“The precious volume” its power and vitality

Imagine a scene for a moment. The year is 1989. On the outskirts of a Baltic city is an old family home. Inside, in the cozy dining room, lined with antique plates, are eighteen people seated round a dining table. Although there is candlelight in the room, the light and joy in the faces of these people seem almost enough to illuminate the room. Their backgrounds are diverse—music students, grandmothers, teachers, a professor, a filmmaker. They tell one another of healings they have experienced as a result of prayer. Although the weather and the evolving political system outside are cold and harsh, inside that house there is a tangible tenderness and warmth. For forty years these people have individually communed with God, prayed, been healed and sustained under unimaginable hardships. Today, because of some political thawing, they are meeting for the first time. What has brought them all together? A book.

Picture another occasion, also from 1989. One hundred and eighty people crowded in a small “upper room” of an East German orthodox church, designed to seat ninety. It is snowing outside, and many have come long distances. Rows of wet coats hang in the crowded hallway. But there is a glow of mingled joy, peace, and anticipation in that little room. This day these faithful people are experiencing their first Christian Science church service in thirty-eight years. They rise to sing a hymn together, and their voices ring out in chorus. What has brought them together? A book.

Again, pause and consider another scene. It is still 1989. An agile senior lady hurries through the back streets of her city in Russia, to come and say goodbye to her friends from the West. For forty years she has lived under the shadow of religious persecution. Greeting her friends, she offers gifts she has bought for them with her hard-earned money. Just before their departure, she quietly says she has something else she wants to share with them. Out of her shopping bag she pulls a brown paper parcel. Tenderly she unfolds it, and with such gentle care she shows it—a book. It is old, underlined, and much used. Many of the pages are loose from the binding and dogeared. She quietly says, “This is the most precious thing I possess. Next year it will be fifty years old. Not one day has passed when I have not read from it. It has supplied me with strength, angel messages, guidance, healing, and comfort during years of persecution, loss, and deprivation. I would not part with it for my life.”

And one final glimpse: In East Berlin on January 7, 1990, nearly two hundred people gathered to hold their first public Christian Science church service in that city in thirty-nine years. As can be imagined, it was a joy-filled and deeply touching experience. After the service one who attended said: “The thing that really unites us is the textbook. Everyone is using it to go in the same direction. Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures means more to us now than ever before because we realize that this is what has unified us.”

These are just four vignettes among hundreds that could be shared to illustrate one thing. The immense value of a book. This book, Science and Health, is spoken of by its author, Mary Baker Eddy, as “the precious volume.”

First published in 1875, for over a hundred years Science and Health has taught the Science of Christianity and the practice of Christian healing to a world increasingly hungry for a more spiritual religion and better health.

At first the author made extensive notes on the study of Scripture. She circulated manuscripts on the new Science among friends and students. Finally Science and Health was published and became the textbook of Christian Science. Studied in close relation to the Bible on a daily basis by thousands of church members, it is also read today with respect and appreciation by people of many faiths around the world.

In the early days, Christian Scientists sometimes said to those who were just beginning to studyScience and Health: “Catch the vision that wrote the book.” Today, many of us who live in the West can say in a similar way, “Catch the vision of those who cherish this book as their very life, who see it as having brought them through persecutions, distresses, and intense opposition, and who value it as their lifeline to freedom from oppression.” Its power is unconfined, not limited to the religiously more diverse West, but just as powerful under crushing persecutions and authoritarian governments. Its ideas —imbibed, loved, and lived—liberate everywhere. And whether the prison is one of persistent disease or of barbed wire, the power of the book’s healing, comforting message knows no bounds. It shows why inward light cannot be extinguished by outward circumstances.

How precious is the volume to us? In countries where religion is unimpeded, some own many copies of the book—but what value do we put on it? In one place in Eastern Europe where religion was banned, there were so few copies of “the precious volume” that they had to be shared among the group. Each individual had the book for one day in every five. That day was the highlight of the week. Such incidents can serve as a measuring rod for the depth of our own valuing of this book.

The Christian Science Board of Directors