Faith & Feminism: Mary Baker Eddy, life model in and out of religion

This inspired guest post from the amazing Susan Cobb continues our Faith & Feminism series. See Susan’s full bio after the jump, and be in touch with Courtney_at_feministing.com if you’d like to contribute a future column.

I spent ten years gaining Gold for Life status on American Airlines speaking about the woman founder of a religious denomination and her radical-for-the-time ideas. The historical record I drew from for those presentations was vast, as were Mary Baker Eddy’s accomplishments. She passed on December 3, 1910, one hundred years ago last month. She was founder of a church, a publishing company, and The Christian Science Monitor, all of which continue today. The text she wrote that distilled her theology, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, was named by the Women’s National Book Association as one of seventy-five books by women “whose words have changed the world.” Eddy’s is one of those “women’s untold stories” that have been largely ignored until the last two decades. But a 500-word post is no place to explore her impact on American spirituality, or expound the theology and biblical interpretation that empowered her to do what she did.

What I can do is get personal. How has my faith tradition and its organization affected my sense of self and my place in the world? First of all, I was taught I was made in the image of God “Father-Mother God, loving me, guard me when I sleep, guide my little feet up to Thee,” was the childhood prayer I said each night.  When I was growing up, at different times both my mom and dad filled the position of First Reader at our local branch church. It was an elected position for a set term. Every office and position in the church Mary Baker Eddy founded is open to and as often as not filled by a woman. I fully expected to fill similar terms as I became an adult, and I did.

Not only as a woman, but also as a child, I felt free to participate in testimony meetings, sharing times where I was on equal footing with members ten times my age. I learned to listen to others, but when I spoke everyone listened, as well. When I was sick, or troubled, I’d call a Christian Science practitioner, sometimes a woman, but often a man, for spiritual counsel. The common and first response I would receive from either man or woman was always an assurance that Father-Mother God loved me unconditionally and fully, and God’s will for me was only good.

So why am I living in Mexico, consciously separated from participating in the activities of the only church I’ve ever known? Why do I duck and run when anyone tries to classify me as a member of a religious denomination? Did I “burn out?” Do I need some breathing space? Or am I evolving into something else? I believe in providing a list of ingredients on anything someone is expected to swallow, so when I speak these days, or when people read my book, first and foremost on my label will be the theology I learned from Mary Baker Eddy. But like baking soda remains baking soda, even if it has many uses, I don’t think I’m becoming something else. I’m just finding new ways to use what I already am –something outside of “religion.”

Susan J. Cobb moved to Mexico in 2006, and is the author of the memoir Virgin Territory: How I Found My Inner Guadalupe. She is a contributor to Huffington Post and blogs at www.susanjcobb.com. She is currently at work on another memoir featuring Mary Baker Eddy’s impact on her personal experience.

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One Comment

  1. Posted January 12, 2011 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Often it is assumed that what is “religious” is uniformly applied across the board. In contrast, Christian Science has long made its own way. It is self-consciously different and always have been.

    The question then becomes whether religion as we know it is evolving. The short answer is that it is. But the more problematic issue to me becomes whether we trust in a Higher Power/God to guide us where we know we need to be. I appreciate the ethical statements of humanists and Atheists, but I have to say that I believe that human tools for discernment alone are not sufficient.

    And by discernment I mean the ways by which we weigh whether our life decisions are rooted solidly in sense, as well as in purpose. There always will be an element of mystery in humanity, I firmly believe. But rather than chalk this up as merely to the chaos and uncertainty of a world whose answers are not yet revealed, I would rather believe in the guiding force of a Creator.

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