By Joanne Ivy Stankievich
Shared by Joanne Ivy Stankievich with the Board of the Monmouth Center for World Religions and Ethical Thought, April 26, 2010
THE SHAPING OF WHO WE ARE starts with our family. Independence and self-reliance were instilled in me from the pioneering background of my father, who drove a covered wagon into Indian Territory in the 1893 Homestead Run, and later moved to Seattle. Discipline and perfectionism were part of my mother’s Seattle–bred German background. Older parents (father was nearly 60 when I was born and my mother 45) and growing up during the Great Depression meant a more austere upbringing – though living on a small subsistence farm offered freedom of movement and an appreciation of animals and nature for me and my younger sister.
I lived on the farm until I was 18, never traveling more than about 100 miles from it. But I never really fit with farm life, and followed my mother’s more city leanings: I dreamed of adventures in far-off places, like New York City or Europe.
My spiritual journey started before my birth, with my mother’s healing of what was diagnosed as an incurable heart condition. By her late teens, three of the best heart specialists in the Northwest told her that she had less than 3 years to live, saying that she could never survive child-bearing and should not consider the strain of marriage. A work colleague told her about a new religion called Christian Science, which she heard could heal – even by just reading a book. Mother was healed, and went on to have two marriages and four children.
Understandably after such an outstanding healing, she made sure that we attended a Christian Science Sunday School. The early focus was on Moses’ Ten Commandments and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount from the Bible; and later we learned how to follow the example of Jesus in both his saving mission and in healing. The rules for healing are found in a companion book Christian Scientist’s use with the Bible, called Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. Itwas written in 1875 by Mary Baker Eddy, who founded Christian Science after the prayerful healing of a life–threatening fall. The effectiveness of the rules for healing found in that book was shown in the fact that both my sister and I had perfect early school attendance records: we just didn’t get sick, or at least it was healed very quickly through prayer.
It was very comforting, as a child, to grow up looking to God as an ever-present, all-loving Father-Mother God, giving only good to His children. We never thought of God as man-like or punishing. I began my journey to understand God as 7 Synonyms: Spirit, Life, Soul, Truth, Mind, Love, and Principle. Because of those Synonyms, I’ve really related to the Muslim 99 qualities naming God, and the fact that God is never portrayed as man-like.
There were a number of turning points along the way in my journey. I did turn a bit away from religion during a teen period of rebellion, after my father died in a farm accident when I was thirteen. But a high school fascination with the Transcendental Movement, as represented in the book “Emerson’s Essays” made me realize that Mary Baker Eddy had been their contemporary. But I could see that her revelation had actually gone much further than their human theories and was really a breakthrough in its concept of everything having a mental and spiritual base. So I went back to read her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, and made the religion more my own, rather than of my parents’.
Another turning point came when I applied to Principia, which was a private college for Christian Scientists near St. Louis. But it was a real journey of faith to get there; at that time it was the second highest tuition in the country. We had no money, but my mother said that if I got accepted, “God will find a way for you to attend”. I was accepted. As the time came to leave, Mother had applied for a job at the school, with the idea of the 3 of us moving there; but we didn’t know yet about either a job or where we might live. The first quarter’s tuition was paid, but we didn’t really have enough money for the train fare. We were all praying mightily. Almost the last day, a Principia professor happened to come to our small town, heard from a mutual friend that we were planning to go to Principia, and asked if we could accompany her on the long drive back. It seemed like a real miracle!
Attending Principia College strengthened my faith and opened my thought internationally. For instance, after graduation, while attending a conference for the Collegiate Council for the United Nations in N.Y.C., and with just $50 in my pocket, I decided to stay in New York. I ended up working with Eleanor Roosevelt at the American Association for the U.N., attending U.N. receptions and putting on Model U.N.s on college campuses. Then I decided I wanted to do something more worthwhile and switched to working as a Program Director for the Brooklyn YWCA. There, I met my Belarusian husband; and then got a Masters Degree in Social Work at Columbia University.
I had encounters with other religions after college and coming to New York: through a boyfriend who was a Presbyterian Minister, a Hindu friend, a Catholic girlfriend; and then Belarusian Orthodoxy and being married in the Methodist church of Walter’s mother. But those churches didn’t include healing: It seemed like they accepted the saving part of Jesus’ mission, but not the healing part. And most of the services seemed more based on the human dynamism of the particular Priest or minister, rather than reading directly from Scripture, as I was used to – so for me they weren’t satisfying experiences. It’s only more recently that I’ve gotten a more in–depth understanding of different religions, as a member of the MCWRET.
To me, healing was the proof of the spiritual laws I was learning: scientific, by deductive reasoning. And our family has experienced hundreds of healings: such as of measles healed in one day, of broken bones healed in 2 weeks (we did have a doctor put a cast on the child’s leg because youngsters have a hard time staying off of it – and the doctor expressed amazement at how quick and complete the healing was.); there were also healings of a heart attack, and of a large lump impeding movement. These things weren’t considered miracles, but were just normal and expected, as representative of God’s ever–loving care of His children. What I most appreciate is: not only is my life harmonized, but I also gain a deeper spiritual understanding with each experience.
Many of those healings were accomplished by my own strong healing affirmations, based on the concepts of God as all–powerful and ever–present, and of man as the reflective image of God (as stated in Gen. 1:27, in the Bible). But if a healing wasn’t quick, then I’d call a Christian Science Practitioner to pray for me (They’re trained professionals, in the full-time practice of Christian Science healing). Once I called a Christian Science Nurse to bandage a son’s mashed finger (they do practical care like cleaning and bandaging wounds, not applying medicines); and another time I went to a Christian Science care facility for several days of quiet study. So there is a strong support system for healing through prayer. However, if a church member turns to doctors, perhaps for setting of a bone, or such, there is no condemnation, only loving support for continued progress.
Besides physical healings I’ve also had many experiences of strongly imperative intuitions – what I call Angel Messages – that have alerted me to take preventive measures for protection, as with a car bombing in Italy and when I was alerted to the KGB bugging our motor home in Poland and when my husband, Walter, was run over by a car. These intuitions are surer to me than what sight tells me, and I feel they come from the Infinite, all-knowing Mind. Thus I immediately take prayerful or practical action to heed them. Many of these experiences are written in my book, “Living with a Scent of Danger, European Adventures at the Fall of Communism”, which is about the years when my husband was a Service Director at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, in Munich and later Prague.
Admittedly, for many years I was mostly focused on family and building a business. Although I read a Bible Lesson in the morning and prayed for the day’s activities, I turned to my religion more strongly in times of challenges. It was when we went to live as “strangers in a foreign land” in Munich, Germany, that I really began to turn to God more consistently all during the day. It was because of the hourly frustrations caused by lack of language skills, new mores, and a myriad of adjustments needed. Instead of crying in frustration – which I did in the beginning – I began starting the day with the hymn, “This is the day the Lord hathmade”. That gave me courage to get through the day. Leaning on God more continually made me grow spiritually during that period: I felt His/Her closeness to me.
Part of what has taken place in my journey is the translation of material things into more lasting spiritual concepts. For instance, when 2 airliners collided over Staten Island, the tail of one penetrated the attic apartment at our Brooklyn apartment building. Flames were shooting up the side of one wall in our apartment and the building swayed back and forth, as the building attached to ours crumbled to a pile of rubble. My escape was pretty astounding.
But something more important happened. As I left the burning building and entered the nearby Christian Science Reading Room (a Christian bookstore with a spiritual research and study center) looking for some comforting idea, I opened Science and Healthand it fell to the spiritual definition of substance as: “That which is eternal and incapable of discord or decay”. It donned on me that home wasn’t all the new furniture we’d just purchased, and might be then burning up. The essence of home was really the qualities we brought to the location: of hospitality, harmony and beautiful thoughts – that could not be destroyed in any fire. That concept was a great help in our next 18 moves, especially in rental homes around Europe.
In an experience of passing on and coming back, it was very clear that my own being was not the specific material blob down on the floor, but rather was on-going consciousness. That’s why I was really fascinated with the book, “What the Bleep Do We Know?” where those involved with Quantum Physics now state, essentially, that matter-substance is not actually real, but is simply a construct of current consciousness. I thought, “Wow, now the natural sciences are finally catching up with what Mrs. Eddy wrote about in the 1800s.”