Working alongside my dad on the family farm, I grew up learning how to operate and maintain machinery: tractors, balers, and a double-shift 10-wheeler. We worked outdoors in weather with temperatures ranging from minus 10 to plus 110 degrees Fahrenheit. You could say, I developed a thick skin. Snide comments about me being a girl, doing a man’s job, rolled off.
Dad treated me as an equal, giving me a push out the door of the male-dominated culture that pervades the milieu. But, Dad also protected me from the guys who ogled my abilities. Bluntly said, I learned not to let my achievements be misused by men who wanted a ride.
It wasn’t easy. I sometimes liked the personal attention from the easily impressed guys, but Dad snapped me back to reality. I had work to do, for the sake of the work and for the sake of bettering the world.
I did marry a man in 1983 who respected me rather than worshipped me or my achievements. We’re still married.
My experience on a level playing field has expanded in regard to religion.
I grew up learning about Christian Science, discovered by a 19th century American woman, Mary Baker Eddy. She was a spiritual healer and a prolific writer on the subject of spirituality in healing. Her core book is, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.
Despite the outdated references and language in Science and Health, Eddy’s ideas gave me a push out of the human mind’s realities into a divine Mind reality. She wrote, “All is infinite Mind and its infinite manifestation, for God is All-in-all.”
That abstract statement pings me to trust and develop the feeling that there is more to life than what physical senses and human minds tell me.
Though Eddy was a pioneer in human mind study, the clincher for effectiveness was her inclusion of the study of divine Mind. While I learn from science that physical senses are limited and human minds are changeable, I learn from Eddy’s writings that divine Mind is steadily revealing wisdom and healing, to everyone. Like rain on the crops and the weeds.
I learn how to find connectivity between those touching moments when we know we are a part of something greater than meets the eye and when we feel the love that guides us away from marginalizing and isolating any element of humanity.
When fostering children, I reasoned with them that we had the same Father-Mother God even though we may have different human parents. “No one child is better than another child,” I’d tell them.
The children became less fearful, less faultfinding and more peaceful.
Of course, it was the reasoning that was more powerful than my words, as I learned while studying Christian Science. Reasoning is a human faculty that helps us overcome fear and self-doubt so we can sync with infinite Mind’s manifestation.
For this knowledge, I couldn’t help but admire Eddy, and while in my twenties, I surrounded myself with other admirers.
However, while in my thirties, a little red flag of caution began waving, especially when listening to male admirers who piously revered—ogled—Eddy.
It took me years to see that the admiration earmarked Eddy as superior to humanity. It took more years to realize that attitude naturally led to the conclusion that other people are inferior.
The red flag flapped more heartily when two male admirers professed to know what Eddy believed and how Eddy expected people to act today. I fought off the feeling of being unfair to Eddy and entertained the idea that the men’s form of admiration for a woman was a mistake headed straight back to the patriarchal trajectory supported by mass human consciousness.
I didn’t want to follow.
Interestingly, it was Eddy’s critics who veered my mind to reason further. The critics took Eddy’s words out of context, overlooked her achievements and knocked her personality around with accusations of being a cultish leader leading to doom.
Accusations aside, it was the practice of taking words out of context that resonated with the Eddy admirers who based their decisions also on select writings. Was it to support the status quo? To keep their jobs? To purify a religious race? It didn’t matter, what mattered was my response.
Assigning myself to a search mission, I re-read Eddy’s writings to verify that most of what critics and admirers touted had no solid foundation on which to place her.
I also interpreted Eddy’s Science and Health and found the encouragement to continue understanding God and practicing spiritual healing, without human approval or disapproval. I found the inspiration that I could continue to work for the sake of working to better the secular and religious realms. I found I could credit Eddy for her good ideas without crediting her for things she didn’t or couldn’t do.
I found the reasons not to set Eddy or any woman on a pedestal to fall.
Cheryl Petersen is a freelance reporter for three newspapers and a magazine in upstate New York. Her books are: from science & religion to God: A briefer narrative of Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health, and 21st Century Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: A revision and update of Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health. She is a columnist online at www.Beliefnet.com Cheryl’s op/ends have been printed in Times Union and Sun Bulletin. She earned a B.S. at Colorado State University.