“Imagine what it must have been like to ride the trains like those early women did,” my ministerial student says. “They were very brave and it makes me feel special to be a part of that history”.
As she speaks, I can feel myself beginning to glow with pleasure. Any history teacher wants her students to appreciate the past, and I believe New Thought history and its connection to the rise of women’s rights is especially relevant. I am proud of the part women played in New Thought history and I want my students to be proud, as well.
My interest in the role of women in New Thought history goes all the way back to when I was training to be a minister. In those days, we had to write a thesis and I chose to write about Women and New Thought. That early thesis morphed into a book called New Thought – New Woman which I am now rewriting.
Ministerial students also had to give a public lecture based on their topic. I talked about women’s lives in the 1880’s and how difficult it was just to get dinner on the table and the weekly washing done. Housework was a full time job for most women.
The women who worked outside the home were always poor and usually not considered respectable; they were slaves, prostitutes, or servants. There were a few school teachers and some small business owners who had been lucky enough to inherit from fathers and husbands.
New Thought teachers were an anomaly. These pioneers, were respectable, educated women who included some well-known figures such as Emma Curtis Hopkins, and many others whose names we no longer remember. They usually chose to live independent and quite solitary lives as practitioners and teachers of New Thought.
Those early teachers were often widowed or divorced and they struck out on their own, riding trains from town to town and staying in boarding houses while they taught in one town and then another. Some of them, like Hopkins, started schools that were fairly big establishments but most were doing small works in small towns, spreading the word, one small group at a time.
The New Thought teaching was something that was open to them as a way to earn a living and they took advantage of that fact. It was a healing teaching and that probably seemed natural to some. Women were accustomed to healing and teaching work. Perhaps it felt as though they were simply expanding their boundaries as time and women marched onward.
Many of the travelling practitioners and teachers were widowed or divorced women. Additionally, women were accustomed to healing and teaching work and they simply expanded their techniques and boundaries as time and women marched forward.
In New Thought, our understanding of God is much grander than a human-like figure. It has no shape and no gender but is the creative energy of the Universe. In that way, we were like the Quakers, who also allowed women to speak, because they believed the Inner Light is in all persons.
How could we say that only men can be ministers if we said that God created all of us and lives within everyone? If God is present everywhere all of the time then we must acknowledge that women should have an equal voice everywhere – even in the pulpit.
One of the greatest strengths of our religion is that we describe God as the Creative Energy of the Universe. Our founder, Ernest Holmes and the other New Thought writers use many names for God including; Universal Mind, First Cause, Divine Mind, Infinite Mind, Divine Givingness … and the list goes on.
We sometimes use the word God but we never intend it to describe an Old Man who lives in the sky and looks down upon us, judging what is right and wrong.
The fact that God has no gender is probably the major reason so many women were so important to the New Thought movement from the very beginning. The founders of Divine Science were women. The founders of Unity were a married couple. The first president of the International New Thought Alliance (INTA) was a woman.
There were also important women writers and some of them are still quite well known. Emilie Cady’s book, Lessons In Truth is still well read in Unity. Ella Wheeler Wilcox is no longer considered a great poet but her verse is still read and she is still taught in poetry classes. Most writers have faded from our current lists but not all of them. The Game of Life and How To Play It by Florence Scovell Shin is still in most New Thought bookstores.
Emma Curtis Hopkins, often called the “Teacher of Teachers” is definitely better known now than she was twenty-five years ago. There are new classes based on her old books. She taught the woman who taught the Divine Science founders and the Fillmores who founded Unity plus Ernest Holmes who founded Religious Science. In her lifetime, she spoke to and taught thousands of people.
The other factor in the importance of women in New Thought is that the women’s movement was rising at the same time New Thought was developing into a distinct denomination. In the 1880’s through the turn of the Century, women were on the march. They were interested in a variety of causes. Those interests included women’s right to vote, abolishing alcohol consumption, rational clothing (remember Amelia Bloomer?) public hygiene, prison reform, and helping poor people.
Some New Thought leaders who were women were interested in more than one of these subjects. There were several early suffragettes in Hopkins’s classes. She had a boot in the Women’s Pavilion of the World’s Fair. Other women leaders reserved all their energy for healing endeavors.
The important thing to know about this period in history is that more women were much more active outside the home and in the public forum as lecturers, writers and teachers than in any other field. We should be very proud of our feminine heritage.
What does history have to do with my life?
What is one courageous thing I might do today?
My prayer partner and I talk about what is going on in our lives and then we pray. One time I wanted prayer to get my printer to work properly and another time to it was to recover from pneumonia. It occurs to me that no matter how big or small the need is, the underlying issue is one of freedom.
Over the years, my prayer partner and I have had great success with our prayers and it does not matter whether they have been for big or small things. What matters is that we go through a process of believing it is possible and then turn it over to God to free us from the condition or experience.
When I was younger, I was one of those people who believed that prayer was nonsense. When I thought about prayer at all, I might say that it was all right for people to pray if it made them feel better. If someone claimed that prayer changed something, I assumed it was an imaginary change.
I first started studying Science of Mind because I believed that positive thinking was a good idea. It seemed a sensible psychological notion. Positive thinking might lead to more success in life.
I took some classes and used affirmations in the faint hope they would help me with my writing career. My work prospered and I seemed to be beginning to get more lucky breaks. I didn’t think about why – I just followed up on the breaks and I did better selling my work. At the time, I didn’t think the affirmations helped me much but I didn’t take them off the wall.
In retrospect, it is a simple fact that when I started pasting affirmations on my wall my “luck” changed quickly. After many years with no success, I skyrocketed into selling everything I could write.
Affirmations are not exactly prayers but they work the same way as prayers if you are willing to let them open you up to believe and accept the best. Do you use affirmations? What are your favorites?
I was looking at little post-its all day long. They said things like, “I am a famous writer” or “ I have many book deals” or “I make a good living writing”. Those messages were always in my face as I worked on my craft. If you tell yourself something long enough, you will begin to believe it. I think the affirmations worked and that it was more than luck.
The first time I had a really strong experience with the power of prayer was when a friend of mine said she was diagnosed with lung disease and the doctor said it was probably cancer. She was very distraught and claimed not to have slept for two nights. I brought my Science of Mind Textbook by Dr. Ernest Holmes into her bedroom and read aloud to her from the meditation section.
This sounds dramatic but my experience was that the light in the dim room lightened and brightened very fast. I was aware, and a bit excited, by the phenomenon. I felt uplifted. My friend’s experience was that she was finally able to sleep. She dosed off immediately and I kept reading to her for about an hour.
Later, she couldn’t remember any light at all and I decided my impressions were imaginary. Her doctor proclaimed her perfectly well within the week.
I’m still not certain what I believe about that event. I did see the light and I am not given to fancies. On the other hand, she was quite dramatic by nature and her illness may have been imaginary. It is hard for me to believe that if there were light, she’d miss it. And I did believe in prayer enough to read to her. And I did believe something was happening that was unusual, even then.
Over the years, I have come to believe in the power of prayer. I have seen too many examples of increased health, wealth, and happiness not to be a believer. My studies have increased my abilities to pray effectively, of course, but the most important thing I’ve done is lower my resistance to the idea that prayer works.
I believe in unlimited possibility now – at least most of the time. I still don’t have many dramatic experiences with prayer but I have a long list of experiences, events, and conditions that I believe have been modified because of prayer. I have had my own dramatic healings that astounded my attending doctors. I have also had financial snarls unwind in a moment, relationship issues dissolve in a heartbeat and lost rings reappear as if by magic.
What changes do you attribute to prayer? Did your changes come quickly or slowly? Most of my changes have have arrived in ordinary ways. Illnesses have healed quicker than expected. Solutions to financial challenges have arrived after periods of consistent daily prayer.
Some areas of my life are harder to believe in the possibility of prayer healing than others. I think this might be true of all of us although the issues are different for each. One person may believe that financial matters are “real” and God either cannot or will not intervene. Someone else may think that money is easy but health is tricky. She won’t trust anything to heal her when her “number is up.”
A practitioner or prayer partner is very helpful whenever you feel doubt. It is important to expect your prayer to work and it is important to pray until the desired result appears. Sometimes we need to ask for help so that the movement toward our goals can unfold simply. We need to get to the place where we really know, “All things are possible with God.”
In New Thought, we define God as the creative energy of the Universe and we understand that everything is possible with God. It doesn’t matter how big or small the issue is because God is the source of everything. But the person praying must envision, believe and accept what he or she is praying for. Acceptance does matter.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to believe that there is nothing too big or too small for God to heal. It makes no difference whether it is a hangnail or pneumonia.
God is an ever-present reality in your life. All that matters is that you create a clear vision of your desire and mentally accept it. Then give it to God to bring into your life. Spending time daily in prayer can make a big difference in our lives.
What is my highest vision of myself today?
What do I envision as freedom today?
It has been a good week. Three colleagues and two friends have just happened to mention how much they enjoyed this blog. There is nothing like feeling appreciated to cheer me up.
If you paint, you can always hang your work on your wall or give it to friends. If you sing, you can enjoy your own voice even in the shower. Writers seem to need readers to make the activity seem valuable.
I have written seriously for about 45 years. The first ten years were tough because I would send stories out and they came back with nice rejection letters. Then I sold a novel and it was never published. It felt so close but even though I could taste it, I never got there.
During those ten years, I learned to tough it out in the face of rejection and I learned my craft. I was not happy and I did not get what I wanted from writing but, in retrospect, I know I wanted much more than to be a successful writer.
Now I know I wanted the moon with a red ribbon on it and, what’s more, I wanted to get it by telling the world how sensitive and unhappy I was. That was a path that may have worked for a few talented souls – Dostoevsky and a couple of others – but most writers find it is an alley that leads to a dead end.
I wanted too much from writing. I wanted to feel good about myself. I wanted to be proud of myself. I wanted to be recognized by others as a valuable human being. I wanted to see myself as a valuable human being. Most of all, I wanted to be loved.
I did eventually get to love myself and take pride in my work but I didn’t get there by complaining. When I got sober, I returned to Science of Mind and I found a new voice as a writer. I became very purposeful and successful. I wrote 80 books for teens, both fiction and non-fiction.
If you read them, you may find bits and pieces of me in them but mostly, they were about kids’ dreams and what they could learn along the way. The one that sold the most was about a girl who used visioning and hard work to become a cheerleader. The one I am proudest of is about a girl who was a slave during the Civil War and escaped to go North.
The non-fiction was about anything from how to be a teenage model to the building of the atomic bomb.
I know I was a writing success in the outer world. What can be more successful than being on the NY Times best seller list for 30 weeks? I also know I am very fortunate that I was immersed in Science of Mind and a 12 Step program or I might have been lost again. I needed more than writing success to get what I wanted in life.
My 12 Step Program taught me about gratitude, being in service, and the value of a supportive group. I learned the wisdom of knowing the difference between what I could control and what I had to accept.
Science of Mind built on that wisdom and helped me achieve my dreams. I learned that life was not a struggle but a joy, and that I had intrinsic value as a human being.
The books that I wrote after I became a Religious Science minister brought me much closer to my original aims of loving and appreciating myself. Science of Mind Skills combined my deepest beliefs with my ability to teach others. It is still selling very well and I think it now qualifies as a classic.
Wise Women don’t worry, Wise Women don’t sing the blues, felt like a big risk but it paid off. I began each chapter with a small scene from my own life and then I used that story to tell my readers what I thought women needed to hear.
I think it was with Wise Women that I really found my own true voice. I let my readers know I was an alcoholic, that I’d had a very peculiar childhood, and that I’d had some early heartbreaks. I also told a bit about the eleven year affair I had with a married man. Those little vignettes certainly broke the mold of what I thought most people imagined a “New Thought minister” should be.
I was glad I took the risk. I was happy the book was received so well. I was thrilled by the number of women who attended workshops and weekends over the years.
In retrospect, I am proud of all my writing. I am even proud of those ten long years when I persevered in the face of rejection. I still love to say, “I used to write for the New Yorker …but they didn’t buy.”
Which brings me back to this blog. I would like to have many more readers and I am proud of the ones I have. The real joy of this adventure is that I write whatever is on my mind. I am happy when others tell me they find it valuable. I’m always pleased when people take the time to write a comment. I love feeling connected to a wider world.
People’s lives change and my goals have modified and grown saner in the last 45 years but I appreciate it when someone pays me a compliment. We all want to feel valuable.
If you are reading this, please know that I value you very much. Thank you for being in my life and I am glad I am in yours.
What makes you feel valuable?
Do you want to forward this blog to anyone?
Rev. Debby shares her research on Mother Ann Lee and the early Shakers in our ministerial class; I am surprised to hear they had the first seed business in the US. The next day a friend tells me about planting such tiny seeds she can barely see them. That starts me thinking about seeds.
My people were Missouri farm folk. Although I was raised in the suburbs, I heard a lot about farming as a child. For instance, my grandfather had three of the first scientifically managed farms in Missouri. Even so, he always planted during full moon at midnight.
The ritual of midnight moon planting worked for him so I am certain no one could have convinced him that it was superstition. People tend to hold onto old beliefs, especially if they appear to be working. What superstitions did your family hold onto?
You and I know that it wasn’t the full moon or night planting that made his crops grow. It was planting the right seed in the right soil at the right time of year. Ritual and superstition were only psychologically helpful.
In New Thought, we learn that our thoughts are seeds that we are constantly planting. It is always the right time and since we are planting our seeds in the One Mind, they always land in fertile soil. We get the crop we plant. Rich thoughts = wealth. Healthy thoughts = health.
While that is an oversimplification, we know that selecting the proper thoughts (seeds) will grow healthier personal lives.
I love the logic of our teaching. It follows that if you don’t like the crops you are producing, you must plant different seeds. Your thoughts are seeds and you can change your thinking and change your life .
It is good news that the seeds you are planting are creating the results you are getting, but some people hear it quite differently. A woman in my church once called me and complained, “Since I started listening to you, I’m afraid to think!” Sounds funny in retrospect but to her, it was real and it was scary.
She’s not the only one who had difficulty hearing the good news. In my beginning years as a New Thought student, I had one minister who spoke on Sundays and all I could hear was, “It’s your fault.”
That was over 30 years ago and I was pushing a wheelbarrow of guilt. While I’ve dumped most of it, I still need to do clean up work from time to time.
Prayers work when the right seed is planted so it is truly important to set aside time each day to pray. That directed, trained thought is powerful – much more powerful than our random worries and fears. An excellent spiritual practice is a great step forward for all of us.
We also need to be clear that we are planting seeds all the time. That means we should pay attention to our minute-to-minute thinking so we can speed up the process of getting our desired outcome.
Perseverance is also very important. I prayed to lose weight for a long time before I actually managed to stay with a diet program but I kept working with my thoughts. There were important realizations between praying for a slim body and losing that 110 pounds.
One important epiphany came the day I realized that every time I looked in the mirror I was criticizing myself for being fat. I was planting painful condemnation seeds so I started blessing myself in the present moment. That was a major step in the right direction.
I also started silently blessing the other fat people I saw. Until then, I was guilty about my own weight and very critical of others. Eventually, I stopped thinking those nasty things about others and about myself. I still would like to lose more weight and I still hate fat jokes.
Wisdom comes in slow, steady doses. It feels like dropping very small seeds. Some are so tiny you can barely see them but eventually they produce glorious results.
Ritual may seem to help or be fun so go ahead and use it but remember the power is in the seeds you choose to plant, not in the package they come in. Light a candle or use an altar if it makes the prayer special in your mind but don’t be gullible.
Just remember your crop will grow fine if you plant in the daylight. Writing down ten things you are grateful for every morning is a great habit and good ritual but it is not magic. If you skip making the list one morning, the sky won’t fall. If you are too busy, you can make the list later in the day. Or not. Do you use any effective rituals in your spiritual practice?
Most importantly, remember that thoughts are seeds and monitor your thoughts. Remember that every prayer and every good thought opens you up to accept more of the Divine Givingness of God. The magic is not out there anywhere. Your ability to change your thinking is the magical part your life.
It is not the package the seeds come in but the realization that God can and will give us whatever we are ready to envision, believe and accept.
Why not experiment a bit? Try changing one negative thought for a month. Suppose you decide to change your thinking from, “Oh, I’m so lonely” to “Oh, I’m so loved”. Why not see what will happen?
I believe your world will open up when you learn you have the power. I believe you are your own magician and your thoughts are working all the time.
What do I want?
What do I need to believe?
What is my plan for growing new crops?
It’s June and the Agapanthus is popping open. By the end of the week, I will have gorgeous white blooms stretching down the length of the house that I built 30 years ago. When I planted these long stemmed beauties they were purple but a few years later they reverted to white. The plants cost a dollar each and even so, I really felt ripped off.
Those Agapanthus plants have turned out to be one of the best bargains I ever made even if they did change colors about 25 years ago. They blossom faithfully every June and decorate my pink stucco house for most of the summer. Once I stopped resisting the change in color, I enjoyed their loveliness.
They may look delicate as they wave on their long stems but they are tough and resilient. Those plants are living testimony to the fact that we should not make snap judgments about whether something is good or bad. They are a significant clue in one of my life’s most important lessons. I have learned a lifetime of lessons, usually after a bit of resistance.
I am a teacher by trade but not a day goes by that I don’t also become a student. Think about your life for a moment. What have you learned after your school days were over?
Last week, in my Emerson class, one of my favorite people said she thought that after age 40 we are free to learn so much more. I’ve forgotten her exact words but the idea was that the pressure is off when we mature and we can look around and see things more intelligently.
She’s probably right. All I really know is that I used to be angry because Nature didn’t conform to my vision and keep my Agapanthus plants purple. Now, instead of anger and disappointment every June, I see a long line of delicate white lace-dressed brides dancing in the wind. Nature had a different plan than I did and I have learned not to argue with Mother Nature.
Last week, our reading was Emerson’s essay Spiritual Laws and one of his themes was that Nature’s plan is greater than our human will. My dancing June brides are proof of that. Emerson’s greater theme was that we should trust Nature (God) and I am also beginning to learn that lesson at a deeper and deeper level.
Spiritual Laws, like all of his other essays, contains many magnificent ideas and fabulous sentences that become perfect quotes to live by. It is here that I found one of my favorite pieces of wisdom when he says that the finite (circumstances) pass but the, “infinite lies in smiling repose”. Soon after, he asks, “So hot my little man?”
Looking backward, it is easy to see the many times when I was so hot and bothered about some circumstance that simply dissolved in time. Nature may not always have brought me exactly what I wanted but Nature knew how to bring me a new vision and/or something I would call better.
Learning to trust God or Nature is a lifelong lesson. I can observe that my contemporaries who have gained a portion of that trust are the happy ones. I am also trying to gain happiness by learning to trust God. It helps me to think of a Higher Power, whether I call it Nature or God or the Power For Good, who is lying in smiling repose despite the fact that I am in turmoil.
Truth is, most problems seem like a tempest in a teapot when they are over. In retrospect it seems silly to worry about the lilac blossoms you purchased reverting to white. They are just as lovely as ever and while I couldn’t find any reason in the gardening sources I consulted, I’m sure that Nature had a Divine Plan. At least the result seems divine to me.
I am truly grateful for the faithful service of those plants. Who could expect anything like the length of survival from plants that were purchased at a dollar each. The purchase works out to 3 and 1/3 cents a year and I’m still counting. If they’d turned magenta or chartreuse they would still have been a treasure.
I like to have things go my way. I’d be the first to admit that I chose Religious Science partly because it would help me get what I wanted out of life and it certainly has. I have used it to achieve many big and small dreams but I’ve also learned some things as I’ve pretty much matured. I’ve pretty much learned to trust the process of life.
I pretty much build my days on gratitude in this time and place. I pretty much try to emulate Nature and keep my own smiling repose no matter what is going on in my day-to-day or finite existence. I pretty much understand that Nature’s plan will be greater than my own.
As I look at my Agapanthus bursting with new blooms, I trust they be will dancing brides in a week or so. I love them and am grateful for their grace, beauty and steadfastness. I’m grateful they are still here.
Come to think of it, I’m grateful I’m still here and I’m also grateful for many other things including family, friends, Nature and Emerson. What are you grateful for?
What have I learned after school is over?
What are ten things I’m grateful for?
What and/or whom do I trust?