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The Search for Spiritual Healing--book review: Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Discovery

There are three things you need to know about the early life of Mary Baker Eddy. First, from young childhood she refused to accept the Calvinist doctrine of predestination--that God would punish a man by sending him to hell for all eternity. Indeed, this was the belief of her father and mother, and of the membership of the Congregational church the Baker family attended in Bow, New Hampshire.

Second, from her early youth until midlife, Mary Baker Eddy experienced continuous illness and physical suffering. In turn, this led her to seek out various remedies that would relieve her suffering and restore her health.

Third, Mary Baker Eddy was a lifelong Bible reader. From her study of scripture and persistent payers, she would find the inspiration that would heal her of mortal injuries suffered from a fall on the ice, as well as restore her to perfect health.


Born July 16, 1821, Mary was the youngest of the Baker family, that included three boys and three girls. The father, Mark Baker was a staunch Calvinist, who believed that the vast majority of mankind must and would be damned for the glory of God. Abigail Baker, Mary's mother, possessed a more sympathizing nature, whom young Mary turned to for spiritual comfort. The King James Bible was central to all this. While Mark Baker could be uncompromising in his Calvinist beliefs, Abigail Baker's natural cheerfulness tended to humanize Mark's rigid Calvinist doctrine. Nonetheless, young Mary, a sensitive and very bright child, found it hard to reconcile the stern resolve of her father's Calvinist beliefs with the lovingkindness of her mother's Christianity. For the first ten years of her life this proved to be an irreconcilable dilemma, that caused her much grief and several illnesses.

The first step out of Mary's spiritual dilemma was her growing conviction that God could not be less loving than her mother. The climax of the struggle with her father over predestination continued and resulted in her being bedridden with a fever. It was her mother's tender counsel "to lean on God's love, and to go to Him in prayer for an answer" that would bring her sudden healing and release of anxiety.


New England was something of an intellectual hotbed in the 19th century, producing the likes of authors Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville, poets Emily Dickinson, John Greenleaf Whittier, Henry David Thoreau, and the noted Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes. Like many New England families, the Baker family was well read. Mary loved and appreciated poetry. She also wrote poetry, as did her oldest brother Albert, who would graduate with honors from Dartmouth University.

Mary's father Mark Baker, a successful farmer, did not attend college, but was very bright as well as a quick study. He also was an avid reader who possessed a library full of books. He served his church as clerk and deacon. He also served as chairman of the local school board. He acted as a sort of low-level attorney involving disputes among his farming neighbors. His most prominent case, involved a legal dispute between the townships of Bow and Loudon, in which he acted as counsel for Bow, argued the case, and won it. His opposing counsel was none other than Franklin Pierce, a famous New England attorney, who would later be elected as fourteenth President of the United States.

When Mary was twelve, the Baker family moved to Concord and joined the Congregational Church in that town. The pastor, Nathaniel Bouton, was a famous preacher of considerable intellectual breadth and character, concerned with the social and spiritual welfare of his fellow citizens. While the entire Baker family was welcomed as new members, young Mary, due to her religious beliefs, was not allowed to even enter into the church building, unless she repented of her disbelief in predestination. About her encounter with Pastor Bouton's religious demands, Mary would later write: "I told him I would not be saved and my brothers and sisters have no chance. I was made sick by it, because I could not believe in it, and I stood out and would not join the church." The two argued at length, but after much prayer by Mary, the good pastor relented and admitted Mary to church membership--"along with my protests," she said.


Nineteen-century New England was a haven for people who practiced so-called "faith cures", including the use of homeopathy, transcendentalism. and mesmerism. One of the foremost practitioners of faith cures was Phineas Quimby of Portland, Maine. Quimby was a clockmaker by trade who had never attended medical school. Quimby became famous for healing people through the use of mesmerism and laying his hands on patients. Mary visited Quimbly in his office for treatment, and was healed. However, some time later, she relapsed with the same ailment. Nevertheless, she was so impressed with this charismatic man and his healing method, that she joined his practice, and began treating a number of his patients. As with her own experience, Quimby's method would provide only temporary relief. Eventually Mary separated from Phineas Quimby's practice, but continued her search throughout New England for a permanent cure.


Before meeting Quimby, she married a South Carolina businessman, named George Washington Glover. After the wedding the couple moved to Glover's home in Charleston, South Carolina, where he managed a lumber business. It would be a short marriage. Within two months Glover died suddenly from scarlet fever. After the funeral, Mary learned she was pregnant. She bore a son, whom she named George Washington Glover II. Shortly thereafter, she and her newborn son boarded a passenger ship and returned to live with her parents, now residing in Sanbornton Bridge, New Hampshire.

Still suffering from ill health, Mary's family and friends thought it best to have her son (now four-years old) placed in foster care. While Mary strenuously fought the decision, she felt too ill to put up much of a fight. Eventually, the family raising her son, decided to move out west and settle in Minnesota, where George Glover II would grow up without his mother.

In 1853, Mary met and married Dr. Daniel Patterson, a ne'er-do-well dentist, hoping the marriage would allow her to regain custody of her son. The Pattersons settled in North Groton, New Hampshire. It was not a happy marriage, and Mary eventually divorced Patterson. After that, she moved to Warren, Maine, and lived with close friends. After two months, she moved to Lynn, Massachusetts.


It was while residing in Lynn, that Mary (now assuming the name of Mary M. Patterson) was injured in a fall on the ice. The following is a report that appeared in the Lynn Reporter, dated Saturday, February 3, 1866:

"Mrs. Mary M. Paterson, of Lynn, fell upon the ice near the corner of Market and Oxford streets, on Thursday evening, and was severely injured. She was taken up in an insensible condition and carried to the residence of S. M. Bubier, Esq, near by, where she was kindly cared for during the night. Dr. Cushing, who was called, found her injuries to be internal, and of a very serious nature. inducing spasms and intense suffering. She was removed to her home yesterday, though in very critical condition."

The accident had occurred while Mrs. Patterson, together with a group of friends, was on her way to a meeting of the Good Templars. As soon as it was realized that she was badly injured she was carried into the nearest house. Dr. Alvin M. Cushing, a popular homeopathic physician and surgeon, was immediately called. He found her partially conscious, semi-hysterical, complaining of severe pain in the back of her head and neck. After examining her he gave strict orders that she should not be moved. Two or three friends offered to stay with her through the night.

In the morning, Mary regained consciousness sufficiently to insist--against the good doctor's orders--that she be moved to her own home. In order to lessen her pain the doctor gave her one-eighth grain of morphine which allowed her to sleep peacefully for the several hours it took to transport her by bed to her home. The move was supervised by the doctor, who remained with his patient until she regained consciousness on Friday.

At some point on Sunday afternoon, when Mary lay helpless in bed, she asked to be given her Bible and to be left alone. Turning to one of Jesus' healings, she began to read. Years later she found it difficult to recall which passage she had read, but she did remember Jesus' words flooding her consciousness: "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." Quite suddenly, she was filled with the conviction that her life was in God--that God was the only Life, the only I Am. At that moment she was healed.


Writing about the incident years later she declared, "That short experience included a glimpse of the great fact that I have since tried to make plain to others, namely, Life is in and of Spirit; this Life being the sole reality of existence."

For three years after her healing she spent all of her time studying the Bible, in search of learning exactly how she was healed. In the fall of 1866, she began taking notes as the result of her study. Some time thereafter, she began seeking people in need of healing, in an effort to apply what she was learning. In 1867, she healed her niece, Ellen Pilsbury, who had been dying of enteritis.

The following year she met and healed poet John Greenleaf Whittier at his home. Afterwards he said, "I thank you, Mary for your call, it had done me much good."

Thereafter she took up the full-time practice of spiritual healing, charging patients very little, and nothing at all if they could not afford to pay her.

While Mary successfully healed a number of people, it was her primary goal to teach others how to heal. In meeting young Richard Kennedy of Amesbury, she had found someone eager to learn her healing method. Kennedy was one of several people she instructed in the practice of Christian Science, but Kennedy was the first to heal effectively and consistently.

By now, she was writing down notes on her Bible study, including how to be a successful spiritual healer. This would lead to her to writing her first book on the science of healing. All the while she was writing, she was moving around New England, staying with friends and family, in search of a permanent residence, while gathering around her a band of loyal followers.

In 1874, she completed her manuscript and delivered it to a Boston printing house. The following year she was able to buy a house at 8 Broad Street, in Lynn. Afterwards, she wrote additional sections for the book she now titled "Science and Health". After this, eight students of hers banded together and began holding church services led by her at Good Templar's Hall in Lynn.

In October of 1875, she published one thousand copies of what would become the first edition of "Science and Health". She would spend the rest of her life founding a church that would become a worldwide religion.

- END -

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