Postcards from a Chaplain by Hal Shrewsberry, CS

Enjoy this reprint of Hal Shrewsberry, CS talk to the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Texas Institutional Committee.

Postcards from a Chaplain

Good afternoon. I’m a big fan of Meryl Streep as an actress. In Postcards from the Edge she plays the part of a recovering drug addict and sings a song at the end of the movie which to me illustrates the joyous freedom from the heartbreak hotel of mortality Christian Science brings to the inmates we see.  It goes like this:


“Pull back them dark and dusty drapes and let in some light and bellboy, come get my trunk because I’m leaving here tonight. I’ve packed my bags and I’ve paid my bill and I’m turning in my key and if those sad souls down in the lobby ask for me, just tell ‘em, I’m checkin out of this heartbreak hotel and I ain’t gonna live on lonely street no more.  I’ve found a new love and a new place to dwell where teardrops ain’t soaking the floor. So take down my suitcase and hand me my hat. I’m going from sleazy to swell. Give that desk clerk a dime and you can tell him that I’m, checkin out of this heartbreak hotel, and you can give that sad bellhop my beboppin blues guitar cause I’m only gonna sing them sweet songs from now on..  and you can tell that old bartender he can close down his bar cause this chugaluggin customer’s packed and gone. Through that grey window pane it always looks like rain but there’s sunshine outside I can tell. So open up the door I’m leaving and I won’t be back no more, I’m checking out of this heartbreak hotel ” Those poor souls in the lobby are mortal mind and his buddies, guilt, regret and fear. And that old bartender is animal magnetism.  But that light shining through those dark and dusty drapes?  That’s you! You are the sunshine that “glints from the church-dome into the prison-cell” Mary Baker Eddy speaks of in Science and Health on page 516.  So it is a pleasure to introduce the reports you will be giving in a few minutes.


Please know that any of you could be giving this talk so it’s also an honor to share a few postcards from my weekends in county jails, juvenile halls, a federal prison, a drug rehab or the wounded warrior treatment center over the past 22 years along with a packet of articles and handouts I use with inmates.  I feel my background as a Naval Aviator and a high school teacher are God’s gracious preparation for my chaplain work just as yours is. The point is that a being a chaplain isn’t something we do after all those other things but it is the something all those things have prepared us to do today. 


On my first Saturday as a chaplain at the San Leandro, California Juvenile Hall I asked if anyone would like a Bible class. While waiting the “Scientific Statement of Being” came to mind and I realized I was there to see Mind’s “infinite manifestation” rather than some youngsters needing help.  Almost immediately I was told 14 girls wanted a Bible class.  The next week I had 30 youngsters and soon I was seeing more teenagers on one Saturday morning than all the Sunday schools of Oakland’s 8 East Bay churches. That really got my attention and I realized my objective was to help those youngsters see themselves as God’s image and likeness as well.  I’m still as enthusiastic today as I was on that first day!


My first postcard is to never argue with or contradict an inmate but to agree quickly “whilst thou art in the way with him” as Jesus tells us.  For instance in my first interview where I explain how to deal with evil as a lie by knowing the truth, I ask inmates how they think evil can exist in the universe Genesis 1:31describes as “very good”?   When I hear “free choice”, I agree that it certainly looks like we have a choice but then ask if they would choose any number other than 4 to be the sum of 2 plus 2? They say “no” and agree that free choice disappears with the understanding of mathematics and likewise evil disappears with the understanding of God. Isn’t it wonderful that we all have the ability to live through in understanding of God which solves all our problems as we already do with our understanding of mathematics?  I then hand out a “you say, God says” lesson which shows how they can prove for themselves that evil disappears with their understanding of God as they replace ungodlike thoughts with God thoughts.


The second postcard is to explain how to avoid the misery of animal magnetism or hypnotism where evil appears real, which only Christian Science does by the way. When we find ourselves upset, fearful, angry or even in pain, we are being hypnotized and should mentally turn away from the problem as Jesus did when he said “get thee behind me Satan” and contemplate those angel thoughts of gratitude until we find our peace.  I give this lesson in my very first interview where I ask them to name one thing for which they are grateful and point out they can’t be grateful and upset, depressed or discouraged at the same time. The Bible says “Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?”, so always choose the sweet water of gratitude. I’ve given you an article “Straight talk about animal magnetism” which points out that while we wouldn’t allow anyone to hypnotize us, we unconsciously hypnotize ourselves by ruminating about our problems.


My third postcard is to study the letter and imbibe the spirit of Science and Health as our Leader tells us on page 495, and to ponder it from beginning to end as she tells us on page 559, as a lifetime project with each reading from a new understanding since you will never know all there is to know about the Infinite. Study means to apply your mind to learn something new, imbibe means to make it your own and ponder means to weigh or meditate upon it. Up until a few years ago I thought I understood our textbook until I found I couldn’t name one footstep of truth or one objection answered in those chapters although I had been reading its correlative passages in our Bible lessons all my adult life. I even typed my own full text lessons which I carried in my flight suit flying missions over Vietnam. There are three problems with studying the textbook exclusively from the lesson sermons.  The first is that the correlative passages are only a fraction of the book which our Leader devoted over half her life writing with 418 editions.  She considered every page and every word important and so should we.  For instance, reading favorite isolated passages from Hamlet would never tell us the whole story of Hamlet and neither will excerpts from our textbook tell us its story.  In my article Science and Health, my Teacher, Practitioner and Way of Life I have imbibed the spirit by summarizing in my own words the chapters as a step by step textbook explaining how to heal as follows:


The preface tells us healing is the operation of divine Principle, Prayer tells us we must sincerely desire to know that Principle, Atonement and Eucharist tells us we must become at one with that Principle by exemplifying it and Marriage tells us we must express that oneness in all our relationships using marriage as an example with each succeeding chapter telling how to produce the healings we read in those testimonies in the chapter Fruitage.


The second problem of reading our textbook exclusively from the lesson sermon is that passages are taken out of the context which explains them causing us to unconsciously accept them on faith rather than by understanding.  For example we accept that “there is no life, truth nor intelligence in matter” because Science and Health says so rather than as explained elsewhere that matter is the subjective state of a mind that doesn’t exist (114:12, 29). The next and most important need,  is to understand the spiritual language our Leader gives us in Science and Health which differs from the English language.  You would not find Spirit meaning divine substance or Love meaning perfection in a dictionary and those synonyms which define God as Mind, Spirit, Soul, Principle, Life, Truth, and Love, which are the key to understanding that spiritual language, are not even synonymous in English.  I have included a list of the ideas associated with each synonym in a packet for you.  They were obtained by reading every citation in Science and Health as she uses the synonym to tell us what each is, what each does and how each appears when not understood.  For instance Spirit appears as matter when not understood (264:21).


Furthermore, as a synonym for God, each has a Christ which annihilates its counterfeit: Mind annihilates the belief of mortal mind, Spirit annihilates matter, Soul annihilates material sense testimony, Principle annihilates personal sense, Life annihilates death, Truth annihilates error and Love annihilates fear. Reasoning from these synonyms and their corresponding ideas which Mrs. Eddy calls the calculus of Spirit, we can hear the solution to every problem.  The synonyms are also used in combinations to express a value like God as Life, Truth,  Love.  One day I was pondering the Christ as the Truth existing as a fact of Life solving every problem in the universe in Love’s perfect way when I received a call for help which I was able to give.  This incident illustrates how pondering the truth brings forth a new understanding which the Bible describes as “the seed within itself”.  The very truth we’re pondering becomes the seed of a new understanding of that truth. Mrs. Eddy puts it this way,  “He advances most in divine Science who meditates most on infinite spiritual substance and intelligence.”  So pondering the truth we know is a very important part of our spiritual understanding. (Miscellaneous Writings 309:11) 


This brings me to my last postcard which is what a chaplain told me years ago. He said he prayed while driving to his institution rather than listening to his car radio. Using that advice along with the calculus of Spirit and the synonyms which I gained from the chapter “Christian Science Practice” I would like to share the treatment I give my chaplain visits today.  I was struck by the biblical references at the beginning of the chapter,   “Why art thou cast down, O my soul [sense]? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise Him, Who is the health of my countenance and my God.” And I realized treatment was praising God by knowing the truth about God with healing as a sign following.  Doesn’t that take the burden out of the practice? I also feel treatment is obeying Jesus’ command to love one’s neighbor as oneself upgraded to love one another as Jesus did by beholding in Science the perfect man. (Science and Health 476: 32-2).  First, I must behold my own perfection before I can behold the perfection of my neighbor. So let’s give ourselves and our day that treatment right now:


To achieve the “Thy sins be forgiven” attitude of Jesus in the Magdalene story at the beginning of Christian Science Practice we must have the following:

As Mind: Am I looking for perfection or passing judging on my patient?

As Spirit:  Am I as pure and good as that I want to see in my patient?

As Soul: Am I willing to give up my identity as a mortal for the idea of God which is always pure and good?

As Principle: Have I won my own pardon by giving up any sinful thoughts?

As Life: Am I laying down the mortal concept of myself to feel the fullness of Life with no lack?

As Truth: Do I feel I am that “salt of the earth” Christly manhood I need for healing?

As Love: Am I anticipating the fulfillment of my treatment without fear or doubt?


Now that I know the truth about myself, I can know the truth about my patient. But what truth must I know?  Each problem needs a specific truth which I couldn’t possibly know but I can know the truth about God which includes the truth I need for each situation.


The truth the practitioner must know about God which includes the specific truth needed:

Mind: Mind is all, therefore there is no mortal mind (All is infinite Mind and its infinite manifestation).

Spirit: Spirit is the only reality therefore the problem is not real (Spirit is the real and eternal; matter is the unreal and temporal.) Do you see we’re reasoning from the scientific statement of being we hear every Sunday?

Soul: Soul is sinless and therefore without penalty (man is spiritual not material)

Principle: Science, divine metaphysics which is above matter-based physics.

Life: Life is self-maintained and therefore without the need of material remedies.

Truth:  Truth is conscious of itself which gives man dominion over any situation.

Love: Love is perfection and therefore man is free from penalty or suffering.


When I have prayed this way, the truth I know is no longer my truth but the Truth divine Mind knows and therefore the truth my patient knows since there is only one Mind. I might add this treatment is not a formula but is reasoning from God as the calculus of Spirit that solves all problems and which will grow with my understanding of God.


I hope my postcards of; not contradicting an inmate, handling animal magnetism or hypnotism, studying Science and Health in the spiritual language our Leader gives us as a lifetime project, and praying for your chaplain work as a patient are helpful.  Please remember you will always have yourself as your most important patient so give yourself the very best treatment you have every day as I do for myself each day.


So my fellow beams of light that glide into those heartbreak hotels you visit, thank you for listening and I’m looking forward to hearing your reports.

Hal Shrewsberry, CS

Welcome to Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist in Dallas, TX!