Mary Elizabeth Norris Baker

Feb. 4, 1906 - Feb. 15, 2010

A Memorial Address by the Rev. James P. Cooper

“Every person is created that he may live for ever in a state of happiness. ....for He who wills that a person should live for ever also wills that he should live in a state of happiness. What would eternal life be without that? All love desires the good of another. The love of parents desires the good of their children; the love of the bridegroom and of the husband desires the good of the bride and of the wife; and friendship’s love desires the good of friends. What then does the Divine Love not desire? What is good but delight? And what is Divine Good but eternal happiness? …Hence it is clear that eternal life is also eternal happiness.” (DP 324:6)

We all struggle with the big questions in life:  What is the nature of God? What is the purpose of life? Why does their have to be a natural world and a spiritual world? Why does the transition between the two worlds sometimes seem so messy or difficult?

The interesting thing is, the answer to all these questions is the same:  God loves us and wants us to be happy to eternity. If that can become the founding truth in everything we do and say, then it all becomes much clearer.

Little children think that getting what they want when they want it all the time is the way to happiness. But wise adults know that if you give a child all the candy they want, they are going to be sick. Wise adults know that true, lasting happiness comes through self-discipline and working toward goals that benefit others as well as self. Or, what Jesus called “the Two Great Commandments,” the love of God and the love of the neighbour as one’s self.

Wise adults also recognize that pain and struggle are not always bad things. We set goals for ourselves, and if they are valuable goals, there will be effort and sacrifice to accomplish them.. It could be remodelling the kitchen, it could be going to school to acquire a trade or a degree, or it could be carrying and giving birth to a child. We know that we value most the things that we work the hardest for. These are the things that give us our greatest delight.

We see both aspects of this teaching in Mary Baker’s life. It wasn’t always easy. She had to work hard, and there were many disappointments. But if you talked to her for just 5 minutes, you knew that she was full of the happiness of heaven, that her life long work had been gently guided by the Lord to prepare her for the happiness of eternal life in heaven.

Mary was born Feb. 4th, 1906 in Pontiac MI to Charles G. Norris and Edith Verrall Norris. A year later, the family moved to Toronto, where Mary lived for the rest of her life.

In her 100th year, Mary wrote - with the help of her daughter Linda and daughter-in-law Marg - a memoir of her early years, collecting stories from her earliest childhood up until her marriage to George. It’s a book that is remarkable for its frank appraisal of the difficulties of her childhood. However, what shines through on every page is her cheerfulness and confidence. Though she had many a good reason to complain, she never did. She looked for the good in people and she looked for the good in the circumstances in which she found herself.

Her husband George was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when he was 35, and passed away at the age of 52 in 1958. That means that Mary spent half of her 104 years as a widow. Some would have found that to be a good reason to complain, but for Mary it was an incentive to find a career, to be out in the world at a time when most of the other women were at home, talking to interesting people and doing interesting things.

Before she was married she had a variety of jobs with the Robert Simpson Company in Toronto. The ones she seemed to enjoy the most were those that had to do with the window displays, a hint of the artistic streak that would reveal itself more fully later in her life.

Later, as George became less able to support the family, Mary took courses to acquire skills, and worked for the Registered Nurses Association, and then in the Marine Division of Imperial Oil. After retiring from Imperial Oil at the age of 60 - required by company policy - she worked for another 5 years for the Registrar’s Dept. of York University.

In her retirement (which lasted almost 40 years), her interest in art was able to express itself once again, and she took classes at a variety of schools including the Doone School of Fine Arts near Kitchener and The Three Schools of Art in Toronto, and was a member of the Etobicoke Art Group. Painting was a wonderful hobby, a great joy for her, and a wonderful gift to those who have been able to enjoy her paintings over the years.

As you will be able to see from the display downstairs after the service, many of her paintings reflect her other great love, being in beautiful natural settings near the water.

Many also loved to travel. When Linda and Desmond lived in Vancouver, she used all her vacation time to fly out and reacquaint herself with her two grandsons. She also took many trips to Bryn Athyn to visit Greg and Margaret and the other four grandchildren. She also travelled to Greece, Portugal, England, and Scotland.

Mary was genuinely interested in people, both in her immediate family, and her extended family at the church, and the people she met though all her various activities. She didn’t care to speak about herself that much, so she asked other people about their lives and interests and got them to tell her their stories. People of all ages responded to her friendliness, warmth, grace, and easy laughter.

One cannot help but mention how important the Lord was in her life, and how much she loved coming to church. A year or so ago we had a snowy weekend. At twenty past ten on Sunday morning Mary and Linda arrived, all bundled up in boots and winter coats. The next day a somewhat younger member suggested to me that I should have considered cancelling church because of the weather. I just said, “Mary Baker was here” and nothing else needed to be said. (The truth be told, most of the credit for this remarkable record goes to Linda and Desmond, but they accommodated her because it was so important to her).

Mary told me that as she got older it was harder for her to listen to a sermon and “get it all” on the first sitting, but she said, “but that’s all right. Linda will read it again to me tomorrow and explain it to me, and then I’ll get it!” Others might have let advancing age be an excuse to let it go. To Mary it just meant trying harder.

As was mentioned above, we value the things that we earn through our hard work. Mary made good choices in her life. In hard times she kept her mind and heart focussed on the real goal: eternal spiritual life. In the short term, it made her a wonderful person to be around. In the long term, she brought herself into a sphere of mutual love, which is the life of heaven.

Isn’t it wonderful to think that, after all those years, that strong, charming, funny spirit has been set free of the limitations imposed by her failing senses? A woman who loved to paint, but who has been unable to see well for years, is now seeing sights and colours that only spiritual eyes could see. A woman who danced for joy at her 100th Birthday party is now able to move freely and joyously, without fear of injury or pain. We’ll close with these thoughts from the Heavenly Doctrines which Mary loved throughout her life.

      In heaven those who are moved by mutual love are constantly approaching the springtime of their youth. And the more thousands of years they live, the more joyful and happy the springtime which they are approaching. This process continues for ever, constantly bringing increases in joy and happiness in proportion to the advance and upward progress in mutual love, charity, and faith. [Women] who had died worn out with age but who had lived in faith in the Lord, in charity towards the neighbour, and in happy conjugial love with their husbands, as the years pass by come more and more into the first freshness of youth and early womanhood, and into a beauty that excels every idea of beauty which the eye can possibly behold....   AC 553


Hear now the Word of the Lord as it is written in …

First Lesson:

(Psa 23) The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. {2} He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. {3} He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. {4} Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. {5} You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. {6} Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.

(Psa 121) I will lift up my eyes to the hills; From whence comes my help? {2} My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth. {3} He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. {4} Behold, He who keeps Israel Shall neither slumber nor sleep. {5} The LORD is your keeper; The LORD is your shade at your right hand. {6} The sun shall not strike you by day, Nor the moon by night. {7} The LORD shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. {8} The LORD shall preserve your going out and your coming in From this time forth, and even forevermore.

Second Lesson:

(John 14:1-7) “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. {2} “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. {3} “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. {4} “And where I go you know, and the way you know.” {5} Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” {6} Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. {7} “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.”

(Luke 23:39-43) Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” {40} But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? {41} “And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” {42} Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” {43} And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

Third Lesson:

AC 5608e “A person is so created that when he grows old and becomes like a little child, the innocence of wisdom conjoins itself with the innocence of ignorance which he had in infancy, and so he passes into the other life as a true infant.”

AC 4676 “‘Old age’ in the internal sense does not signify old age, because the internal person, or the person’s spirit, does not know what old age is; but as the body or external person grows old, the internal passes into newness of life, a person’s spirit being perfected by age as his bodily powers diminish. This is still more so in the other life, where those who are in heaven are continually brought by the Lord into more perfect life, and at last into the bloom of youth, even those who have died in a good old age.”

AC 9984 “The real delight of loving to do good without any thought of recompense is a reward that remains to eternity.... Into this love the Lord gently introduces heaven and eternal happiness.”

DP 254 “Everyone who comes into heaven comes into the greatest joy of his heart.”

HH 494 “Soon after death a spirit is recognized by friends and acquaintances he knew in the world. There is something that spirits can recognize not only in the face or speech but also in the sphere of a person’s life, when they draw near. In the other life when anyone thinks about another, he pictures his face and also the other things of his life - and he is present, as if he had been called or summoned. It is like this in the spiritual world because thoughts there are shared, and because distance as we know it in the natural world does not exist. All who come, then, are recognized immediately by friends, relations, and acquaintances. They talk to each other and mingle together just as they used to do in the world.”

DP 338:4 …Everyone after death comes into a society of his own people, that is, of those who are in a similar love, and that he recognizes them as relatives and friends, and what is wonderful, when he meets them and sees them it is as if he had known them from infancy. This is the result of spiritual relationship and friendship; and what is more, no one in a society can live in any other house than his own, each one in a society having his own house which he finds ready for him as soon as he enters the society.”

Here end the lessons. Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it. Amen.