From Mary Baker Eddy, Her Spiritual Footsteps by Gilbert Carpenter
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Mrs. Eddy Guided by Spiritual Perception
One of the interesting parts of Adam H. Dickey’s Memoirs of Mary Baker Eddy is found on page 114, as follows: “A story is told of Charles M. Schwab, the steel magnate, who was reared under the tutelage of Andrew Carnegie. One day, the story goes, when Mr. Schwab was Carnegie’s chief lieutenant, he described to his superior some action he had taken and then started to explain why he had taken it. ‘Oh, never mind the reason, Charlie,’ Carnegie broke in, ‘what you do is always right, but your reasons for it are always wrong.’”
Mr. Dickey states as follows: “Often the reasons for which our Leader took action in certain directions were not clear to the workers about her. It would seem as if the reason advanced by her was a poor one, and not worthy of the action she was taking. It always turned out, however, that her action was right, regardless of the reason assigned, which convinced those who were familiar with her work, that her judgment was unerring in every direction, and that in following the direction of divine Wisdom, she never made a mistake.”
In Miscellany, on page 205, there is a letter to Third Church of Christ, Scientist, in London. Mrs. Eddy dictated the first draft of this letter to me. As I transcribed it on the typewriter, I thought how strange were some of the statements that it contained. For instance, she wrote, “Seeing a man in the moon, or seeing a person in the picture of Jesus, or believing that you see an individual who has passed through the shadow called death, is not eeing the spiritual idea of God; but it is seeing a human belief, which is far from the fact that portrays Life, Truth, Love.” When she cabled to the clerk of the church to return her letter unopened, I was convinced that she had done it in order to remove some of the statements which seemed unusual to me. On the contrary, she merely made a few minor changes and remailed the letter.
Then the wisdom back of her action was unfolded to me. As I have stated before, I was instructed by Mrs. Eddy to give her those letters which could not be answered without her help. The remainder were attended to by the secretaries. Thus I knew, that for some time letters had been coming to Mrs. Eddy which she had not seen, and which contained questions raised by students of Christian Science. To be specific, several called attention to a distinguishable portrait of Mrs. Eddy in the shadows on the full moon, and requested to know whether this fact had spiritual significance. Another case came from my own home, Providence, where a portrait of the boy, Jesus, hung in the Christian Science Reading Room. When viewed in a certain light, his face resembled Mrs. Eddy’s. One practitioner had actually piloted a group of students to the rooms just to see this phenomenon.
Strangely enough, just at the time of the writing of this letter to London, there was an epidemic of these questions regarding natural phenomena, of which Mrs. Eddy was not cognizant. Yet wisdom guided her to correct this error, and to associate with spiritualism all such notions, namely, the belief that in any way mortal mind or matter can express Spirit. She established for all time the fact that such phenomena have no scientific significance.
This incident illustrates what Mr. Dickey mentioned. The only reason I failed to understand Mrs. Eddy’s wisdom in including these statements in her letter, was my own forgetfulness of the need at that time, a need which inspiration met through her, although humanly she was quite unaware of it.
Another illustrative point concerns the formation of the By-law relative to a three-year term for Readers. It was generally understood, that it was instituted to cover the case of a student who was using the position of First Reader to dominate the members of her church. This reason might seem like an insufficient excuse to introduce a new By-law into the Manual. However, it was one of the wisest moves Mrs. Eddy ever made.
She acted to meet what might seem to be a small error. Yet later, it was discovered that she had met a universal need of the whole Cause for all time. She was like the little boy who saved the country, by holding his finger all night in a small hole in the dike. When he saw such a small stream, he might have been tempted to ignore it; whereas, if he had, the whole countryside would have been inundated. So, the only proper deduction to accept about Mrs. Eddy’s reasons for doing certain things, is that her higher wisdom led her to be punctilious in matters which seemed so insignificant and personal to the students, that they were not worth the effort she exerted to meet them. Yet, in stopping the small gap, she met the greater need connected with a world-wide error.
Some of the most significant achievements in Christian Science, the most far-reaching effects, originated in Mrs. Eddy’s endeavor to meet what would seem to be a personal and specific abuse, as this example of the threeyear term for Readers in all Christian Science churches. Mrs. Eddy saw the need of destroying the possibility of the student in question holding a position in the church that carried too much temptation for personal leadership. Yet, in order to do it impersonally, she made the whole Field, who were loyal and obedient, acquiesce to this demand. What a forward step this proved to be for the whole Cause of Christian Science! Our Leader perceived that the position of Reader constituted a training ground for students, an educational experience, which would be made more far-reaching by rotation in office. Hence, her readiness to meet the demands of a little outcropping of error, resulted in a universal rule being established.
Another important lesson hinted at by this episode, relates to all inspirational interpretation of Scripture. On the surface, the Bible seems to be personal and to refer merely to the incidents, significant and insignificant, in the lives of those who lived many hundreds of years ago. Yet, because the histories of these patriarchs, prophets and saints can be shown to have embodied universal spiritual rules, the first step in understanding the Bible must be to begin discovering these universal laws, buried beneath what seem to be experiences of individuals. The Bible is like the light from some distant star which seems small. Astronomers, however, are able, through that light, to calculate the distance, and also the composition, of that star. Similarly, it is possible to discover exemplified, through every incident in the Bible, some universal spiritual law that is infinite in its implication and application.
Mrs. Eddy was so spiritually attuned, that even a slight need in her Cause would start her thought functioning spiritually, in order to proclaim a truth that was universal in its adaptation. In this characteristic of our Leader, we are reminded of a sprinkler system, designed to extinguish the smallest fire before it can gain any headway. One seemingly small need would start Mrs. Eddy’s whole spiritual system operating.
The deduction from the foregoing reasoning is that the story about Andrew Carnegie does not strictly apply to Mrs. Eddy, for she did not do right things with a wrong conception of what made her do it.
The students were tempted to criticise Mrs. Eddy for making too much of little things, things which appeared on the surface to be merely natural manifestations. These, Mrs. Eddy would so often attribute to malicious animal magnetism. The students did not realize, as she did, that animal magnetism often works through the natural and insignificant, concealing itself in this subtle way. Mrs. Eddy said to the students at one time, “We must overcome all little things as well as large. We must not feel too much encouraged over a victory, for everything in mortal mind must be overcome. If you fail in one iota, like an example in mathematics, every figure right but one, the example is incorrect; so it is with our problem. All little things must be overcome. Then we rise above substance matter; and that includes sin, sickness, death. I pray and watch in the little details; someone must, as good is expressed in the minutiae of things.”
There are always three ways to account for a so-called natural effect: it may be the manifestation of a purely natural condition of mortal thought; it may be the result of animal magnetism, maliciously directed; it may be the action of Truth causing chemicalization. It requires an awakened spiritual thought to determine, through probing beneath the surface, what the specific error back of any manifestation is.
When Cain and Abel brought their offerings to the Lord, it demanded spiritual perception to determine that back of Abel’s offering was spiritual thought, and back of Cain’s was mortal mind. The correctness of the analysis which accepted one, and had not respect to the other, was proved later, when Cain’s underlying error of thought was exposed through the murder of his brother. Nevertheless, to the senses, there seemed little difference between the firstling of the flock and the fruit of the ground. The secret motive and thought back of them were what made the distinction.
Cain’s offering represented a seemingly innocent manifestation, the fruit of the ground; yet it was not acceptable, because the motive back of it was to perpetuate, rather than to eliminate, a finite sense. Cain sought God’s blessing on human harmony. The error of such a motive was exposed, when it proved to be no protection against the suggestion of murder.
No one is surprised when a girl, detecting a dishonorable intent, refuses flowers that are sent to her. Her intuition detects a wrong motive back of them, which makes them unacceptable to her.
Animal magnetism represents dirt in the mental realm. Unless it is detected and cast out, it despoils the purity and integrity of our mental home. Mrs. Eddy taught that it is powerless, but she also roused students to fear it to the point, where they would be awakened to detect it and cast it out.
Material dirt takes many forms. Right methods are requisite to eliminate it successfully. Similarly, Mrs. Eddy’s exhaustive teaching, concerning the nature of animal magnetism, is intended to equip the student with effective means of disposing of it.
Mrs. Eddy’s reasons for what she did, were always spiritual. Her decisions were based on spiritual perception. A student who could not discern mental cause and effect, might feel at times that Mrs. Eddy had insufficient reason for acting as she did, especially in the details of running her home. She once said, that in forty years she had not made a single mistake in being guided in matters pertaining to her Cause. In like manner, she could have said, that never once did she make a move, or give an order or rebuke, that concerned anyone in her household, that was not for his spiritual good, no matter how much it may have seemed to the contrary. Her offerings were always acceptable to God, because the motive back of them was right.