Friday, December 3, 2010

"One December night in 1910..."

"I can't stand to fly.
I'm not that naive.
I'm just out to find
the better part of me.

I'm more than a bird.
I'm more than a plane.
More than some pretty face,
beside a train.
It's not easy to be, me..."


I weep each time I hear Five for Fighting's song, "
Superman."  It makes me think of spiritual luminaries like Jesus, Mother Teresa, Mandela, Moses, and yes, Mary Baker Eddy.  These were men and women who were never trying to "fly."  I believe that they were only trying to find the better part of themselves, and that once they'd discovered some significant spiritual milestones along the way, felt compelled...by compassion...to share those insights with humanity. 

One hundred years ago, tonight, Mary Baker Eddy quietly passed away at her home in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, with her dearest friends close by.  Her last written words -- in her own hand --were, "God is my life."  I think she discovered, not only the better part of herself, but the best.  A sense of "self" that understands exactly why God identified Himself to Moses as "I AM."

This is my story about how that night -- 100 years ago -- had an impact on my life, 87 years later. 

It was early December, 1997.  My husband, daughters, and I were living in the carriage house at Mary Baker Eddy's Chestnut Hill home.  At the time I was immersed in projects related to the life and contributions of this extraordinary thought-leader.  Living in the contextual setting of her life was a remarkable gift.

In exchange for our housing, we made daily security checks on what our daughter called, "the big house," Mary Baker Eddy's former home.  It is a large stone mansion set on a hill in a suburb of Boston. At regular intervals during the day we would walk through the house to make sure that pipes had not burst, doors were secure, and that lights were on/off. 

That December night I was feeling overwhelmed by our circumstances.  I was facing some pretty aggressive demons and was feeling quite alone.  At midnight I offered to make the long walk up to the "big house" and do the security check myself. 

It was a bone chilling night.  The kind of cold that didn't slowly creep through layers of clothing, but penetrated immediately like a steely claw that wouldn't let go.  The night sky was a star-peppered navy velvet, and a full moon rose over the slate roof of the mansion like the face of a benevolent luminary.   It was beautiful, but all I felt was the weight of our plight.  Health concerns, financial uncertainty, looming homelessness -- they all seemed to have actual mass that night as they sat heavily on my heart.

I walked into the house by way of the back door, large flaslight in hand. I made my way through the arches and hallways of the first floor before ascending the flight of stairs leading to the landing just outside of Eddy's former bedroom.  

[It's important to note here, for readers who are not familiar with this property, that her home had been kept intact for 87 years -- each room appointed and furnished exactly as it had been the night she passed.  It served as a museum of sorts.  Tours were offered during which visitors could see the setting in which Eddy and her household had lived at the turn of the century.] 

As I stood on the landing, it was not lost on me (steeped as I had been in the history of her life) that it was close to the anniversary of her passing.  I thought about that night.  How her household workers had supported her, and how this must have been a very private part of her spiritual journey -- a threshold that she alone could cross.

I felt that way myself that night.  I was facing my darkest fears.  Being without housing as a wife and mother -- with no seeming resources at hand to secure a home for my family -- was my worst nightmare.  And yet it was that dark corridor which loomed for us just beyond the dawning of the New Year.  With one child in grade school, and infant twins, I couldn't imagine how we would find our way out of the situation without divine intervention. 

My husband was doing everything he could, but options seemed non-existent, and our prospects for housing were bleak.  Besides that, we were in the middle of the early stages of adopting our twins and we needed to be in a secure home-setting for the adoption agency to sign off on our compliance with state requirements so that the judge could finalize our adoption and declare that we were -- forever -- our daughters' permanent family.

Standing on the landing, just outside of Eddy's bedroom door, I longed to have her tell me what to do -- or at least how to pray about such a hopeless situation.  Then it occurred to me that she too had faced many dark nights in that room.  I wanted to know what it felt like to be her.  What had she surround herself with? 

I stepped over the satin rope that kept visitors just outside the threshold of the room during tours, and sat on the floor right next to the head of her bed.  I turned off the flashlight,  closed my eyes for a few moments, and prayed to really see what she saw. 

When I opened my eyes, there were three things that immediately caught my attention. 

When Eddy first moved into that house she was disappointed with it size and opulence. So she'd had her quarters reconfigured so that she had a small bedroom and an adjoining office. She'd also had a skylight put in the the ceiling over the landing just outside her bedroom door. This opening let in natural light.  That dark winter night, moonlight that poured through the skylight, and filtered into her bedroom through the open door. It was as "soft as a moonbeam mantling the earth" and it fell on the other two images that had immediately caught my attention.

One was a portrait of Jesus.  Simply framed and just a bit to the right, it would have been about eye-level on the wall directly in front of her as she sat up in bed.  This made me cry.  To be reminded of the savior who, as she herself had said was, "waiting and watching in voiceless agony" during his night of "gloom and glory" in the garden of Gethsemane,  humbled me greatly.  I could see how his portrait served to galvanize her courage.

The other image was an already familiar etching of Daniel in the lions den.  In this depiction, Daniel has his back to the lions, his hand are gently folded behind him, and he has his face upturned towards the light that is pouring through a small barred window.  He is facing the light -- not the lions.  He is peaceful, not defensive.  He is focused and calm, not distracted and distressed.  Its message was clear to me.

This piece was also simply framed and hung almost at eye-level on the same wall as Jesus' portrait -- just opposite her headboard.  The moonlight fell on these two images with such gentleness that I felt as if they had been kept exactly as they had been -- for all those years -- just so I could sit with them that night and be comforted, encouraged, and healed.

I will never forget that night sitting on the floor next to her bed.  It was almost as if I'd been given a holyland tour of the garden of Gethsemane and nothing had changed.  As if Jesus' tears had never dried that night, and still lay in salty pools on the rocks.  I could almost hear the song of the those first century nightingales, the cooing pair of doves that had nestled beside him as he prayed, and the scent of jasmine that perfumed the velvety air while his disciples slept. 

But my holyland was a worn carpet, a narrow bed, a moonbeam, the face of the Savior, the posture of a peacemaker...and the prayers of a woman.

It seems like such a small part of this story to say that during those next months of ceaseless prayer, we were shown -- step-by-step -- exactly what we needed to do to continue the work we loved and find just the right home for our family. 

The larger story for me is about a woman, who was just that, a woman.  A woman who never sought to be great -- only good.  Who never sought fame or fortune, but to understand, for herself, the better part of "me" the "I AM" of spiritual being. 

I believe, that when she wrote, "God is my life," on December 1st -- two days before her passing -- she did just that.

I don't remember the cold as I walked back from "the big house" to our cottage that night.  I only remember the moon, the stars, and the simple room where a woman had prayed one December night in 1910.

Thank you for your courage, and your example...

Kate
Kate Robertson, CS

16 comments:

  1. my friend Tony asked his FB friends to post their reasons why Mary Baker Eddy should be of interest to the public. Here were my first few answer:

    ‎- pointed humanity in the direction of God as not just "all" but "All-in-all"...this was radical...and it still is.

    - expected Love (God) to be impartial and universal in its adaptation and bestowals. No hierarchy, no privilege, no religious ownership, no nationalism. Think of what this concept if accepted, could do for the world.

    - encouraged us to see "ALL things" through the lens of a God-created, Mind-maintained, Love-sustained, Spirit-impelled, Soul-celebrated, Truth-defined, Principle-ordered, Life-perpetuated reality. Nothing left out..."from a blade of grass...to a star...distinct and eternal."

    - she gave women the right to vote in an organizational democracy decades before they would achieve suffrage, thus training a core of women who understood the rights, responsibilities, privileges, and demands of voting and could help others navigate this new opportunity when suffrage was achieved nationally.

    - she reclaimed the word "heal" as the recognition of innate, secure and inviolable wholeness (bringing it back into alignment with its etymological roots "whoelth" wholeness) rather than the fixing of ailments, brokeness, separation, fragmentation.

    - she asserted that peace was a power, not the absence of war or chaos.

    - she lifted the medium of process off of our realization of good.

    - she claimed the body to be "the servant" of Mind, thus reclaiming the coincidence of heaven and earth, the human with the divine, and demanded that the Word be made flesh and dwell among us....

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  2. Anonymous7:17 AM

    I really loved reading your blog this morning. I will be honest with you... I have never felt a very high regard for Mary Baker Eddy, and I am not quite sure why. I guess I have always kind of felt like Christian Scientist have set her on this pedestal... And I also was turned off by the fact that many of her workers referred to her as "mother" this seemed rather strange to me too.

    I really wanted to write and tell you that the story you wrote and the comment you posted has helped me to understand many of the reasons why she should be thought of with such high regard, and why we should be so grateful to her for what she gave humanity. Your story has given me a chance to see her in a new light, and it gives me an appreciation for her and her life and the gift she gave us.

    Thank you for writing your stories, and thank you for your courage and example.
    Thank you so much!

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  3. Anonymous7:28 AM

    I think I took her life and her work for granted. I have never really taken the
    time to consider all that she gave us.... your blog this morning has caused me to stop and think about her in a whole new light. I just wanted to thank you for that.

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  4. Margy8:42 AM

    Beautiful reminder of how powerful her example is to all of us. She constantly pointed us to her writings, not her personality. I feel her presence vividly as I read her words. Thank you for this lovely reminder.

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  5. Anonymous10:16 AM

    re: calling MBE "mother." May seems strange to us, but not at the time ... labor activist Mary Harris Jones lived 1837 to 1930, and was called Mother Jones. Was a term of respect.

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  6. Anonymous10:27 AM

    Dearest Kate, This is by far the most moving thing I have read of your work. What a priceless moment. Deep.

    I recently re-read "Memoirs of Mary Baker Eddy by Adam Dickey". pg 20 says "She supervised the hanging of all the pictures in her house, but was more careful of those hung in her bedroom... They too were changed many times until she had them just where she wanted them." No doubt few have sat there in the moonlight at the head of her bed and shared that exalted view.

    Thanks so much for taking me there. A luminary lights the path for others. Often they need a machete in the other hand to clear the path too. I love you more than you know. :)

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  7. Tony Lobl has posted the list of 100 reasons Mary Baker Eddy should be of interest to the public on his blog. If you are interested, check it out here:

    http://christiansciencecomsuk.wordpress.com/2010/12/03/100-reflections-on-why-mary-baker-eddys-life-and-ideas-still-resonate-100-years-on/

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  8. For more history...including archival photos, feel free to visit the CS History site:

    http://christiansciencehistory.typepad.com/blog/2010/12/it-was-100-years-ago-today.html

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  9. Your journal is beautiful. I'm going to follow you.

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  10. Anonymous1:49 PM

    Kate, Many thanks for such a beautifully written, moving account. It inspires one to think more deeply, commit more fully, love more selflessly.
    (Any possibility of lightening the background so it can be read more easily? Smiles)

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  11. Anonymous5:42 PM

    Kate, thank you for sharing this deeply moving experience, so beautifully written. Reading itI felt that I was experiencing it as well. I as well find that turning ever more completely to the Most High in my darkest moments renews my strength. God is my life! God directs my life! The Divine Energy that creates, maintains and sustains the universe is creating, maintaining and sustaining me. I give thanks unto the Lord!

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  12. Kate...I confess I don't always take time to read the various blogs available online, but tonight I felt led to this one and what a wonderful leading it was! Your writing just gets better and better, and this was particularly illuminating and inspiring. Thanks for the prayer and time that must surely have gone into sharing it with us.

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  13. Debby Holcomb11:12 PM

    Beautiful.

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  14. Kate:
    I know I have read this before, but tonight it takes my breath away. It is truly inspired.

    Although it has been many a year since I felt the bite of a New England winter night, I felt it tonight in reading your story, as well as the calm of the night lights--the moon and the stars--or maybe the STAR itself as it led the Shepherds to the manger. This is a manger story, with all the power of the promised Comforter coming to comfort and heal all of us.

    I love every image in this account, from you stepping over the velvet rope, to sinking to the floor by Mary Baker Eddy's bed, to the moonlight casting its laser beams onto Jesus and Daniel AND the lions. Equally tangible--this young momma with 3 baby girls wondering where their next beds would be.

    You are such a genuine and primitive Christian. The best compliment I can imagine paying someone. So glad I found this tonight.

    PS: Also, loved the list you included from your friend's website.

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  15. Kate:
    I know I have read this before, but tonight it takes my breath away. It is truly inspired.

    Although it has been many a year since I felt the bite of a New England winter night, I felt it tonight in reading your story, as well as the calm of the night lights--the moon and the stars--or maybe the STAR itself as it led the Shepherds to the manger. This is a manger story, with all the power of the promised Comforter coming to comfort and heal all of us.

    I love every image in this account, from you stepping over the velvet rope, to sinking to the floor by Mary Baker Eddy's bed, to the moonlight casting its laser beams onto Jesus and Daniel AND the lions. Equally tangible--this young momma with 3 baby girls wondering where their next beds would be.

    You are such a genuine and primitive Christian. The best compliment I can imagine paying someone. So glad I found this tonight.

    PS: Also, loved the list you included from your friend's website.

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  16. Kate;

    I know I have read this account before but tonight it touched me as brand new. It is truly inspired.

    It has been may a year since I felt the bite of a New England winter night, but I felt it tonight in your account. I loved every image--from you stepping over the velvet rope, to sinking to the floor by Mary Baker Eddy's bed, to the moonbeams layered rays shining on the images of Jesus, Daniel AND the lions. And not to be left out, the image of a heart-heavy momma of three little girls, wondering where their next beds would be.

    Thank you for sharing the unique insider's view of this evening of Grace with all of us, taking us not merely into the intimacy of Mrs. Eddy's bedroom as a tourist might see it, but into the silence and struggle she undoubtedly knew herself on many a dark, winter's night.

    It lends me courage and lets me breathe a little freer just by visiting her bedroom and those moonbeams, through you.

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