IT didn't matter if it was a steamy July dawn or a frigid, pitch-black morning in January. There she'd be selling her newspapers at the intersection by the convenience store; 6:20 a.m., five days a week. You could count on it. Every few minutes, as soon as the light turned red, she'd hustle down the white line between the two lanes of inbound traffic, selling her papers. Then the light would change, back she'd troop to her waiting stack, and off we'd zoom to the city. It has been six or eight months since I last saw her at her familiar corner. In that time, hardly a weekday has gone by that I haven't thought of her. Though we never spoke, there were certain things she communicated, a silent example she set. I think of her obvious faithfulness, her unwaning cheerfulness and good humor, her kindness and patience, dependability and heartiness. They were there in the way she acted. They spoke without her having to say a word.
The way we live does make a statement -- constantly. Yet how conscious are we of the influence we exert? And how seriously do we take our responsibility to be examples to one another? We need to consider such questions, for the fact is -- like it or not -- we are setting examples of one kind or another at every turn. And the world is decidedly more in need of good influences and examples than bad.
A New Testament letter to the early Christian Timothy urged him, ``Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.''1 Timothy was being pressed to be an example through and through. He was being encouraged not only to speak honest words but to do good deeds, to maintain an exemplary life (``conversation''), heart, and mind.
These are the real goals -- where being an example actually starts. But obviously we can't achieve them through making merely external changes, through behavior modifications, or even through sincere but unthinking compliance with good moral standards. We must instead seek to imbibe the charity (or love), the faith, and the purity that were asked of Timothy. To do this, we must seek God, divine Spirit or Mind, as the source of all right thinking and living. As we begin to understand Him, we come to know ourselves as His spiritual image.
We need to realize, for instance, that God is good itself and that man, being His image, reflects this goodness. This is truly our native state. It is not only why we are drawn to the good in others; it is the source of any impulse to do or be good ourselves. It is both why we feel we should be examples to one another and why we can be.
How do we begin? The Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy,2 offers this analogy: ``The sculptor turns from the marble to his model in order to perfect his conception. We are all sculptors, working at various forms, moulding and chiseling thought.... Do you not hear from all mankind of the imperfect model? The world is holding it before your gaze continually. The result is that you are liable to follow those lower patterns, limit your life-work, and adopt into your experience the angular outline and deformity of matter models.
``To remedy this, we must first turn our gaze in the right direction, and then walk that way. We must form perfect models in thought and look at them continually, or we shall never carve them out in grand and noble lives.''
What are these ``perfect models''? Ideal-looking human beings -- or ideal-looking human behavior? Science and Health describes them instead as the God-derived qualities of ``unselfishness, goodness, mercy, justice, health, holiness, love.''3
These were the thought-models Christ Jesus must have looked to constantly in perfecting his own conception of himself and others. The purity and fullness of his perfecting were profoundly evident in the healings gained by people who sought his help and in the ``grand and noble'' life he ultimately carved out. His life so embodied these qualities, in fact, that they and spiritual healing are what still characterize those who earnestly strive to follow the Master's example.
How conscious are we of the models in thought that we're turning to and that are dictating the form our life is taking -- and its influence on others? To the extent we're knowingly letting goodness, justice, love, and every other spiritual, or ``perfect,'' model guide our motives and thinking, we're actually becoming more conscious of God. And this means we're awaking to reality -- to things as they really are, not as they appear to be. We're awaking to the real you and me, spiritual and whole and completely worthy of our Father's love, not deformed, imperfect, matter-bound.
Learning to hold to perfect thought-models, we begin to let go of mistaken models and so inevitably find release from the small, angular thinking and living that may seem until now to have defined us. It is such changes within that help shine a light others can see and follow.
Impressions live on. The good example of a nameless newspaper seller continues to talk to me and teach me. The question remains, Is my life shining with such light for someone else?
1I Timothy 4:12. 2Mrs. Eddy is the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science. 3Science and Health, p. 248. The Christian Science Sentinel, a weekly magazine, contains more articles about God's power to heal.