Soul of the city

A Christian Science perspective on daily life.

The article in today's Monitor titled "Los Angeles finds its heart" strikes a chord for anyone living in that city, particularly longtime residents. Like many throughout the world, Los Angeles has struggled through race riots and other troubles to find its center, culturally and socially. And for people living in the sprawling suburbs, downtown often seems distant and unappealing.

None of this diminishes the importance of urban renewal for many cities across the globe. But it does point to a need to better define what constitutes the heart of a city. The Center Theatre Group's artistic director, Michael Ritchie, provides a window into this when he says, "The arts are the soul of a city." While he undoubtedly refers to visual and performing arts, one might find it helpful to view his or her respective city from a more spiritual perspective. Take, for example, the two key words in Ritchie's statement: "soul" and "art."

Mary Baker Eddy saw "Soul," with a capital "S," as a name for God. In "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," she wrote, "Soul is synonymous with Spirit, God, the creative, governing, infinite Principle outside of finite form, which forms only reflect" (p. 71). She grouped Soul with other synonyms such as Life, Mind, Love, Truth, Principle, and Spirit. These are not considered other gods, but different aspects of the one God's nature.

Soul is particularly compelling with reference to a city, because it highlights the "creative, governing, infinite Principle" that includes beauty, grace, individuality, diversity, harmony, balance, and creativity. Given the challenges that many urban areas face as diverse interests vie for support, these qualities offer a solid and inclusive foundation for genuine renewal.

Looking at any urban area through the lens of Soul allows one to discover its true heart. As one travels to various locales, the diversity of cities is striking. That's because infinite Soul, Spirit, individualizes itself in a diversity of ideas and creates a distinct environment for those ideas to flourish. Here's how Mrs. Eddy put it: "Spirit diversifies, classifies, and individualizes all thoughts, which are as eternal as the Mind conceiving them; but the intelligence, existence, and continuity of all individuality remain in God, who is the divinely creative Principle thereof" (Science and Health, p. 513).

A city collects its various ethnicities, lifestyles, and neighborhoods much as an orchestra collects string, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments, along with its conductor, into one unit. Every musician conforms to the rules of music, but finds creative expression within those rules. When everyone works together, the collective produces a rich and resonant sound. Yet within that collective, each instrument has a distinct sound, as does every orchestra.

This individuality shows the diversity in unity that can make a city strong, and it can also help urban areas surmount such challenges as unemployment, isolation, apathy, poverty, and hatred. A solid foundation of love and respect within the community provides ways for groups with varying priorities to work toward universal goals without losing their identities.

The Apostle Paul saw this as vital when he wrote to the Corinthians, "Even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification" (I Cor. 14:7-8, 10).

Wouldn't it follow that a city's true art resides with its citizens? It reflects their diversity and creativity – their soulful expression of God. Its heart centers on the vitality and productivity of its residents, the integrity of its government, and a renewed sense of each individual's essential contribution to the whole. It begins within the heart of every citizen, broadens to include the whole, and shines for the entire world to see. And at its core, one finds the Soul of a city.

Seek the peace of the city
whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.

Jeremiah 29:7

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