It was a normal day as I was walking through the winter streets of Madison, Wis., on my way to work – a little bit icy and a few snowflakes falling. The real gem of the morning for me was a radio report streaming in on my iPod. It told how The Phillips Collection, an art museum in Washington, D.C., was celebrating its 90th anniversary, and featured patrons recounting warm memories of visits to the museum and works of art that had touched their hearts.
I’ve had similar feelings about some works of art, particularly for those I’ve studied and then have come upon in a museum. When that’s happened, a painting has become not just oil on canvas but an old friend – an idea or a statement I cherish.
One of the people on the program reminisced about a difficult time in her life when she would visit the museum and find inspiration in Pierre Bonnard’s painting “The Circus Rider.” She related her life as a young writer to the images in the painting, which depicts a circus performer balanced on a galloping horse and a few people in dark clothing, watching her: “[The rider] just stayed focused.... She didn’t look down, because she would get terrified ... and fall off. She didn’t look up at the figures of judgment, because she would’ve gotten scared that they were being critical of her. She just stayed focused. And I thought, she’s telling me how to do this.”
Tears flowed down my face as I felt the truth of the idea of “staying focused” on the work. Here I was, early in a new line of work – self-employed, without the comforts and security of a salaried income, benefits, or a traditional retirement plan. Though it was a big shift from past work, I felt the divine promise and excitement of doing what I loved, and the assurance that I didn’t need to be discouraged by the dark figures of doubt, fear, or a curiosity to compare myself to other people, when my path felt God-inspired.
As Bonnard’s painting inspired the young writer, this quotation from Mary Baker Eddy has been a source of great inspiration for me – one I revisit often: “The lives of great men and women are miracles of patience and perseverance. Every luminary in the constellation of human greatness, like the stars, comes out in the darkness to shine with the reflected light of God” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 340).
Sometimes it’s in those moments of darkness or challenge that we yield to total focus and reliance on God. We don’t need to be afraid, because God is putting it in our hearts to do the work we love – to contribute to the world in the most meaningful ways. Ultimately, when we respond to the Infinite or “shine with the reflected light of God,” we become beacons for other people.
As I’ve continued to persevere in my work with patience, gradually new opportunities have opened up.
It’s all about staying with the work. What might look to others like peril or free-falling may actually be a moment to surrender our plans to God – to hang on tight and let Love lead. Comparisons, jealousy, and skepticism are distractions from the work that requires total dedication. The resilience and perseverance that enable us to stay focused at such times are spiritual qualities that we can all access; they are divinely present – part of our being as God’s sons and daughters.