Which is it: a hair shirt or a silk shirt, shad roe or beluga caviar, agony or ecstasy? A reader of Psalm 23 might easily conclude that the way of the righteous is pretty nice indeed. The same reader of Mary Baker Eddy might find her margin heading on page 40 of Science and Health, "Suffering inevitable", a good deal less enticing. Christ Jesus said: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me . . . For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matt 11: 29-30) Hmm, not too frightening. Mrs Eddy says: "Jesus spares us not one individual experience, if we follow his commands faithfully" (S&H 26: 5-6). That can be a "Maybe some other time" kind of statement to grapple with.
So which is it? "A paradox, a paradox,/A most ingenious paradox!" (G&S, "The Pirates of Penzance") Not really. It is true Christ Jesus often presented with the bark on the challenges which await the potential disciple, as in "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." (Luke 9: 23) And as a result of his uncompromising life and words "many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him." (John 6: 66) To paraphrase Thomas Paine, "The summer Christian and sunshine disciple will, in . . . crisis, shrink from the service of his Cause".
But neither Christ Jesus nor Mrs. Eddy said it would be all one or the other. Psalm 23 is a comforting promise. It describes the pilgrim's respite from the ferocity of the conflict between the flesh and Spirit. It offers the certainty of an interlude in the struggle, a pleasant caravansary on the route from sense to Soul. Until all is accomplished and the tumult has passed away, permanent peace will not be ours, and "many are called, but few are chosen." (Matt 22: 14) So, in short, putting off the old man and putting on the new involves both sufferings and triumphs. "We must have trials and self-denials, as well as joys and victories, until all error is destroyed." (S&H 39: 8-9) This may also be one reason Mrs Eddy advised us to "Emerge gently from matter into Spirit." (S&H 485: 14)
We might wish or hope that those three great trailblazers, Christ Jesus, Paul, and Mary Baker Eddy, had done most of the heavy lifting and suffering for us and that we could proceed effortlessly in their giant footsteps like the child following good King Wenceslas through the snow. But our knowledge and demonstration of spiritual perfection do not arrive neatly preassembled in some one-off epiphany. Our textbooks are much clearer than some of those risible instructions accompanying products from China, but each of us is still responsible for whatever it takes to achieve perfection in his individual experience.