While the rest of Boston sputters along in the gray-brown of winter, wrapping themselves against the icy blasts of an arctic wind, there's a place I like to go where a garden blooms regardless of the weather.
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is a place where a skylit courtyard is filled with golden hues of filtered sunlight and the brilliance of nature's own artistry. There's a kind of controlled chaos there, no matter what time of year you visit, with flowers and plants of all kinds growing as exuberantly as the meticulous gardeners will allow.
My first visit to the museum was during a period when I felt there was very little beauty in my life, and something about that garden tugged at my heart. I liked the artwork I was seeing in the rooms that encircled the courtyard. But I was repeatedly drawn back to the garden.
Certainly, the garden itself was beautiful. It looked to me as if each square foot had been carefully planned to create the most aesthetically pleasing scene possible. But mostly, what drew me to the garden was the fact that there was more to its loveliness than careful planning and colorful arrangement. I was moved because I glimpsed how each one of those carefully maintained plants possessed a loveliness that transcended the grooming and care that were lavished upon it.
Mary Baker Eddy explained the origin and nature of just such loveliness when she wrote: "Beauty is a thing of life, which dwells forever in the eternal Mind and reflects the charms of His goodness in expression, form, outline, and color. It is Love which paints the petal with myriad hues, glances in the warm sunbeam, arches the cloud with the bow of beauty, blazons the night with starry gems, and covers earth with loveliness" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 247).
To me, that garden in the center of the museum showcased more than just the handiwork of a few gifted gardeners. It was there that I saw evidence of the great artistry of God.
The notion of God the great Artist stayed with me long after I left the museum, and I found myself suddenly impelled to dig deeper and find out what understanding God as Artist could do for me. For months on end I'd been struggling with "ugly duckling syndrome," feeling as though, when it came to beauty, I'd been given table scraps - if that. Everyone around me seemed more beautiful, more capable of loveliness than I.
I hated feeling this way, but I wasn't sure it was possible to feel any differently. But what began to dawn as I considered what I'd felt that afternoon at the museum was that the garden was just one example of how God was continuously delighting Himself in His creation. The evidence of that delight - and love - was beauty. The tangible evidence of Love loving its expression of itself was universal loveliness.
I began to realize that denying evidence of my own beauty was equivalent to denying God's love for me. If I truly believed that Love was at work, "cover[ing] earth with loveliness," then I needed to see that it would be impossible for any of creation - and that included me - to be outside the reaches of that work. Vibrancy, radiance - all those qualities that fell under the umbrella of "beauty" - were just as much mine to express and embody as they were characteristics of those flowers and plants I'd delighted in at the museum.
But in order to feel genuinely embraced by the artistry of Love, I realized I'd need to make some changes in the way I thought about myself. And so, that's what I began to do.
Seeing myself as one of God's beautiful works didn't happen overnight. But the more I acknowledged God as the source of all beauty, as the great Artist whose brushstrokes were wide enough to paint all creation in hues of loveliness, the more I found it easier to recognize the color and vitality that were mine to express. And to see myself as evidence of the beauty of Love's artistry, moment by moment and always.
I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.