150 years ago today, a New England woman recovered from an injury expected to be fatal. But she was no ordinary woman. Mary Baker Eddy was a spiritual thinker who for decades had been striving “to trace all physical effects to a mental cause”. Now she had caught a breakthrough glimpse of the idea she came to call “the discovery of Christian Science”.
Benjamin Franklin once said: “If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing.”
Mary Baker Eddy — transcending the ‘or’ in Franklin’s statement — qualifies on both counts. Eddy certainly lived a life worth writing about. Her experiences as a healer, public speaker, teacher, author, businesswoman, church founder, innovative theologian and “scientific” thinker, could each be worth a biography in their own right. And as one of innumerable people who credit her writings with bringing me spiritual insights that have restored my health, I would certainly suggest what she wrote was, is and will continue to be worth reading.
Perhaps that’s why she hasn’t been forgotten!
For instance, she is found alongside Franklin and 98 others in The Atlantic’s list of the “100 Most Influential Americans of All Time”. And her primary book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, has been designated by the National Women’s Book Association as one of 75 books written by American women whose words have changed the world.
Today, February 4, 2016, marks exactly 150 years since the event that proved key to Eddy’s “discovery of the system that she denominated Christian Science” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. viii)
So who was Mary Baker Eddy?
Here are seven ways we can get to know her better.
“My immediate recovery from the effects of an injury caused by an accident, an injury that neither medicine nor surgery could reach, was the falling apple that led me to the discovery how to be well myself, and how to make others so.” (Mary Baker Eddy, Retrospection and Introspection, p. 24)
To Mary Baker Eddy, February 4, 1866, was a time in which the divine presence burst through a desperate situation and not only comforted, but also freed her. She got up, got dressed, and walked out of a room she was not expected to leave alive. Like Moses at the burning bush when he discerned the nature of God as the great “I AM”, so Eddy’s discovery was a private moment alone with God in which she gained a profound Bible-based insight into the purely spiritual nature of reality.
“As soon as healing takes place, go out and heal somebody else.” (Maya Angelou — poet, author and civil rights activist.)
Of course, Eddy never knew Angelou, but she certainly lived this heartwarming idea. During her early years of frail health, while digging deep into her Bible for healing answers and simultaneously exploring allopathy, homeopathy and other alternatives, she made a promise to God. If He would restore her, she would devote her remaining years to helping sick and suffering humanity. When she did recover, she was as good as her word, and devoted what turned out to be the second half of a 90-year life to doing exactly what she said she would. In turn, it was this healing work that drew people to her teachings.
“…to think that a woman knew this over eighty years ago.” (Albert Einstein on Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, as reported by one of the great physicist’s contemporaries Mary Spaulding.)
What Eddy knew, and articulated ever more clearly over decades of writing and revising Science and Health, was what she says she glimpsed in that February 4 healing, namely “the great fact that I have since tried to make plain to others, namely, Life in and of Spirit; this Life being the sole reality of existence” (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 24). That glimpse led her to conclusions she’d been thoughtfully and prayerfully seeking. She wrote: “During twenty years prior to my discovery I had been trying to trace all physical effects to a mental cause; and in the latter part of 1866 I gained the scientific certainty that all causation was Mind, and every effect a mental phenomenon” (Retrospection and Introspection, p. 24).
“I should blush to write of ‘Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures’ as I have, were it of human origin, and were I, apart from God, its author. But, as I was only a scribe echoing the harmonies of heaven in divine metaphysics, I cannot be super-modest in my estimate of the Christian Science textbook.” (Mary Baker Eddy, Miscellany, p. 115)
Eddy might well have been a “scribe” but this was no mere clerical labour! She honed her understanding of the healing principle in years of Bible study, road-tested it in her own healing practice and taught it to others before the initial publication of “the Christian Science textbook”, Science and Health. As she continued to grow in her understanding and demonstration of the Science, there followed over 400 printings of the book, including several major revisions, as well as a string of other titles and numerous articles for various newspapers and her church periodicals.
“….no one familiar with her life and her teachings can help but see the marvelous consistency and beauty of what she has given to the world in Christian Science.” (Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross.)
On occasions Eddy had taught in local schools and written for local newspapers. Later on, as the Discoverer of Christian Science, she taught through her writings as well as in classroom sessions. Eventually, she opened the Massachusetts Metaphysical College which attracted thousands of students. She also set in motion a structure that, to this day, continues to produce teachers around the world who nurture students interested in learning to practice Christian Science healing.
“When God called the author to proclaim His Gospel to this age, there came also the charge to plant and water His vineyard.” (Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health, p. xi)
Eddy said it was never her intention to start a church. She assumed that what was to her the momentous discovery of the Science at work in Jesus’ own healings would be readily accepted into mainstream protestant Christian theology and practice of the day. But when that wasn’t the case, she prayerfully sought a way to preserve the purity of the ideas she’d discerned, demonstrated and articulated, and to ensure their further dissemination. That led to the founding of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts, which also established the means for Christian Scientists around the world to form local, democratically-run branch churches. Additionally, she founded a publishing business and a Pulitzer prize winning newspaper that are still going strong today.
“Accept my counsel and teachings only as they include the spirit and the letter of the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, and the teachings and example of Christ Jesus.” (Mary Baker Eddy, Miscellany, p. 129)
Or, as she said a number of times: “…follow your Leader only so far as she follows Christ.” Although Eddy expected adherents to accept her authority in matters relating to the Christian Science movement, she delegated more and more to others as soon as she could. She instituted the Manual to govern the church through impersonal by-laws, one of which empowered a Board of Directors to transact “the business of The Mother Church” (p. 27).
Ultimately, in this as in all things, her heart’s desire was for each of her followers to prayerfully turn to God and prove for themselves that “to all mankind and in every hour, divine Love supplies all good.” (S&H p. 494).
Historical photos are public domain, via Wikimedia Commons:
Albert Einstein by Ferdinand Schmutzer
Clara Barton by Mathew Brady
Mary Baker Eddy by H. G. Smith.Panyd
Maya Angelou by By Talbot Troy (originally posted to Flickr as Maya Angelou) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]