims that chicken pox is contagious. But we have learned in Sunday school that there’s no such thing as germs.
Before we go to bed, Olivia, Sherman, and I pile into our parents’ bed and listen as they read aloud various passages from the Bible and
Science and Health
“ ‘We weep because others weep, we yawn because they yawn,’ ” my mother recites. Curiously, I find myself yawning.
“ ‘And we have smallpox because others have it; but mortal mind, not matter, contains and carries the infection.’ ”
I think to myself that I’d rather hear the next chapter of
Little House in the Big Woods
, the book Mom was reading to us before Olivia got spots.
They read aloud for almost an hour. Snuggled under the soft comforter and between warm bodies, we fall asleep; soon we are carried, half-awake, to our own beds.
“Am I going to get”—I hesitate groggily—“chicken pox?” My father has just brought me a drink of water.
“Let’s talk about what you’re learning in Sunday school,” he says gently. “Is sickness real?”
I shake my head no.
“Are you God’s child?”
I nod yes.
“Can you be anything but perfect?”
“Mary Baker Eddy says we must put on
the panoply of Love
. Do you remember what
Even though I’ve heard the word a lot in Sunday school, I can never remember what it means. I make a face that tells my dad I’ve forgotten.
is a full suit of armor,” he says. “So if we think of God’s love as a suit of armor, protecting us, we can never be hurt or sick.”
“Well,” I ask, “how come Olivia has … spots?”
,” my dad says, “which we all must guard against. She may have the
, but we know it’s a lie, an illusion.”
My Sunday school teacher talks a lot about
too, and I remember what that is: sin, disease, and death. She tells us that error is like a mirage in the desert: the vision of a pool of water where there is nothing but sand. So when my dad says Olivia’s spots are the
appearance of error
, I understand that he means the spots are not real. But I don’t
understand how that can be; it seems like everything that Christian Science says is
, and vice
versa. I guess when I’m older it’ll make more sense, but for now, it is comforting enough to know that, as Mom and Dad and Sunday school have taught me, Christian Science is a
science that works
“Okay, Loosh,” Dad says, and I know it is time for bedtime prayers, and he will give me a choice.
I shake my head no.
“Fathermothergod,” I say.
Together, we recite the Children’s Prayer, written by Mary Baker Eddy.
Guard me while I sleep;
Guide my little feet
Up to Thee
I kick the covers off my bed and levitate my feet toward my canopy.
“Good night, Dad,” I say, giggling at our silliness. I pull the covers back up to my chin.
My father gives me a kiss on the forehead, and I wonder if he has just done the same to my sister, who is now asleep in the next room. My sister has gotten to skip four days of school already and hang out in our parents’ bedroom watching TV and eating cinnamon buttered toast. As appealing as that sounds, my birthday is only days away. If I get spots, I know I won’t be able to have my party.
The next morning, I wake up and my pajamas are damp and cold, and I’m shaking. I crawl out of bed and walk over to the mirror on my wall to see if I have red spots like Olivia. I have only a flushed face (it looks like I’m wearing Grandma’s rouge) and bright red ears. My throat stings when I swallow, my head hurts a little bit, and I feel really tired. I return to bed and yell,
Moments later she enters my room.
“I don’t feel good,” I say.
She sits down beside me, tenderly pushes my bangs out of the way, and places her hand on my forehead. I know from TV that this is how you check for fever, but I have never seen my mom do this. Fever, I know, is
. Then she presses her lips against my forehead, which should feel like a kiss, but I wonder if she’s doing something else.
“Hmm, I think we’ll give Mrs. Hannah a call,” Mom says.
Mrs. Hannah is our Christian Science practitioner. We call her when we are sick—I mean, when we have a problem—and she prays for us. She is also the superintendent of our Sunday school. She leads us each week in singing hymns and reciting the Lord’s Prayer with its spiritual interpretation by Mary Baker Eddy. She is not much taller than me, and she is round. She needs to stand on a stool when she’s behind the
, and even then, we can’t see her face, only the top of her head and her arms. Sometimes I squint, and her arms look like they’re attached to the sides of the tall desk.
I hear my brother, Sherman, calling from down the hall. My mother gets up and goes to his room. I fall back asleep, and when I wake up, my sister has already left for school with Dad (her spots have crusted over), and Mom has brought me a tray with cinnamon toast and orange juice. I don’t want to eat it.
“How would you and Sherman like to go to Grandma’s today?” my mother says, as she sits down beside me again.
Grandma’s house could be my favorite place in the whole world. From the moment I walk through the front door, and feel the pleasant warmth of the house my mom grew up in, I experience something magical. The kitchen smells of coffee, and Grandma keeps a candy dish of lemon drops next to her ashtray on the small round kitchen table. In the powder room off the front hall, set on the shelf of the toilet tank, there’s a basket of miniature lipsticks, ranging from Siren Red to Pearly Pink, several little rouge compacts, each with its own brush, and a dozen tiny bottles of perfume samples. Next to this
basket is a jar of Jergens lotion. I love that smell too. My cousin Mimi and I can spend hours in the powder room, making each other up, and then we climb the steep stairs to the attic, which smells of mothballs, where there are boxes and boxes of costumes, ballet tutus, and our moms’ old prom dresses, as well as my grandfather’s old black leather doctor’s bag filled with his tools. My grandmother’s nurse uniform and cap from when she was younger are there too.