100 years on: Mary Baker Eddy – a song in the repertoire of unsung women?

Next in our “100 years on, and still going strong” series, celebrating the continued resonance of Mary Baker Eddy’s life and ideas 100 years after her passing.

A local US newspaper called the Post and Courier recently ran an item entitled Unsung Women – Mary Baker Eddy.

On the lighter side, I confess that it is true…I have never yet heard a song being sung about Mary Baker Eddy!  There are plenty of songs by her – poems, that is, which have been turned into much loved hymns through the musical talents of others, that many people would say have brought them healing.

But I can’t recall a folksy ballad about her (spiritual) escapades and (practical) accomplishments nor a rock, reggae, or rap paean to her life and ideas.

On a more serious note, that is quite possibly how she would have liked it.  One of Mary Baker Eddy’s great accomplishments was to subdue the tendency to exalt personality which can so often tempt the religious to lose sight of the good idea that an individual has lived to share.  A noted example was when she asked her publisher to remove her own “author’s photo” from Science and Health – a common practice in books of her day – as one of her last instructions.

Her ideas on this evolved as she constantly revised her key text Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures following its first publication in 1875.  A key revision was in 1891, when she seemed to reach a turning point in articulating her understanding of a distinction between the nature of the Christ, as the universal manifestation of God, and the man Jesus who most clearly represented the Christ and was moved by the Christ to works of compassion and healing.   (See her Platform on Christian Science in Science and Health, page 332 to 334.)

It is true to say that Christian Scientists  generally have an enormous respect for what Mrs Eddy accomplished and a deep appreciation for the ideas she shared. In my own case, these ideas have inspired me time and again, helped make the Bible a compelling and essential daily companion for me, and have brought me healing through a better understanding of God’s presence and power. But this respect and gratitude is a far cry from the unjust aspersion that sometimes surfaces that this deeply Christian religion is a cult and Mrs Eddy a cult figure.

So would it be more accurate to say that Mary Baker Eddy’s praises are sung by those who love and follow her teachings, but are unsung by the world?

No.  Many people and institutions have expressed recognition of the life and ideas of Mary Baker Eddy.  Here are some examples from the USA…

  • She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame for “making an indelible mark on religion, society, and journalism.”
  • The US Congress passed a resolution recognizing her for “her outstanding achievements and contributions, particularly her contributions to the advancement of women’s rights.”
  • She was voted “one of the twenty-five most influential religious leaders of the twentieth century” by the Religion and Ethics News weekly programme on PBS.
  • Her book, Science and Health with key to the Scriptures, was voted “one of seventy-five books by women whose words have changed the world” by the Women’s National Book Association.

Also, she received high praise from contemporary Clara Barton, founder of The American Red Cross, who said “Love permeates all the teachings of this great woman – so great, I believe, that at this perspective we can scarcely realize how great.”  And she got Mark Twain’s attention, who called her “the most interesting woman that ever lived and the most extraordinary”, even though he swung both ways in his opinion about her.

So, Mary Baker Eddy is “a sung woman”, if that’s a legitimate phrase!

But those who feel they owe a great spiritual and practical debt to her for her fidelity to sharing the ideas she perceived and articulated might be tempted to say… “not sung enough!”

But please don’t write that folksy ballad just yet…!

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Categories: Mary Baker Eddy, Spirituality and Society, Women's spiritual leadership

Author:Tony Lobl

I write and speak on spirituality from my perspective as a Christian Science practitioner. I am also an Associate Editor for the Christian Science periodicals. I studied at the University of Surrey earning a BSc Hons Degree in Modern Mathematics before the impact of spirituality on health caught my attention and re-shaped my career.

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