From Mary Baker Eddy, Her Spiritual Footsteps by Gilbert Carpenter
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Understanding Mrs. Eddy’s Experience
On the page which separates the main body of Science and Health from the Key to the Scriptures, the following is quoted from Revelation 3:8: “Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it.” At one time while I was at Pleasant View, I kept opening to this page whenever I opened a copy of Science and Health. Finally, it became such a marked phenomenon, that I experimented with new copies of Science and Health which came to the home. I opened to the same place. At length, I realized that this passage must have a spiritual message for me. I saw that Mrs. Eddy not only taught the opening of the door which let in the light of spiritual understanding, a light which must be shed abroad as well as received, but Mrs. Eddy herself was this open door and must be so understood. It is with this desire, that I would endeavor to set before the world the results of a personal acquaintance with our Leader, as well as an effort, extending over nearly forty years, to understand her mission in its spiritual significance, what she stood for, and something of the obstructions that were continually placed in her path, in the attempt of evil to interfere with the final revelation of Truth being presented to humanity in its present form.
Primarily, the Master set before the world inspiration and its divine source as the only true wisdom and guide to eternal life. Mrs. Eddy has added to this the unfoldment and explanation of the maze into which error has led man, while it hides behind the garments of Truth. Thus, Mrs. Eddy has shown us the way out. In her first spiritual enlightenment, the practicality and truth of Jesus’ teaching were unfolded to her. Then, she realized that the problem of this age and generation must be the dissection and analysis of the deception, by which man has been encouraged to turn away from a right idea of God, while believing that he was following the true idea. The notion that this human existence is composed of combined wheat and tares, which must be separated, was part of the deception which she exposed. She showed that only that which comes from God is good and worthy to be attained or retained. This cannot include any phase of so-called human existence.
It should not disturb the student of Christian Science when he finds himself healed through Mrs. Eddy’s stripes, or the recipient of her spiritual bounty, gathered with bleeding footsteps. How could one provide the solution of a problem, unless he or she had worked it out?
The two phases of error with which Mrs. Eddy was concerned, were the wolf with and without sheep’s clothing. The wolf, alone, represents those aggressive forms of sin and disease which create fear and suffering; the wolf in sheep’s clothing represents the false peace and pleasure which man, when blinded by mesmerism to its true nature, experiences in the presence of aggressive evil.
In order to understand Mrs. Eddy’s life and mission from a spiritual standpoint, it must first be understood that without a spiritually developed ability to detect mental cause and effect, no-one could understand the significance of her experiences, her temptations, the magnificent overcoming which culminated in the final establishment of our great Cause, and the finished demonstration of what she put forth for our self-instruction, embodied in her great work, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.
Three notable things stand out in my thought in connection with my knowledge of Mrs. Eddy: first, was the incredible sweetness of her thought. Every night she sat on the upper porch in her swing from eight until nine, at which time she retired. Just before leaving for her room, she might call me to come to her swing to say good night. I always felt that she devoted this hour to a general outpouring of spiritual good to humanity, because the sweetness of her thought stood out so vividly when she said good night, that it never failed to bring tears to my eyes. It seemed more than I could stand. A peace, a love, a strength and calm emanated from her thought to such a degree, that human sense could hardly endure it.
The second notable thing was the activity of her thought and its incisive detection of the presence of alien thought in the home. Hostile critics could never explain her perception of what she named malicious animal magnetism as being purely of the imagination. It was appreciated and understood, in a degree, by every metaphysician in the home. Furthermore, under her direction, the students made it their first and only effort to destroy it, by reestablishing the Mind of God in the home; this invariably restored peace and harmony.
The third notable thing was the fact that, at times, this mental inroad and stir expressed itself through Mrs. Eddy in a way that required a spiritual struggle on her part. Any student who failed to see the wolf back of the sheep’s clothing, would misunderstand the significance of Mrs. Eddy’s struggle with what seemed just an ordinary bodily ailment, and the mighty victory that always followed, a victory which seldom left any trace of the upheaval on Mrs. Eddy. After a night when the whole home was disturbed, and the students did not close their eyes, because of Mrs. Eddy’s struggle, she would appear at her desk in the morning, as fresh and serene as if nothing had happened, but the students would all be weary and worn. Notwithstanding, the grand work that was being done at Pleasant View for humanity never faltered because of these disturbances.
Yet, because of the sweat of her agony at such times, students can feel assured that there is no phase of error, whether personal or collective, so devious or subtle, that has not been faced and overcome, and that she has shown them how to develop a spiritually listening ear, so that they may be taught of God with such infallible wisdom, that no problem continues to be a problem, no evil is left with any sense of power, no deception can continue to deceive.
Above all others, Mrs. Eddy knew unerringly when God talked to her. Furthermore, she knew that nothing could supersede what was thus revealed. Hence, her struggle was not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, the rulers of darkness, and spiritual wickedness in high places. Her problem was to cast out and destroy these conspirators against her desire always to keep her mental door open, so that she might take the things of God and show them to the creature.
Thus, understood from the standpoint of mental cause and effect, those parts of Mrs. Eddy’s experience which, to unenlightened thought, appear incomprehensible or else seem to point to a lack of true spirituality, become clear; with this unfoldment comes loyalty and a true appreciation of her life struggle against the claims of mortality.
Much has been written about Mrs. Eddy’s human history, her parentage and youth, her limited opportunities, her intellect, her love for humanity, but no-one will ever exhaust the true appreciation and understanding of her adoption as a child of God, and the wonder of the demonstration that she made with the poorest equipment, as far as physical strength and health are concerned. At the age of eighty-five, she was at her post every day. From my personal knowledge, her labors would have exhausted the most robust man or woman the world has yet produced.
We would all be glad if a record could have been kept of those early experiences and struggles, which Jesus must have had. Yet, the most important part of his experience has been given to humanity, namely, the record of his words and deeds in the journey from sense to Soul, his struggles to maintain a spiritual and scientific attitude toward all people and things, and his final embodiment of the spiritual idea as his permanent selfhood.
It is this same desire that leads authors to endeavor to set forth known facts concerning Mrs. Eddy’s early experience. However, the greatest growth to the Christian Scientist comes through the effort to understand her life spiritually, her struggles, her victories and the spiritual presence which perpetually hovered over her head, even though at times darkness seemed to intervene. This study is not a sentimental appreciation because of the benefits received from Christian Science. It is not the effort to gain an emotional reaction through the thought of living in the same generation with a spiritual prophet. It is the effort, through the development of our spiritual apprehension of Truth, to comprehend each step that she took, every struggle that she made, and to recognize their significance in relation to the whole, as well as to study in her teachings the steps which she outlined, necessary to reach that well of living water, to which Jesus referred, springing up into everlasting life, that fount of inspiration which reveals all things in their true light. The true and spiritual history of Mrs. Eddy always will be that which records the progress of thought from the human to the divine, and the unfolding of what should be termed mental interference, as interpreted through her outward life.
An uninspired effort to understand Mrs. Eddy’s experience from a human standpoint, might cause one to view it as exemplifying the foibles of the human mind, rather than as bringing to the light the last and most subtle form of animal magnetism. The wolf in sheep’s clothing rightly characterized the last infirmity of evil which Mrs. Eddy had to unfold and handle. This is its deception, namely, the subtlety and viciousness of error, concealed in a simple and harmless appearing guise. There are students of Christian Science who, if they had seen Mrs. Eddy struggling with some error, might have said, “Why, I have had just as bad a difficulty as that, and I did not begin to make the ado and fuss about it that she does.” Why could not Mrs. Eddy make as little of her experiences, as perhaps her students could under the same circumstances? Wherein lies the so-called strength of a condition that is made manifest on an inharmonious body? It must be in the degree of mental confusion and stir of thought that is back of it. Hence, the dropping of spiritual thought in one student might manifest itself in a toothache, and in another, it might be a complete prostration. In other words, a student might lapse into a state of thought so disturbing, that any constructive thinking seemed impossible, and yet the outward physical manifestation might seem a simple thing to handle. However, the apparent power of this confusion that had only a slight manifestation, might make it absolutely necessary that the Christian Scientist take drastic steps to clear up the situation, steps, which, to the onlooker, seemed out of proportion to the seriousness of the ailment. The deduction from this is, that one cannot judge by an outward physical manifestation, the strength of an error, or the drain of spiritual thought required to produce the outward condition.
Thus, an inability on the part of a student to trace back from effect to cause, and diagnose from the standpoint of cause, would make it impossible for such a one to appreciate the nature of the error which Mrs. Eddy overcame. Therefore, no-one could even hope to touch the subject of Mrs. Eddy’s true spiritual history, who was not an advanced metaphysician. This exposes the error in endeavoring to put before the public a life of Mrs. Eddy, assumed to be a true appreciation and picture, yet written by an uninspired thought. Even the New Testament does not unfold the real nature of the obstacles placed in the path of the Master to overcome. Hence, the world believes that, when on the cross he cried with a loud voice, it was because the nails hurt his nerve-centers. Yet, can we believe that a man who had made the demonstration to walk on the water, had not made the demonstration over sensation in matter?
The seriousness of the error of trying to present Mrs. Eddy’s experience from an uninspired standpoint, lies in the fact that, to the uninspired thought, she was so often struggling with a lamb, making such an ado about it, while spiritual perception would detect at once that it was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the carnal mind making deadly thrusts at the Christ-idea. If one thought she were dealing with a lamb, she would seem often to have been a quitter, and even a coward, making a stir where another would have endured without murmuring.
When is animal magnetism the most subtle? When it works in the dark, and takes on the appearance of a gentle, harmless lamb? Yes. Then the soldier of God is battling with the greatest subtlety, in danger of the last straw of being misunderstood. The one who fights thus is robbed in two ways: the world says that he or she did not have the courage to fight a simple lamb without making a great complaint and fuss; also, when the victory comes, nobody believes it to be of any significance. Hence, the world at large is robbed of the knowledge of the Goliath that was overcome, as well as the spiritual help needed to rout the enemy.
The Master said, “I have overcome the world.” Such a statement means little to uninspired thought, because Jesus referred to the mental victory, which none can comprehend but those spiritually enlightened. Yet, from the standpoint of divine Mind, the mental victory is the only one that has any real value, since, in reality, what man has to overcome is neither a wolf nor a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but the illusion which causes him to believe either that he has some mighty evil power to destroy or else, because of apparent harmony, that God is in control, hence, he has nothing to do.
Thus, I was impressed by three distinct phases in our Leader’s thought; her incredible tenderness and love, her great activity of thought wherein she indicated her mastery of mortal belief, and finally, the experiences that the casual observer would characterize as fear. Notwithstanding all appearances, I know that this state of thought was not a fear resulting from the presence of suffering, old age, or persecution. It entirely concerned the possibility of losing her spiritual sense, upon which she depended more than anything else. Usually her fear was based on her quick detection of a careless withdrawal of mental support on the part of her students. What Mrs. Eddy really feared was that, when she was not as securely poised on the side of spiritual confidence as usual, the students would go to sleep mentally and leave her without support. Let no-one imagine that Mrs. Eddy’s sense of fear was any lack of courage. The best illustration that comes to mind is to picture Mrs. Eddy as a swimmer breasting the waves. When she felt the tidal currents sweeping her backward, she realized that a desperate effort was necessary to withstand this pressure, and she relied on her students to help her, as did the Master in the garden of Gethsemane. To her regret, she saw animal magnetism putting her students to sleep, as it did the disciples of old. She recognized so clearly that a state of mental lethargy is more successful in robbing the Christian Scientist of his mental poise than is a temptation of suffering and pain, since the latter automatically rouses man to action. The time must come when the Field is awakened to see the danger involved in such a mental condition acting as a deterrent, so that it will never submit to the encroachment of apathy.
When one is jostled on the sidewalk, it amounts to nothing. What about such an incident, however, when one is walking on a chalk-line? Again, how do the actions of a sparrow concern the ordinary man? Nevertheless, one of these little birds can be dangerous to one walking over Niagara on a tightrope. If such a one was leaving a history for the guidance of others who wished to attempt the same feat, would he not record the necessity for guarding against the birds, as one would against thieves and assassins? On the one hand, those who had no understanding, would laugh at such a treatise; while on the other hand, those who were blindly loyal to the writer of the treatise, might argue that these little birds were an especially powerful and wicked variety, which would be an effort to vindicate the author, yet to do it blindly.
One of the important parts of Mrs. Eddy’s discovery, was the fact that that which might throw one’s spiritual thought off its scientific base, did not have to be something terrible. It might be some pleasant phase of things, some little distraction that seemed of no moment. Hence, we see that animal magnetism, as Mrs. Eddy unfolded it, is that which tends to throw spiritual thought off its scientific balance. Anyone who reaches the point Mrs. Eddy reached, where the growth of a whole Cause and the spiritual success of thousands of students depends on thought being scientifically balanced, will realize that it was a matter of life and death to Mrs. Eddy when anything threatened to shake her thought. This point is contained in a message which she wrote in pencil and sent to me: “If you had a belief of struggling with indigestion, would you like to have somebody hand a letter to you, that would naturally shock you from head to foot?”
A failure to understand Mrs. Eddy, shows a failure to understand her teachings. Thus, the student must unfold her life spiritually, in order to ascertain how it exemplified and verified her teachings.
Only the man whose hands have become calloused, can pick up a live coal and not suffer. He laughs at the sensitive one who cannot. So the world laughs at the Christian Scientist who is so sensitive, that an alien atmosphere affects him adversely. However, those who are growing in the Truth must reach this standpoint, because mental callousness departs from, rather than approaches, God. Yet, beyond this point, the student can reach the ability to gain a scientific thought and to maintain it without suffering.
One of the greatest crimes of the century would be the glossing over of Mrs. Eddy’s experience, so that her life might appear as a series of incidents in all of which she was the serene victor. What advantage would her life’s record be to those who are struggling to follow in her footsteps, when they face experiences where their faith falters and their hope grows dim, if the times when she had exactly the same struggle should be expunged from her life’s record? In Rudimental Divine Science Mrs. Eddy writes, “The Discoverer of this Science could tell you of timidity, of self-distrust, of friendlessness, toil, agonies, and victories under which she needed miraculous vision to sustain her, when taking the first footsteps in this Science.” Page 17.