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Category Archives: Writing
My new book, Religion is Numbered, is nearing completion. Here is a chapter from it:
Olive turned to look at me and started giggling. The sunshine fell on her white hair and pink-lipsticked smile as I wheeled an office chair outside to her hatchback car. On the chair was perched a sizeable box.
“I knew you’d know how to get that heavy box to my car,” Olive said. “It’s full of books.”
An octogenarian, Olive radiated appreciation. When she told me she wanted to get rid of some stuff in her house, I offered to help.
We’d only known one another about three years. She started coming to the Kennewick Church after her husband died, and though polar opposite to me in demeanor, we hit it off from the start. Olive was prim and proper. She wore expensive, tailored dresses and sat upright with her legs together and feet perched in modest high heels.
I was still a tomboy. I wore the cleanest clothes I could find in the morning, aiming mainly for the clothing not decorated with children snot or ketchup. I sat in a constant state of readiness to turn into either instant monkey bars or a cradle for any child.
It took me a few months to realize Olive was of the brand that didn’t age while maturing, like Bill. She didn’t treat me as if she felt obligated to keep me on the straight and narrow.
Our personalities blended to bring out the best in one another. The girls, school-aged now, and I would invite her to the house for lunch, using it as an opportunity to practice cooking and eating with manners. We’d set the table formally and just before Olive arrived, we exchanged our work clothes for the nicest outfits we had. Olive, true to form, came dressed to the nines.
The luncheon conversation lacked gushy pretense. Without talking down to Leah, Olive asked, “What subject are you studying in school now?”
“The ocean,” Leah said through her shyness.
“I’ve seen parts of the ocean before. It’s very big. One time, Everett and I took a trip to Fiji, an Island in the South Pacific Ocean and we saw a turtle that was 70-years-old,” said Olive. “Have you seen a turtle before?”
“Yes, once at Aunt Denise’s. We have chickens,” said Leah.
“Oh my, do your chickens lay eggs?”
“Yes,” said Leah, more secure with her own input.
“Do you cook and eat the eggs?” asked Olive.
“Mom cooks mostly, we eat the eggs. See that,” Leah said as she pointed to a bowl full of egg salad on the table. “I mashed the boiled eggs for that. I used a fork.”
As if she was dining on a culinary delight, Olive exclaimed, “I just ate some of the egg salad. It’s delicious.” Eyeing Carly, she continued, “I can see you both help your mother.”
Olive’s sight zoomed in for a close-up of Carly and she asked, “So, Carly what book are you reading now?”
“Beauty and the Beast,” Carly joined in.
“Beauty and the Beast. Let’s see, does that have a scary beast in it?” said Olive.
“It’s scary at first, but it turns nice when Belle isn’t a-scared of it,” explained Carly.
“I sure like the blue dress you are wearing,” said Olive.
“This is a good time to say thank you,” I said quietly to Carly.
Carly’s eyes stirred with comprehension. She looked at Olive and said, “Thank you.”
A little more silence allowed Carly to gain pluck. She pointed and said, “I put the pickles in that bowl.”
“Well, could you please pass me the pickles? I think I shall like to try one,” said Olive as the conversation ambled from pickles, to building forts, to feeding Shep the dog. I watched time wrinkle until I could no longer see a senior citizen and two children, but a room full of wholesomeness, newness, and wisdom—intermixing as one.
Only when I was alone with Olive did she speak about herself. Olive told me she learned how to weld metals, work in a factory, and build ships during World War II, when all the men had gone to Europe to fight.
After the war, Olive married Everett, who introduced her to religion #212. The two of them had one daughter, Jacqueline. Olive told me, “After Jacqueline grew up and was living on her own, Everett stopped attending church. He couldn’t tolerate the pettiness that distorted the religion.”
She was raised in church #5,444 and explained, “The model of a punishing God was instilled in me. It was a menacing way to live. When I learned about a loving, healing God through #212, the liberation was unforgettable. It made it easier for me to overlook the pettiness in church.”
On the day when we cleaned stuff out of her house, we finished the job and sat down at the kitchen table to rest and talk.
“What do you think about this ‘spiritual but not religious’ trend?” I asked her.
Olive smiled before confirming what I’d been concluding, “The trend is not very original. The people who identify themselves as spiritual, but not religious, will soon be forming communities and battling the same turmoil that plagues religious organizations today. We are social creatures. And, sadly we are human beings susceptible to repeating our mistakes.”
She offered me a sugar cookie and cup of coffee.
“No thanks,” I said.
While she got up to get a cookie and cup of hot coffee for herself, Olive said, “Cheryl, you are too young to know, but many of the churches were once lively. It’s what we did. People attended church. It’s what we knew. Circumstances have altered that experience.”
“What do you mean?” I asked as she sat down at the table.
“During my era it was the availability of the automobile. Once we started moving our physical bodies in cars, it affected how our minds moved. When stores began opening on Sundays, we questioned our beliefs and superstitions and discovered God wasn’t going to strike us down for shopping on Sunday. We realized we could find God anywhere, not just in church.”
“But, you kept going to church,” I quizzed.
“Yes, and you will too for the same reason. Church can be a positive structure in our week, but there is more we need to do, otherwise we become ambivalent and church dies,” Olive said.
I made a mental note to look up the word “ambivalent” in the dictionary when I got home. “Keep talking,” I said.
“When I switched religions, I left behind some beliefs, but I also carried with me other beliefs that I didn’t know I had,” said Olive as she smoothed her short white hair around the back of her right ear with her fingers. “Church #212 today is a virtual ghost town, surrounded by residues of a once flourishing community, now abandoned because the natural resources of spiritual creativity and intellect are neglected.”
Silence. Her knowledge was a blur in my mind, but I caught a few details.
“It’s like people who migrate from one country to another. They want to flee poverty, conflict, or injustice, but they still have to deal with those components in some form or another because they really exist in the human mind,” said Olive.
“How do we get rid of the negative components and get the spiritual creativity back?” I asked.
“You aren’t the only one wondering that,” said Olive. “Even many medical professionals want inspired thinking. They know people are more than bodies of chemicals. Everett’s doctor was one.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“One weekend, I ran out of pain pills for Everett,” explained Olive. “He hadn’t needed the pills regularly so I lost track of how many were in the bottle. It was evening and Everett asked for a pill. Because he wasn’t his normal self near the end of his life and anything out of the ordinary would easily upset him, I told him I had more pills in the kitchen. I went to the kitchen where he lost sight of me and got a slice of white bread. I ripped a piece out the middle and rolled it up real tight, into the size of a pill and gave it to him with a glass of water. He swallowed the ball of bread and felt better within ten minutes.”
I smiled, having nothing to say.
“I told Everett’s doctor the next day, and the doctor agreed I did the best thing under the circumstances. He admitted that placebos have power at times. He wished he knew how the human mind and its beliefs worked so he could give people bread rather than some of the drugs that are basically poison,” said Olive. “But I think it was love from divine Mind, not my human mind, that gave relief to Everett.”
“I kinda see what you mean,” I said, and turned the subject to “How’s Jacqueline?”
“She’s doing well. Cheryl, I think I need to sell this house and move to California to live closer to her,” Olive said. “That’s why I’m cleaning.”
“I bet Jacqueline would like that,” I said, knowing I’d miss Olive terribly if she moved.
“Moving sounds arduous; however I know it can be done,” said Olive. “There’s nothing new about moving.”
Olive did move within the year. She taught me that timeless ideas exist forever. Olive reaffirmed that new ideas aren’t really new.
“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” —Ecclesiastes 1:9
I’m writing and publishing a memoir. Find below a chapter titled, College:
I visited a Travel Agent and made a plane reservation to the Denver, Colorado airport and learned I could take a shuttle van to the campus in Fort Collins. Dad took me to the Pasco Airport and helped me check in two large suitcases. I requested to sit in the no-smoking section, clueless as to how profoundly pathetically grateful I’d be in the future to the people who fought for no-smoking flights.
Back before intense airport security, Dad walked with me to the gate. He carried my high school graduation present, a manual typewriter. I carried a purse and smaller bag full of backup clothes in case my suitcases didn’t arrive. We sat down and waited. Quietly.
A feeling of wonder emerged. Why wasn’t Dad hurrying back to the farm? My wonderment increased as it came time to leave. I gathered up my stuff and walked out to the plane. After boarding, I got seated and looked out the small oval window to see a silhouette of Dad standing in the airport, watching.
The only time I’d seen Dad watch me was during piano recitals, and even then he looked as though he was farming in his head. Although I was a cheerleader for two years, played on the volleyball team, and performed in school theater, I don’t remember Dad once coming to watch. But he watched, probably until after my plane left the tarmac.
Arriving at the Denver airport, I hauled my baggage through an airport and found the van that would take me to Fort Collins. The hour and a half ride came to a stop and I was dropped off near the CSU campus, with three other students. Before driving off, the van driver pointed and said, “It’s that way.”
The four of us stood there and started digging through pockets and purses for campus maps we’d received earlier in the mail. Staring at the maps, we were interrupted by a thin guy in a plaid untucked shirt, older than us but not too old, who ran across the street and asked if we wanted a ride.
Was this a joke? Absolutely not do I want a ride, I thought. I was trained never to take a ride from a stranger. Plaid Shirt didn’t even have a vehicle. How was he going to give us a ride? Was this a trick? Was he one of those guys who made a promise he couldn’t fulfill? Would he take us out to a deserted place?
“Yes,” blurted the tall girl with a massive pile of luggage. My mind stopped flying off on invented tangents. I was tired. Everyone else agreed to the ride, and I did too, figuring we’d all be together for safety.
Plaid shirt said, “I’ll be back in a minute. I have to borrow a car.”
A few minutes later, a station wagon rounded the corner and Plaid Shirt jumped out to help us throw our belongings in the back. We each told him the name of our dorm. He thought for a second, told us to get in and off we went. He said he was a graduate student.
Plaid Shirt drove around a campus the size of Burbank Farm, stopping at four different dormitories. I was the last to be dropped off and had time to mentally calculate that I would have been dead meat had I carried all my belongings to the dorm. Not that I’d make a practice of it, but taking rides from strangers wasn’t such a bad idea.
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”— Hebrews 13:2
I checked in at the dorm and a girl wearing flip-flops walked me to my room. Flip-flops carried my manual typewriter. “That’s the cafeteria,” she said, after pointing to a large room on the other side of a windowed wall.
We walked through halls. “There’s the shared bathroom,” Flip-flops said as we walked past a swinging door. The dorm was cleaner than Mary Ann’s family’s dairy barn back home, but the layout was based on the same principle. Accommodations were specific to resting, eating, and getting milked, only I would produce knowledge.
Flip-flops unlocked the door to my room and said, “Your roommate moved in last week.” She put my typewriter near a student desk and I dropped my suitcases, purse, and bag near the empty unmade bed.
I dreaded having a roommate.
When sharing a room with my sisters, at about the time puberty kicked in and my face broke out with zits, their breathing (I called it snoring) put me on edge. By the grace of almighty God, when I was in junior high school, Mom and Dad added a second floor to the basement and gave me my own room. It was small, but heaven.
At college, we freshman had to live in a dorm, so there I was with a roommate because I enrolled too late to get my own private room. I unpacked my stuff and made the bed, thinking my roommate will probably come at a higher cost than the tuition, but it was a price I was willing to pay to get away from home.
An hour later, my roommate walked through the door. “Well, hi. I’m Leslie,” she said. “You got here. Good. I’m here early because it’s Rush Week.”
“I’m Cheryl,” I said and added, “What’s Rush Week?”
“During Rush Week, I visit all the sororities to see which one I want to join. A sorority is a house full of girls. They have lots of parties. We will be sisters.”
I nodded and smiled, threw in an “Ah!” My fatigued mind merely thought her chatter sounded suspect. A house full of girls sounded worse than a swarm of gnats on a blistering hot day.
Leslie told me about the sororities off campus and recruitment process. “Pi Beta Phi is the sorority I want to pledge to,” she said. I lifted my eyebrows as if the exercise would let the information into my brain. She continued, “But I don’t get the ultimate decision. The sorority girls pick who the new members will be.”
At the end of Rush Week, Leslie didn’t get into the sorority she wanted so she accepted membership into Chi Omega. Little did I know that later in life, I’d become a part of this screwed-up process of human approval, selection, and clique formation, not in college, but in church.
At that time though, I was weary and unable to carry on a conversation. Leslie then pointed to my Bible and Science and Health, which I’d placed at the bottom of a shelf in my desk and asked, “What are those books?”
I sighed, wishing I’d hid them better. “They are books I read in church, the Bible and Science and Health,” I answered.
“I go to that church, well not a lot, but my mom goes all the time,” she said.
Bemused, I found myself asking, “Where is the church, in case I want to go.”
She gave me directions.
Leslie was the best roommate I could have had. We got along, though we didn’t have much to talk about unless I wanted to talk about fashion and clothes. “I’d love to have your body,” she told me. “I’d buy all kinds of clothes, because any style always looks good on thin bodies.”
Her words fell to the ground like my bath towels. After living with Leslie for a couple of weeks, I asked, “Why do you hang up your bath towel in the room?”
Leslie looked at me and saw my daftness came honestly. “To dry,” she answered.
She said, “So I can use it tomorrow after my shower.”
“You don’t wash the towel in the washing machine?”
“Not after every shower. I reuse the towel, Cheryl,” Leslie explained.
The idea of reusing a towel was novel. I was raised to use a bath towel once and then throw it on the floor into a soggy heap. Mom washed every towel after one use. In a family of seven, Mom maintained stacks of clean folded towels from which we could pull a clean one to dry ourselves with after every shower. Mom sent enough towels with me to college so I could continue the tradition. I used a washing machine and drier in the dorm that required money. I did the math. Reusing a towel could save me money and time.
I observed Leslie. She did not appear to be suffering from the practice of reusing her towel. Her skin wasn’t falling off. Her hair wasn’t falling out. So, I began hanging my towel to let it dry for reuse, not in defiance of the family tradition, but because a better tradition existed for my new circumstance.
On August 9, 2016, Bonnie Lykes-Bigler interviewed Cheryl Petersen about her revisions of Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health, on WIOX Roxbury radio.
To listen to a recording, click here and scroll down to the streaming box with Cheryl’s photo before clicking Play.
Excerpts from my new book, “from science & religion to God,” is a briefer narrative of Mary Baker Eddy’s “Science and Health”:
“When a marriage is challenged, and it will be, don’t panic. Don’t become self-righteous. Sorrow has its reward and never leaves us where it found us. Let inspiration and wisdom guide your decisions.
Sit down and talk with your spouse before it gets to the point where you can’t talk civilly. Get a mediator if you need. Don’t complain and demand; listen back and forth. Compromise, and together learn how to be efficient, economical, fair, and thoughtful when it comes to household errands, financial matters, and your sex life. Spiritual, not bossy or ungrateful, consciousness is needed. You can’t fall out of Love because love is ever-present.
Trials teach us not to lean on human crutches, but on God. Remember this even when things are going well in a marriage. Use good and bad experiences to your advantage by letting new views of divine goodness and love come alive in everyday life.
Having children is a monumental responsibility. Having children doesn’t prove your spouse loves you. Children will not fill a void, only God can. Being a parent means caring for, paying for, cleaning up after, setting a good example, and teaching wisely the children.
We want to diminish mistakes, give higher aims to ambition, and raise our children with attitudes and expectations worthy of perpetuity.”
Politician placards pop up out of the ground this time of the year marking the landscape with a hoard of names. Although the freedom to publish in America duly deserves respect by eliminating censorship, we can remind ourselves that censorship can take many forms.
The gluttony of published information fails to marshal the will to be active productively. We can keep our minds safe from being distracted away from important political issues.
Random bulletins, lacking any sense of ongoing relevance, undermine our capacity to grasp reality. We need to take mental stands against becoming dangerously unable to grapple with the dilemmas and possible solutions facing our country today.
I find this same principle useful in religion. The complexities in religions don’t have to be confusing, disorganizing, or fracturing. The important issues of outlining realistic goals, working together, and offering practical assistance to the people can be grasped within religion.
Censorship can try to dictate exactly what should and shouldn’t be published or read. It can bombard society with publications and drain us of the will to decipher what is true and what is not.
But we have the spiritual capacity to overrule censorship in both religion and politics.
We don’t have to be intimidated or bored. We can publish and read that which encourages the will to change for the better.