Recently, as I was looking through the book section of a local thrift shop, I came across something entitled “Christian Science Hymnal” published originally in 1898, then revised and enlarged having the most recent copyright of 1960. Curiosity compelled me to see if the founder of Christian Science may have had any hymns of her own. Other founders wrote hymns for their budding denominations. Charles Wesley wrote for the Methodists. Eliza Snow wrote for the Mormons and Emma Smith compiled the hymnbook for the Mormons. Perhaps Mary Baker Eddy had something in the Christian Science Hymnbook. Indeed, she did. With the variations in melody, her works made up 34 of the 429 hymns in the compilation. The poems/hymns she wrote in the hymnal were written at various times in her life. The 1898 edition of the hymnal only had five of her poems, but later editions added two more. One of the seven hymns is sung each Sunday in Christian Science churches throughout the 76 countries in the world where the Church exists as specified in the Church Manual written by Eddy. I found it odd that though it contained many women-written hymns, it had absolutely no hymns by her contemporary, Fanny Crosby (1820-1915). Crosby’s hymns were frequently published by other denominations and she was the most popular hymn writer of her day. I cannot explain this omission. So who is this poet/hymn writer, Mary Baker Eddy?
Mary Morse Baker was born in 1821 in New Hampshire to devout Congregationalist parents. Her stern and disputatious father firmly believed in the final judgment, predestination and eternal damnation. She and her siblings apparently inherited his temper which often hurt her ability to get along with others. Though her mother was kind, the tension from her father’s attitudes affected her. .Mary often would get sick and often suffered from an eating disorder. She was a semi invalid until her discovery of Christian Science. Before that, she sought help from any number of sciences, from allopathy, homeopathy, hydropathy, electricity to“various humbugs” as she recounted it. When she became a patient of Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, who used medicine free techniques, she improved. This made her interested in his healing system and she gave public lectures on the subject. Shortly after Quimby’s death in 1866, she fell on an icy sidewalk, struck her back and was rendered unconscious. The attending doctor said she would not walk again, but she used Quimby’s method and recovered. She then more fully embraced and understood his “Science of Christianity” which she named Christian Science. She became well known as a healer. Some first-hand accounts say she performed healing miracles similar to those of Jesus. In 1879 she established the Church of Christ, Scientist which became a worldwide movement. She wrote and published 16 books, including “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”, a best seller for decades. The Women’s National Book Association named it as one of the 75 Books by Women Whose Words Have Changed the World”. She started several magazines, but the most famous was “The Christian Science Monitor” in 1908. It has become a global newspaper that has won seven Pulitzer Prizes. In 1995, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. And during all of this, she was married three times, the last from 1877 to 1882 to Asa Gilbert Eddy, a student of Christian Science and a worker in the movement. Mary died in 1910 at the age of 87.