I had to pull out my fat dictionaries for this one.
Blog reader Christine wrote in:
I just read my Daily Thought from Spirituality.com. It said self-immolation was good. I looked it up on the web and Wikipedia said that it was setting onself on fire. I don't get that concept! What could Mrs. Eddy have meant?
"Prayer, watching, and working, combined with self-immolation, are God's gracious means for accomplishing whatever has been successfully done for the Christianization and health of mankind." --Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy
This was one of those times where I thought I knew what MBE meant, but basic research on the Web didn't help me.
It seems that all modern definitions of the word "immolation" include the concept of fire, meaning to literally commit suicide in protest over something by self-combustion. Perhaps this comes from the gruesome image of the Buddhist monk during the Vietnam era who immolated himself. How that, plus prayer, watching and working could be anything close to God's gracious means for humanity's benefit doesn’t really make much sense.
So I pulled out my 1828 Webster's, where it says, "Immolation: the act of sacrificing." The term most likely didn't include fire back when MBE was using it in the late 1800s. It was straight up about sacrifice, which in ancient times started with the fire concept but evolved to giving up something for a higher good. That's a whole lot simpler, and makes more sense. Self-sacrifice is absolutely essential to the progress of humanity, and it fits with MBE's sentiment much better.
This has gotten me thinking about how one image or event can co-opt a concept like that. Self-immolation, at one time a virtuous and spiritually progressive step, has been co-opted by a literal interpretation that is generally seen as tragic. Consequently, we feel justified in avoiding it. But self-sacrifice is actually essential to growth.
And deliberate self-immolation is even more progressive. In his submitting to the crucifixion, Jesus committed the ultimate act of self-immolation. Christians of MBE's day would have understood this even though it had nothing to do with fire. In his sacrifice of himself, he showed us something about the nature of unconditional love.
So MBE is recommending that we emulate Jesus by willingly giving up that which is holding us back and embracing prayer, watching and working. In this way we will move the entire race forward toward deeper spirituality and wellbeing.
Your ideas and inspiration are welcome! Please comment below or Contact Laura.
Email this posting to a friend with the envelope icon below.