As a young woman growing up in the Christian Science faith, Joni Overton-Jung didn't have to look far for a role model.
Mary Baker Eddy, the 19th-century founder and discoverer of Christian Science, was ever-present through her landmark book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, and the legacy of accessible healing she left her followers.
“She was a heroine of mine,” said Ms. Overton-Jung, a Christian Science practitioner and lecturer who presents programs on Mrs. Eddy. “I loved hearing stories about her, and I've also experienced many healings from what she taught. ... She's a mentor through her writings.”
Ms. Overton-Jung of Toronto now tells her own stories about Mrs. Eddy, combining her knowledge of the religious leader with the acting skills she developed as a theater student at Kalamazoo, Mich., College. She will be in Toledo and Bowling Green next week for appearances at the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University as part of Women's History Month.
In recent years, Mrs. Eddy has been increasingly recognized by women's groups as someone who challenged the religious, medical, and social establishments of her time so that she could empower others with her message of healing.
Having suffered losses of health, money, home, and family members in the first part of her life, Mrs. Eddy found little solace in the Christianity of her day, which she felt taught little more than humble acquiescence as a response to trials.
She began to search for a cure for her ill health in homeopathy and mental or magnetic healing, as well as in mesmerism, a precursor to hypnotism. But it was in reading the Bible that she ultimately found her answers.
Mrs. Eddy believed she had received a revelation showing her that God's creation is spiritual and perfect and that the five senses present a false view of things. What the world calls matter is illusion, she said. When human beings correctly understand and spiritually interpret the Bible, she believed, they could see the truth of God's perfect creation instead of the material image created by thought.
Since she put her ideas down on paper more than 125 years ago in Science and Health, sitting in a chair and using a piece of cardboard as her “desk,” people all over the world have used them and claimed to have been healed of cancer, AIDS, heart disease, deafness, and blindness, Ms. Overton-Jung said.
Mrs. Eddy, she said, wanted to make her message available to others because she had found it so liberating for her own life. “She was interested in engaging people and having people take these ideas and use them where they are.”
Even today, Ms. Overton-Jung said, clergy of various faiths from Jewish to Protestant Christian use the principles of Christian Science, as do many doctors.
“They're universal, practical, and relevant to anyone. The message is no matter how down and out you are, no matter how things have been, there's always an answer, hope, and the possibility for empowerment and healing right where you are.”
But she said Christian Science is more than having a positive attitude. “It's all about gaining a deeper understanding of our relationship to God and God's goodness. That said, so many healings happen without people really knowing about Christian Science. They just start reading the book. The last 100 pages are letters from readers who have been healed through reading Science and Health.”
Although she had been exposed to Christian Science her entire life, Ms. Overton-Jung said she began delving into the founder's life and writings in greater depth during her last year of college.
Later, when she became a Christian Science practitioner and lecturer, whenever she would talk about the religion's principles, it was natural to refer to Mrs. Eddy.
As interest in Mrs. Eddy has grown, particularly since the Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, N.Y., featured an exhibit on her life several years ago, Ms. Overton-Jung has been in high demand every March and October during Women's History Month observances in the United States and Canada.
Mrs. Eddy is recognized today not just as the only woman to have founded a lasting, American-based religion, but for her ideas. For example, she taught that God's nature embraced the roles of both father and mother and structured her religious organization so that women and men were treated equally.
“It was a church where women and men voted and where women and men held the highest office in the church side by side from the start,” Ms. Overton-Jung said.
In her presentations, Ms. Overton-Jung takes audiences on a journey to Mrs. Eddy's personal crossroads in 1866 when, at the age of 45, she is injured in an accident and given little hope of a full recovery.
“She pores through the healings in the gospels and gains an understanding that she never had so concretely before. It's about the presence and power of God, of the Christ to heal, a sense of God being her life. Not only was her body healed as she glimpsed this, as she prayed she felt that she was really on to something: This miraculous healing wasn't a miracle at all. It was a natural thing and maybe we needed to learn why it was natural and that it was rooted in the understanding of spiritual law.”
Two years later, after Mrs. Eddy healed a woman of pneumonia, a physician who witnessed it asked her if she had written a book.
With his encouragement, she went home and opened her Bible. It fell open to a passage from the book of Jeremiah: “Write in a book all the words I have spoken to you.”
Science and Health was published in 1875 and Mrs. Eddy went on to found the Church of Christ, Scientist, in 1879.
Joni Overton-Jung will speak at 4 p.m. tomorrow in the University of Toledo's Driscoll Center, Bancroft Street and University Hills Boulevard. She also will give a presentation at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Pallister Conference Room of Bowling Green State University's Jerome Library.