This month celebrates women's history, and in that connection I've been reading "Patently Female." The authors, Ethlie Ann Vare and Greg Ptacek, tell the story of women inventors, among them those who developed fabric-softener sheets, the permanent-wave machine, and various cleaning devices. These inventions are logical outgrowths of what has been traditionally thought of as "women's work." But the book also speaks of other inventors and discoverers, including Donna Shirley, who headed up the Mars Pathfinder Project for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Jocelyn Bell, who discovered the pulsar.
The range of inventions shows that women haven't felt bound by tradition in their quest to improve their own and others' lives. It's especially delightful that the Mars rover that kept many of us riveted to our TV screens was named the "Sojourner Truth," honoring a slave who found her freedom and led others to liberty.
There is another woman whose lifework has led people to liberty from sickness and sin. She is honored today as one of the most influential women of her time in fact, as one whose words changed the world. She is Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy.
At a time when it wasn't easy for women to speak out publicly and when women theologians were rare, Mrs. Eddy presented a new concept, which she called Christian Science. Her idea wasn't tied to a particular denomination. In her primary work, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," she articulated what she perceived as the Science behind Jesus' teachings, a method of spiritual healing that was accessible to everyone.
She saw that people were taught to believe that sickness and sin were inevitable and inescapable. Yet during Jesus' ministry he healed all kinds of troubles and never condemned anyone to suffering. He said frankly, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). This truth, Mrs. Eddy found, is that man is wholly spiritual. This doesn't mean that we are ethereal beings who float around like ghosts. Rather, it means that you and I are spiritual ideas, composed of qualities such as intelligence, goodness, purity, strength, love, and that these qualities are tangible forces in the world.
When Mrs. Eddy made this discovery, she could not keep it for herself or a few chosen friends. She wanted to help humanity. "The lame, the deaf, the dumb, the blind, the sick, the sensual, the sinner, I wished to save from the slavery of their own beliefs ..." she wrote. "Christian Science raises the standard of liberty and cries: 'Follow me! Escape from the bondage of sickness, sin, and death!' " (pgs. 226, 227)
She devoted her life to healing and teaching how to heal spiritually. The church she established is one of the avenues through which the healing work of Christian Science continues today.
When I first learned about Christian Science, more than a quarter-century ago, I had many health problems. I was often sick and in pain. While I was working toward my doctorate in religious education, I was studying both theology and the Bible. Somehow the promises of the Bible seemed so much more hopeful than the theological views I was examining the ones that argued that sin is inescapable and that suffering comes from God. This dichotomy puzzled me.
I asked a friend about Christian Science. As I read Science and Health, my whole view of life changed. Instead of accepting sickness, I challenged it, using the ideas in this book and in the Bible. Gradually my health improved; in fact, my whole life improved. A condition that my doctor had told me was incurable changed, and I have been free of it for many years.
This healing required spiritual study and the mental discipline to give up anger, frustration, impatience, and other character flaws. But I realized that I could give them up, that they were no part of my true character as Mind's spiritual idea. With each healing, my conviction grew that I and everyone am spiritual and subject to God's tender discipline. The result was a liberation I could never have imagined.
So as we celebrate women's history week, I'm grateful for the achievements of many women. They've made the world a better place. But I'm especially grateful for the message Mary Baker Eddy devoted her life to conveying, because it has brought healing not only to me but to thousands of others.