A lot of thought is being given these days to our sense of identity. Not just how we define ourselves or others in terms of being straight, gay, transgender or otherwise, but the deeper aspects of what makes us who we are and our place in this world. Even if we feel pretty secure in our boots as to our sexual orientation, it’s still a subject worth considering, particularly as it relates to our health.
A good hundred years before people started wondering which letter in the LGBT acronym best suited them – or not – Mary Baker Eddy explored the meaning of gender and came up with some pretty radical conclusions. “God determines the gender of His own ideas,” she writes in Science and Health. “Gender is mental, not material.” But she also saw the importance of asking an even more fundamental question: “Is man (meaning both men and women) material or spiritual?”
For Eddy, the question was anything but rhetorical.
“The description of man as purely physical, or as both material and spiritual, – but in either case dependent upon his physical organization, – is the Pandora box, from which all ills have gone forth,” she writes, “especially despair.” Not that Eddy felt that our bodies don’t matter; only that, based on her study of the Bible, particularly the words and works of Jesus, the best way to take care of them is through a better understanding of our relationship to the Divine.
Although sometimes characterized as little more than a quaint if compelling philosophy, Eddy’s teaching, born of her upbringing in a staunchly Christian household, was grounded in both research and practice. Her basic premise, arrived at after years of trial and error, was that our mental and physical well-being aren’t so much dependent on our worthiness of God’s love – which she saw as a given – as they are our willingness to see ourselves as innately and wholly spiritual.
Obviously such a notion flies in the face of what we see and what we hear about our identity being a mixture of matter and spirit, the ephemeral and the eternal. But according to Eddy, just as we might see 2+2=5 written next to 2+2=4 on the same piece of paper, ultimately we have to decide – and prove for ourselves – which one is true and which one is not.
“The material body and mind are temporal, but the real man is spiritual and eternal,” she writes. “The identity of the real man is not lost, but found through this explanation; for the conscious infinitude of existence and of all identity is thereby discerned and remains unchanged.”
The result of Eddy’s adoption and application of this “divine revelation,” as she describes it, was nothing less than a spiritual, moral and physical transformation following a life-threatening accident at the age of 44. This laid the groundwork for another 45 years of study and inspiration, and the establishment of a system of teaching and healing that would enable others to experience similar cures.
More than anything else, Eddy saw her fellow men and women in terms of their spiritual identity, as the essential yet individual expressions of Love or God. This in turn provided a profound insight into what she considered everyone’s true purpose in life, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
“As an active portion of one stupendous whole, goodness identifies man with universal good,” she wrote to a congregation in New York. “Thus may each member of this church rise above the oft-repeated inquiry, What am I? to the scientific response: I am able to impart truth, health, and happiness, and this is my rock of salvation and my reason for existing.”
Indeed, there’s no reason to believe that anyone’s ability to “impart truth, health, and happiness” could be hampered by how they identify themselves. This capacity alone is worth acknowledging and embracing.