Prayer, Faith & Healing
Mary Baker Eddy
by Michael Braunstein
Creative Power of Thought
The New Age is upon us. The initial date can’t be traced but it had to be sometime in the late ‘70s. In fact, “New Age” is getting pretty old. A number of writers have helped us wend our way through this age of so-called new thought. And a daunting delegation of distaff authors can be found on the shelves of any Borders or Barnes and Noble. Female writers, while not the rule, are a high percentage of our New Age literary gurus.
New Age philosophy seems to be defined by a number of notions. It seems to focus on thought as the source of creation. Healing appears to be a central point, both on the individual level and on the global or societal. Self-empowerment shows up as a recurrent watchword. There is a propensity toward reliance on things spiritual over things physical, both for peace of mind and health of body.
New Age concepts often appear to be rooted in traditional or naturalist thought, addressing the holistic property of creation and seeing the oneness of our universe. These themes have found their way into the writings of several women authors who have become scions of the New Age.
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Mary Baker Eddy
Nothing “New” about New Age
Marianne Wiliamson (Return to Love), Caroline Myss (Anatomy of the Spirit), Joan Borysenko (Guilt is the Teacher; Love is the Lesson) -- all are best sellers, all are big-name, New Age guru-ettes.
Of course women don’t have a corner on the New Age guru job description. There are plenty of Wayne Dyers, Leonard Orrs, James Redfields et al.
Regardless of gender, these authors would likely acknowledge they do not “go where no man (or woman) has gone before.” And that’s the point. There is nothing new about most the notions put forth in New Age tomes. The prime concepts are centuries old. What appears to be new is the celebrity status of these pop icons. Or is it?
Marianne Williamson is a case in point. After lecturing on A Course in Miracles to packed houses around Hollywood for years, she became an acclaimed best-selling author. Williamson was a frequent guest at the Clinton White House and appeared on numerous talk shows and magazine covers. She is consulted by statesmen and captains of industry.
In 1991, she presided at the ballyhooed wedding ceremony of Elizabeth Taylor and Larry Fortensky at Michael Jackson’s Neverland enclave near Santa Barbara. If that’s not celebrity… well.
Williamson and most metaphysical best-sellers started at the grass roots. Before she was published, Williamson offered donation-only lectures on A Course in Miracles at the Episcopal Church at the corner of Gardner and Hollywood Blvd.
But the message shared did not start with our current wave. Over a hundred years ago, it was also shared by another woman who became a best-selling author. She offered healings and teaching for free. She founded a worldwide church, a college, a publishing company and a newspaper that has won five Pulitzer prizes. And, of course, the message didn’t start with her either. But never before had such celebrity status been conferred on a woman leader of a theological or philosophical movement. Her name was Mary Baker Eddy.
“That old-time religion” finds New Age thought
No less a pundit than Mark Twain called Mary Baker Eddy “the most daring woman who has appeared on this earth in centuries.” Twain was noting Eddy’s tenacity in promoting the ideas and concepts she held while facing a social structure that criticized women in leadership roles not ordinarily ceded to them.
When Eddy took up the torch of metaphysical teaching, the public was unaccustomed to a woman in such a role. Though the late Nineteenth Century had other female metaphysicians and mystics such as Madame Blavatsky and Alice Bailey, Eddy captured the broad interest of the media by her presence.
Mary Baker Eddy was a New Englander, born in rural New Hampshire in 1821. Her father was a Calvinist, a very strict segment of Christianity believing in predestination. Later in life, Eddy described him: “Father kept us in the tightest harness I had ever known.” She had a very close and loving relationship with her mother and one of her brothers often shared his lessons as a student at Duke University with her. Eddy first started writing at age 11.
Many times, effective teachers of a healing path often find that path while seeking healing for themselves. So it was in Eddy’s case. A formative dynamic for Eddy was her lingering poor health. From childhood, Eddy was subject to fevers and body pain. Doctors called it an “inflamed spine.” She suffered bouts of losing weight and becoming bed ridden. Conventional doctors of her day were at a loss in providing any relief.
Physical suffering was not the only pain Eddy felt. Tragedy visited her life. Her favorite brother was lost to her at an early age. She married in 1843, but lost her husband within months, becoming a single parent. Her mother died four years later and Mary Baker Eddy’s health began to deteriorate.
ENTER THE Q
Conventional therapies continued to fail Eddy but in 1862, she heard of a sensational healer in Portland, Maine named Phineas Parker Quimby. When Eddy first went to see Quimby, she had to be carried up a flight of stairs to her hotel room. Within two days of that initial visit, she was able to ascend four flights of stairs unescorted and her health improved miraculously.
Quimby was a mesmerist. Mesmerism refers to the skills made popular by Viennese physician Anton Mesmer beginning in 1776. Mesmer had phenomenal success healing people using a trance-like state that we now reference as hypnosis. Mesmer didn’t understand the mechanism as we do today and attributed it to an energy he called animal magnetism. He thought the magnets he used induced trance and healing, though eventually believing that any object could channel his own powerful magnetism to the subject. Even in his time, a court-appointed commission, chaired by no less than Benjamin Franklin, found that magnets were not necessary for the healing to happen.
By the time Quimby was using mesmerism, more credit was given to the fact that the mind is the activating agent in healing. Quimby had stumbled onto something that is a recurrent theme in New Age media: mind/body healing. It is not a new idea. That the mind has an effect on healing is not at all in question, then or now. What often became a point of contention, then as now, was the understanding that mind is all that effects healing. This is what Eddy eventually understood though she initially thought it was Quimby’s influence that was the healing agent. Luckily she was wrong, for Quimby died in 1866. Were he the causative agent, healing would have died with him.
All along, however, Quimby had attributed the healing powers to “the power of the Christ within us all.” He believed there was a scientific explanation for the teachings that Jesus promoted nearly 2000 years before. He called it a kind of Christ Science.
In 1866, Eddy fell and injured her head and neck. She was carried home and attended by a homeopathic physician by the name of Dr. Alvin Cushing. She was in critical condition and not expected to last the night. Clergy were called and she made her peace with God. She describes the rest of the day as being spent meditating on the healing words and thoughts of Jesus’ teachings in the Bible. That evening, the clergy returned to find her up and about and on her way to recovery. She attributed the healing to the faith she had in the healing power of mind, in this case, the Mind of God.
Eddy began what became her main mission in life, teaching the healing power of the Mind of God. At first she used texts that had been written by Quimby. But her main learning from the fall was that there is no need of an outside agent to effect healing. We all have the healing ability within us through the healing Mind of God. She began her own textbook, Science and Health, which she published in 1875. Her followers and students called themselves Christian Scientists.
PUBLIC SERVANT, PUBLIC TARGET
Eventually Eddy moved to Boston and began teaching her healing technique. She founded a church that she called the Church of Christ Scientist. The teachings were offered for $300 but no payment was accepted unless the teaching was acceptably effective for the student. Her school of metaphysics grew and became a Massachusetts chartered college.
Eddy’s public persona grew as well. She became wealthy and renowned. By the turn of the century, her book sales reached half a million copies. But certain segments of the media saw Eddy as controversial. Her teachings were Biblically based but her confirmed belief in the healing power of the Mind in connection with God rankled the established medical doctrine. Physician societies and licensing bodies were gaining power and mainstream media, especially New York media magnate Joseph Pulitzer, criticized Eddy and called her healing a fraud. She and her followers remained undaunted.
Reading the words of Mary Baker Eddy, it’s easy to see they could have been written by any of the New Age authors being published today. The wording is sometimes dated, but the message is basic. It is a message that Plato expounded in Timeaus centuries ago. It’s one that Jesus taught 2000 years ago and Yoda two decades ago; that is, “Mind is the creative agent; ideas are what are real.” There is a Higher Mind that we share in, that we can become aware of. This is the Mind of Truth, not opinion. Anything that has to do with form is merely opinion. We also have a mind that is not so high. It is an intellectual or ego-based mind that is obsessed with the physical and data gathering; obsessed with form. Form is lower order stuff that is temporal, illusionary. It is error, not Truth.
Or as Eddy put it, “The absence of Truth we name error. But whence cometh error? From God? No. The same Fountain sendeth not forth sweet and bitter water. Error is not an idea. It hath neither principal nor identity. It is not definable as a person, place or thing, as an agent or actor. And being without substance, life or intelligence, and neither principal nor identity, we learn it came not, but is illusion.”
These ideas seemed radical at the time. And to the fearful mind they seem radical still. But these ideas would place Mary Baker Eddy on talk shows and best seller lists today. She would be the old age queen of New Age thinking.