Living on a prayer


Before her ninth grade audition for the musical “Damn Yankees,” Ellie Bensinger ’09 stood outside the choral room in the Administration Building with eyes closed, silently praying. But Bensinger is such an experienced singer, dancer and actress that stage fright is rarely a cause for concern.

It was not nerves that led Bensinger to search deep inside herself in that hallway in 2006. Bensinger has been a Christian Scientist since birth, and she was doing what she always does when she doesn’t feel well.

“Before the audition, I had the belief of a sore throat that made me sound like a dying frog,” she said. “Knowing that the true source [of my voice] is from God, not my damaged vocal chords, I went into that room and sang my heart out. The rest is history.”

Bensinger landed the role of Lola in Damn Yankees. The sore throat passed. But Bensinger’s core belief system has been a fixture ever since she can remember.

Her mother is a Christian Scientist, and took Bensinger and her younger brother to church every week growing up. However, Bensinger stressed that the religion was never forced on her. She grew to embrace the ideas behind the religion as she got older.

The beliefs of the Church of Christ, Scientist, founded by Mary Baker Eddy, are that God is supreme, that the true nature of each individual as a child of God is spiritual and that God’s infinite goodness heals through prayer.

Bensinger attends two church services a week: one regular church service where the congregants read from the Bible and sing hymns, and one testimony meeting on Wednesday nights. The Wednesday service “is an opportunity to express gratitude for healings you’ve had or for anything you want,” Bensinger said. “I really like it.”

Bensinger said there are not explicit levels of Orthodoxy in her religion, but that the individual can decide how absolutely he or she wishes to apply the ideas of Christian Science to life. She abides by most of the basics, such as not drinking, smoking or visiting the doctor, because they make sense to her.

“I don’t go to the doctor because I believe I’ve found a more efficient way of healing for myself,” Bensinger said.

Bensinger has attended a Christian Science summer camp for six years, and appreciates the experience of living in an environment where she says she doesn’t have to explain anything.

“[At camp,] everyone already understands how I live my life and they live it the same way,” she said. “This frees me from constantly being on the defense to being able to grow in spirit and in strength.”

But when back at school or in other communities, Bensinger never backs down from a debate – in fact, she has come to quite enjoy defending her faith in the face of critics.

“There are two kinds of conversations I have with people about my religion,” she said. “There is the kind where the person I’m talking to is genuinely intrigued by my religion and wants to know more, and then there is the kind where a critical someone wants to hear me say something that sounds outrageous so they can get into a heated debate. I prefer the latter.”

Chaplain Father James Young believes that Harvard-Westlake is an open community, where it’s not hard to have different or unique beliefs.

“It depends upon how visible that “difference” in beliefs is,” he said. “If it is a fact that the student makes fairly public, folks are often curious with lots of questions. But overall, my hunch is that it doesn’t have much impact upon their life as an H-W student.”

Bensinger is familiar with curious questions, but feels it is challenging to summarize sweeping philosophical values in one conversation.

“The founder of Christian Science took 700 pages to explain it, so when people ask me to sum it up I never feel like I’ve done it justice,” she said.

Bensinger’s belief system affects her daily life by keeping her centered, she said.

“I set out every day with a desire to express Love and Principle and Spirit.”

She has never seriously considered any other religion. She has been to Christian and Jewish religious services, but has never wavered in her faith.

“I’m always open to learning about new ways of viewing life, but for me Christian Science fits,” she said.