Mary Trammell, or “Trinka,” as she is affectionately known, received her doctorate degree in literature and Bible history and taught writing and journalism in the Florida public university system before becoming a Christian Science practitioner and teacher.
While a member of the Christian Science Board of Directors and holding various editorial positions with the Christian Science periodicals, including Editor in Chief, she traveled widely and wrote prolifically for the publications—and continues to contribute to them. Now a member of the Christian Science Board of Education, Trinka divides her time between Boston and Florida.
As we sit down to talk at The Mother Church, in Boston, her cellphone rings for the second time—a sweet reminder that wherever she goes, she takes her Christian Science practice with her. And from what she says, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Trinka, when did your Christian Science practice actually begin?
I had Christian Science class instruction after my freshman year in college, and right after that fellow Christian Scientists at the college came to me for help through prayer. From then on, I had a little stream of practice, even though I had decided to pursue an academic career. I felt, however, that I would eventually end up devoting my life to the practice when I retired from academics.
What inspired the change in plans?
Suzanne, both my parents were very dedicated Christian Science practitioners for about 50 years, and my father was a teacher of Christian Science, so I had that tremendously inspiring
When my father was well into his 80s, he passed on, and my mom and I had a flood of letters coming in from his students and other people he’d helped in the practice—hundreds—saying, “This man’s prayers changed my life.” And of course, we responded to every one of them, and I began thinking, “Have I ever given to anybody what my dad or my mom has given to these people?”
I loved my teaching job at that time; however, sometimes you would see that a student’s real need was to be helped spiritually.
At that time, I was finishing up a term as Second Reader in our church, and I thought, “I don’t want this to end, this wonderful experience of serving church,” and it came to me one Sunday morning before a church service, “The next step for you is the practice.”
I asked my family about it, because they were dependent on my income as a professor, along with my husband’s income, and they all jumped on board, and said, “Absolutely.” It was a sacrifice—we decided to sell our house, and move into a much smaller one and utilize that money to put our kids in college, but we felt it would make us all feel we’d done something for humanity.
After I resigned from my job at the university, I rented a little office and began a public practice. Within about a year, I was listed in The Christian Science Journal.
Soon after, you had a significant experience that you said, in an earlier e-mail exchange, gave “a long-term lift” to your practice. Would you tell us about it?
I had been in the practice a couple of years when all of a sudden I contracted some sort of illness. It involved a lot of weakness and pain, and I couldn’t get out of my house for more than a few minutes at a time, for a couple of years. And well, you do a lot of soul-searching in a situation like that. But the wonderful thing was that I never had to give up my practice.
As a matter of fact, I think it was that practice that saved my life, because there were times when I wondered if I would ever recover or be useful to the world. But as my husband used to observe, “Sometimes you look like you’re at death’s door, and then the phone will ring, and all of a sudden, you’re sitting up or propped up, and you’re engaged in helping someone see the unreality of whatever is making them uncomfortable, or sad, or in pain.” And he said, “I’ve seen how you get out of yourself through your desire to help someone else,” and I think he was right.
You know, that desire is natural, and it’s Love that motivates you. Well, Love is divine—it’s God—and as Mary Baker Eddy says in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, “Whatever holds human thought in line with unselfed love, receives directly the divine power” (p. 192). That’s what kicks in.
I remember I was lying on the sofa one day, alone in the house, and I thought, “If I ever get completely healed, I want to be a new person, and I’m going to give my whole life, like I never have before, to God and to the practice of Christian Science—to its healing mission.” And then, it was almost like a voice said to me, “Well, why can’t that begin right now?” And so, I made the commitment right then that I would give it my all in a way I never had before. I think it was from that point forward that I began to see light at the end of the tunnel, and I had a complete recovery.
We could see that if we just let our love for each other, which we reflect from divine Love, take the lead in our church work, just as it does in our families, it’s possible to have harmony in any church.
And as you know, Suzanne, I’ve been quite healthy ever since.
From then on, the practice became my life—the center of everything, whether it was family, church work, writing, editing. Without that, the rest would be meaningless.
And I think I came out of that experience with a new sense of God as Love.
Prior to that, I’d spent a lot of time in an academic atmosphere, where the intellectual put-down, or arguing back, was a skill—you were encouraged to be a little combative. But after that healing, I couldn’t feel combative about anything, except fighting for the Truth. I found that even with our kids, who were teenagers at the time, I didn’t want to get mad at them anymore!
I remember soon after that experience, our son accidentally dropped a whole pile of plates, and broke them all, and felt terrible about it. I heard a big crash and went out to the kitchen, but you know, I wasn’t upset. I said, “Well, let’s clean it up,” and he looked at me, and he said, “Mom, you’ve come a long way. Two years ago you would have gone ballistic about this.” Since that healing, I haven’t ever had it in me to get really mad about anything.
An experience like that—it just transforms you.
What have you loved most about the practice?
It’s not just healing the headache, or the heartache, or whatever the case. It’s seeing someone’s real, God-made individuality come forward—that’s the thrill. It’s seeing that spiritual transformation—the thought-shift from matter to Spirit—that occurs in both the patient and the practitioner in every healing. God is transforming both of you.
What do you feel are the most important attributes for a practitioner or healer?
I’d have to put love at the top of the list. If you have love, that gives you the grace, the words you need when you talk to a patient. But it’s not words that heal—it’s divine Love, the kind of love that God puts in our heart when we really care about others, when we truly love God and want to walk with Him and help others walk with Him.
And of course, it’s important to be alert to safeguard your thought. What gives you the motivation to do that but love? Caring enough about others that you won’t allow yourself to get angry over issues, or get drawn into temptations and make mistakes that would somehow compromise your ability to heal, because it will. Stepping away from Principle-based thinking, for example, kindness and purity—and we’ve all done it, at moments—compromises what we can do for humanity.
So often church seems to be a real testing ground for “safeguarding” thought from, say, unkindness and criticism.
When the Board of Directors was holding town hall meetings around the world, we would meet with the young people in the churches whenever we could, and fairly often we’d get the question, “Why do the church members, the grown-ups, fight with each other?” And well, it was hard to answer that question.
But as we thought about it together, I think the kids could see, and we could see, that it’s just like when families sometimes bicker about things, yet they love each other. We could see that if we just let our love for each other, which we reflect from divine Love, if we let that surface and take the lead in our church work, just as it does in our families, it’s possible to have harmony in any church.
When you think about it, we all have so much in common. We all follow the same Leader, Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science; we all turn to the same Pastor, the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. We all subscribe to the same tenets, to what’s in the Bible and Science and Health, and the Church Manual. In fact, we’re united on the major theological issues that most other churches are divided about. Yet sadly, we sometimes end up disagreeing about the little things that are incidental in other denominations.
Sometimes all any of us needs is a little reminder of the oneness of Mind, of all that we have to unify on, and how what the Bible calls “the carnal mind”—the material way of looking at things—would so want to pull us down into disagreement and make us think that what are essentially details are issues major enough to divide us up. Nothing is that important.
When disagreements occur in church affairs, one might be tempted to think, “I can practice Christian Science without the church.”
I found something about that a couple of years ago as I was doing some research in The Mary Baker Eddy Library, and it’s this: In 1886, Mrs. Eddy dictated a note to her secretary, and it was titled, “Prophecy.” It was very simple. She said, “Those who are not helping this church will at length lose their power as healers” (Mary Baker Eddy to Calvin Frye, December, 23, 1886, L13611, The Mary Baker Eddy Collection, The Mary Baker Eddy Library). Well, that was startling to me.
In other words, those who are not interested in the church organization—those who say they’re going to go it alone—will eventually lose their power to heal. As I thought about that, I realized that the whole purpose of church is healing and coming together—being stronger together than we would be separately. Again, coming back to the analogy with families, just as a family is stronger and able to do more good working together, we can do more for the public, we can do more to support each other, if we’re together as fellow church members.
And so, we get back to Mary Baker Eddy’s definition of Church and its mission of healing: “The Church is that institution, which affords proof of its utility and is found elevating the race, rousing the dormant understanding from material beliefs to the apprehension of spiritual ideas and the demonstration of divine Science, thereby casting out devils, or error, and healing the sick” (Science and Health, p. 583). If we say we’re not interested in an organization whose basic purpose is healing, we’re excluding ourselves from part of the mechanism that Jesus Christ and Mary Baker Eddy set up for us to mobilize our healing efforts.
Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). And I think he was speaking of the Christ as the “I” that’s among us. So, there’s something about gathering together that brings strength.
You know, for a week or two after my dad had passed on, my mother didn’t feel like going to the branch church she belonged to, because my father had been so involved in it.
There’s nothing to hold us back from living this truth to the best of our understanding, everywhere, and offering it to everyone.
Finally, one Sunday morning, she got herself dressed up and went to another Christian Science church, thinking this would be a way to ease back into church. At the time, she had a terrible cold—she was sneezing and coughing, and what have you. So, she sat down in the back row of the church, and when it got to the second hymn, she thought, “I’m going to leave. I’m just being a nuisance to everybody with this cold.” Just as she was getting up, a hand reached out to take hold of her hand and squeezed it. It was a very elderly lady, and she said, “Dear, I’m so glad you came to church this morning.” It was somebody who didn’t know my mom, but my mom felt like it was the hand of God.
She needed to feel that “touch” of divine Love reflected in human love. And, needless to say, she stayed at the service. By the end, she felt a lot better, and then was ready to resume going to her own church. She could see how much she needed church.
And as you’ve so clearly said, the Church needs each one of us, primarily as healers. Trinka, how are Christian Science churches and societies, especially those with small memberships, finding ways to streamline their committee work so that healing becomes the real focus?
Many see it as an opportunity to look at what the committees we’ve organized do and ask ourselves how important each one of those activities is. Does it support healing? If not, maybe it’s not important to hold on to it anymore, and to focus our whole heart and prayer on being of healing benefit to the community and to what is going to support the spiritual progress of members.
When we approach our church work with fresh inspiration, new ways to do things come about. Sometimes we can make our work a lot simpler. Maybe a lecture doesn’t have to involve 80 steps, but five good steps. Maybe we could consider having a very simple admission process for church membership, or think about including the young people, and even those who are not members, in some of our church activities.
Trinka, this brings up the issue of church membership. I can still hear one of my Sunday School classmates say that she couldn’t in all honesty join our branch church because she felt you had to be perfect, and she just couldn’t live up to that standard.
I’ve heard the Clerk of our Mother Church say humorously many times, “We’ve found very few ‘perfect’ church members and applicants.” We aren’t looking for “perfect” members, of course. Christian Science is universal Truth, and so we can expect that it will have appeal to all kinds of people. Jesus went into the highways and byways, and beat the bushes. He worked with those who were considered immoral and healed them, and brought them in. He started with people that most of the elite hierarchy in Israel would have thought were unqualified to be saved, but he went to them, and his first word to them was “Repent” (change, turn), and he helped them turn toward God and realize their spiritual potential. So, I think we can be more like Jesus, nurturing new church members and patiently working with them as they move forward in their understanding of God.
While you were Associate Editor for The Herald of Christian Science, and later a member of the Christian Science Board of Directors, you visited some 34 countries. What inspired you most about those visits and gives you hope for the Christian Science movement?
We found many churches, societies, and groups with good, strong workers. It may have been just one person, like the man in the Philippines who visited the United States some years ago, was healed in Christian Science, and then returned home to spread the word about the wonderful new religion he had found. So one is all it takes. Often there were two or three dear people who had the vision of Christian Science healing, and were so on fire with it that they were behind the achievements and accomplishments of their branch churches. It was a thrill to meet those people.
That’s why, Suzanne, after about a 22–23 year hiatus from branch church work, because I was a local member of The Mother Church, I’m really excited about being an active member in a branch church again, rolling up my sleeves and doing whatever they want and need, whether it’s ushering, or Reading Room work, or community outreach.
In my travels it has been so inspiring to see members take the simplest kind of church assignment to a new level through concerted, inspired prayer, so that it never becomes a matter of just going through the paces. They’re the kind of people who are alert to the new people who come into the church, and are on hand to graciously welcome them, the way they have welcomed me. Sometimes they’re the ones who help patch up disagreements that occur among members. And I’ve been so inspired to see people who are in their eighth and ninth decades of human experience volunteering for church assignments that are hefty, like First or Second Reader, because they love it. And people who are nurturing new Christian Scientists and inviting them to join their church.
I’m so grateful to see that in recent years, more and more, young people are taking their rightful place within our movement. We need them, and I truly believe we need to listen to them; we need to give them opportunities to spread their wings within our church organizations, in the healing practice, in Christian Science associations and branch churches. They are doing so much, already, to energize our movement, and I am truly grateful. But I believe we need to leave the door wide open for a lot more of that.
It seems to me that today young Christian Science thinkers also have a wonderful opportunity to enlist in The Christian Science Monitor’s mission—to spread their wings as writers and thinkers, and make a real contribution to it. The Monitor has some of the best and most reliable international and national news content in the world.
You mentioned that you often get asked, “What is the future of our Church?”
As I’ve prayed about that question, it keeps coming back to the fact that the answer lies in the life that you and I live. It’s our demonstration of the truth, our willingness to share Christian Science freely and universally that will make all the difference.
Mrs. Eddy gave us the concept of a God who is universal; she wrote: “God is universal; confined to no spot, defined by no dogma, appropriated by no sect. Not more to one than to all, is God demonstrable as divine Life, Truth, and Love; and His people are they that reflect Him—that reflect Love” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 150). And the Christ is surely universal. As she said, “Christ is the true idea voicing good, the divine message from God to men speaking to the human consciousness” (Science and Health, p. 332); not just to people who are raised as Christians, or believe in God, but to all human consciousness.
And, Jesus’ mission was certainly universal. To me it’s significant that Jesus began his ministry in Galilee, which was then populated, mainly, by non-Jews—people who weren’t even committed to monotheism, who may have believed in many gods. But he preached to everybody without exception, and he said to his disciples, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).
So, these are our marching orders. There’s nothing to hold us back from living this truth to the best of our understanding, everywhere, and offering it to everyone. So, I like to think that if we are universal in our sense of Church and our practice of Christian Science—by that I mean, including all humanity in our prayers—our Church will, over time, reflect more universality on a human scale.
One of the most inspiring things about visiting the churches around the world has been to see the universal promise of Church beginning to be fulfilled—heart by heart, congregation by congregation. And I truly believe, there’s no stopping it!