POP icons pervade our culture. From Elvis Presley to Marilyn Monroe to Kurt Cobain to Jerry Garcia, these symbols of certain ideals and ways of life have had an impact that exceeds the norm. But when something tragic happens to people's heroes, there is often great grief and shock. What can fill this sudden void?
Every instance of grief in our experience, however, can give us an opportunity to move beyond reliance on matter to reliance on Spirit, God. Christ Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount, ''Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted'' (Matthew 5:4). This comfort comes from the realization that nothing good is ever lost. Good is permanent and eternal because it is spiritual. A material symbol of good does not deserve our worship, but God, the ultimate and only source of all that is good, does.
Allowing public figures-or anyone-to have undue influence over our lives distracts us from learning what we need to know to truly satisfy our hunger for fulfillment and progress. When we rely on a physical symbol or human being for guidance or comfort, we can be disappointed. But this very disappointment can serve to show us a higher way.
God is the only God. There is no other god than God. When a material icon fails us through the nature of its own mortality, we have God, the divine Spirit, to turn to. Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science, writes in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, ''The sharp experiences of belief in the supposititious life of matter, as well as our disappointments and ceaseless woes, turn us like tired children to the arms of divine Love.'' She continues on the next page: ''Willingness to become as a little child and to leave the old for the new, renders thought receptive of the advanced idea. Gladness to leave the false landmarks and joy to see them disappear,-this disposition helps to precipitate the ultimate harmony'' (pp. 322-324).
Mrs. Eddy spoke from experience. In the mid-1800s, she married a man she adored. Less than a year later, her husband died suddenly of yellow fever. Pregnant and far from home with no means of support, Mary made the journey back to her family. In subsequent years, her inability to care for and support her child led to his being taken from her and removed to what was then the Far West. She did not see him again until he was a grown man. In her autobiography Retrospection and Introspection, when relating this experience, she writes, ''The heavenly intent of earth's shadows is to chasten the affections, to rebuke human consciousness and turn it gladly from a material, false sense of life and happiness, to spiritual joy and true estimate of being'' (p. 21).
When grief threatens to overshadow us, we can take a further lesson from the disciples' attitude immediately after Jesus' crucifixion and their changed thought after his resurrection and ascension. After the crucifixion, most of the disciples quite understandably felt great grief and loss. Peter especially felt the sting of his own betrayal of the man he knew to be the Messiah. But what great joy the disciples felt on seeing Jesus again after the resurrection! This joy was not merely happiness at seeing their friend and Master again. This joy came from the newborn understanding that Life is God, and that there is no death. Jesus had proved this by returning to them. And, upon Jesus' ascension, Luke tells us, the disciples ''returned to Jerusalem with great joy'' (24:52). They were no longer grieving at being separated from Jesus, but rejoicing at the knowledge that immortal Life is ever present. You could say that their concept of Jesus had changed from thinking of him as a mere religious icon or personal master to a deeper understanding of what he had taught them about their relation to God. The ideas he shared with them and the abundant joy would be with them always.
Even in the face of human loss, the spiritual idea of good, inherently eternal and infinite, always remains for us to experience. Letting go of the material and embracing our spiritual selfhood results in permanent joy, unstained love, and all-encompassing peace.