By Cheryl Petersen
One hundred-fifty years ago, a woman living in Swampscott, Mass., had an ah-ha moment. She couldn’t describe the epiphany, but it resulted in an instant recovery from an injury caused a few days earlier that had left her bedridden.
The attending physician and friends of the New England woman called the recovery a miracle. She explained her healing as the “falling apple” that compelled her to learn “how” she was healed. It led her to discover a timeless spiritual force that she later labeled, Christian Science.
By the turn of the 20th century, Christian Science was all the rage in America and Europe, along with the woman’s name, Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910). She was a pioneer in mind-study, though not the human mind, but divine mind.
Eddy became a prolific writer on the subject of Christian Science, defined as a law of God interpreting a divine order. She taught classes on the power of prayer. She started a publishing house. She started a church. She founded a secular newspaper. She revised her principal book, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” hundreds of times up until her death.
Visitors today can visit the Swampscott house, along with other houses connected to the life of Eddy. The houses are maintained and open to the public by Longyear Museum, founded by Mary Beecher Longyear (1851-1931) and headquartered in Chestnut Hill.
There is also a Mary Baker Eddy Library on Massachusetts Avenue in Boston. The museum and library contain documented evidence about Eddy and Christian Science to intrigue the mind to learn the actual historical environment from which Eddy plucked her ideas.
In 1866 and the decades that followed, racism was rampant and working conditions were unfair and unsafe. The schools, if you went to school, taught that physical matter and cultural standings were fixed. Science and religion were butting heads as Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution took hold.
Despite the dreadful circumstances, mass consciousness was poked to explore ideas that inspired people, not to take what came, but give what is worth giving to improve humanity. People took a stand for more credible science and religion.
Science was becoming more systematic, separating itself from philosophy. Eddy valued the systematic approach and applied it to religion. Christian Science was acknowledged and chronicled by thousands of people as the power behind remarkable spiritual healings of hate, fear, addictions, depression, tuberculosis, tumors, constipation and fatigue. Christian Science was noticeably celebrated more than it was satirized.
Christian Science isn’t well known, or known well today. It’s confused with scientology. It carries baggage, the heaviest burden picked up in the 20th century when Christian Science was nearly redefined to mean radical reliance on prayer or sacred words, instead of relying on a spiritual understanding of God.
It is disingenuous to argue that committed prayer is divorced from Christian Science, as it is to assert that ritualistic prayer is synonymous with Christian Science. Human beings make mistakes. Mary Baker Eddy made mistakes.
Some may wonder, is Eddy original or a fraud? Is Christian Science Christian or cult? Is it’s spiritual healing genuine or bogus?
Mary Baker Eddy and Christian Science will be any of those to different people at different times. Their accomplishments will always be up for debate. History shows however, that Christian Science challenged the thinking that health is only a state of matter. It challenged thinkers to examine how that thinking distorts approaches to mindful healing. It challenged thinkers to consider how spirituality improves approaches to health, science, and religion.
As we wonder about any religion or science, let’s remember that the fine museums offered within the greater Boston area offer lessons that humanity can act on the courage that promotes progress, not fear. The good can outweigh the bad.
Cheryl Petersen’s book “ from science & religion to God: a briefer narrative of Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health” is available at Amazon.com. Her Web site is www.HealingScienceToday.com.