While serving in our Reading Room earlier this year, a dear church member called to ask about We Knew Mary Baker Eddy, vol. II. A friend had strongly recommended it, but this member wanted to know how it was different from previous memoirs.
These are different people, I said. But that didn’t clear away her doubts. I tried reminding her that there were more than a few people who served Mrs. Eddy personally in her household and they had varied backgrounds and experiences. None were exactly the same. I added that I was reading it for the second time and still finding it worthwhile.
The member finally agreed to purchase a copy we had just received from the Publishing Society that morning. But she called back later that day with even more questions, trying to understand what more could be added to the original series of memoirs that she had read long ago. She seemed incredulous that there could be 600 more pages of worthy material!
This got me thinking about how memoirs of those who knew Mrs. Eddy are different from personal recollections about other famous historical figures. Readers might easily be satiated after reading a few first-hand accounts of people who were close acquaintances of, say, Mark Twain. Once we learn about his personal routines, private opinions, and idiosyncrasies, our curiosity would most likely be satisfied. At least there would not be much relevance to our own lives except maybe as topics for dinner conversation.
What makes Mrs. Eddy different? Some answers are obvious, at least to students of Christian Science. She was the discoverer of the greatest breakthrough in religious thought in nearly 2,000 years, and the founder of a church that preaches the Science of Christianity. Her followers naturally want to know how she got there and learn as much as possible from her experiences in order carry forward her work.
What especially stood out this time in reading these accounts is what they say about Mrs. Eddy’s role as Leader. Her titles as Discover, Founder, and Teacher are more easily accepted in historical context and less alien to popular thought. But how does she lead her church in a continuing and active way, especially since she was so clear in rejecting any focus on her human personality and even on the details of her human history?
For one thing, these accounts describe with warmth, intimacy, and authenticity a religious leader always ready to prove the relevance of what she taught – in the details of her daily life, in the larger world of church and public affairs, in the pastoral care she gave to students and branch churches, even in thinking about the weather!
Scriptural authority and Christian practice were always sufficient for her to work through whatever challenges were presented, especially in proving the efficacy of spiritual healing. She enlisted her followers’ cooperation and concurrence in this work through her Christian love for them and her confidence in the Science of Being that she outlined so luminously in her writings. She was obviously living and proving the Christianity she wrote about and compelling others to do the same.
She persisted in leading thought to a higher spiritual place, even sometimes with those who were not Christian Scientists. One instance related by Adelaide Still was the playful conversation she had with her cousin, Henry Baker, a chat that apparently left him puzzled but amused. “I’ve given Henry a dose of truth he will not get rid of for a long time,” Mrs. Eddy told Still afterward. (pp. 484-485)
The way she was a student of her own textbook is a another sign of her leadership, since it points to the revelatory nature of its content and freed the book to achieve its purpose apart from attachment to the personality of its author. This is why Christian Scientists can use the term ‘leader’ without feeling self-conscious or fearing ridicule. Mrs. Eddy did not conflate herself with the message of comfort and healing she taught.
Turning away from the business affairs of her church in later years, William Rathvon quotes her saying, “The Cause of Christian Science is not dependent upon man or woman, and God will take care of it.” (p. 584)
I’d like to think that this was not telling us to “let go and let God” in some lazy evisceration of the individual’s role in church affairs. Rather, it must have been that she was confident that the Mind-inspired foundations of church that she had laid were sufficient and complete, and this would stabilize and prosper the institution, as her followers were faithful.