Don't miss the art of life

A Christian Science perspective.

Not long ago, I got to accompany my grandson’s second-grade class to a special exhibit of Claude Monet’s paintings. Three huge panels that constitute one complete painting of Monet’s water lilies had been brought to the St. Louis Art Museum. But before we saw the paintings, we entered a small area to watch a short film. It was footage of Monet in his garden at Giverny, France, standing at his easel and painting with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. The narration described how he had come to own this garden, that his two wives had died by that time, and how World War I was going on while he was painting those idyllic scenes.

The children seemed quite concerned about Monet’s smoking. One child pointed out, “He shouldn’t be doing that,” and another asked, “How did his wives die?” In fact, many of the children seemed so impressed by Monet’s human story that they were unable to appreciate and be inspired by the magnificent art they had come to see.

As I stood there observing both the art and the way the children were experiencing the film loop, I began to see it as a parallel to how the details of human life can become so impressive that we miss the bigger picture – what we might call the artwork of each one of us as God’s expression.

Our lives are filled with evidences of courage, beauty, grace, dominion, strength, persistence, harmony, joy, and peace. They’re always all around us, no matter how dire our circumstances seem to be. And choosing to focus on this greater evidence of goodness allows the bigger, truer, more important fact of Life as God to come forward and transform the human story.

At first it might feel as if we are seeing this goodness in spite of the human drama, but as we practice being conscious of the continuity, majesty, and might of God expressed, that becomes the true and only story.

I saw how this works in a healing I had just after the museum trip. I was visiting friends in Dallas, and the first morning of my stay, I awakened with a throbbing headache. I was concerned about how this might affect my day with my friends. I’d hoped to enjoy spending time with them. I thought of taking a hot shower and seeing if that would help, and then of propping myself up in bed and kind of relaxing while I read the Christian Science weekly Bible Lesson that I study each day for clearer views of what life is about.

But while I sat on the edge of the bed, I saw another possibility. What if I just walked mentally out of this story-loop right now? What if I just accepted immediately that the kindness, joy, beauty, and harmony all around me, right now, is the only story going on?

My thought was flooded with gratitude for the magnificence of God and God’s expression. And in that moment, the headache was completely gone. I got out my Bible Lesson and read it with joy – in celebration of God’s allness and the proof I’d just seen that the human story is subordinate to God’s nature. I then got up, got ready for my day, and had a delightful time with my friends, seeing all around me God’s expression of goodness as the actual story of our day.

I later thought about a Bible verse that talks about God’s expression or attributes as the fruit of the Spirit: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness temperance: against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:22, 23). That’s what we experience as we see the qualities of God or the fruit of the Spirit as our true story and only Life. We see that there is no opposition to their expression, and that all that’s necessary to the expression of God is God. With this awareness, all impediments and obstacles to health and well-being dissolve, and we see God’s harmony as the law for everyone and everything.

Monet will not be remembered by most of us for the details of his human story, which seem only significant in what they demonstrate of his persistence in finding a way to express his art. Each one of us is God’s work of art – and our majesty and glory are so much bigger than our human stories. At this moment, we can choose to stop viewing, rehearsing, and struggling over our life stories, and focus instead on the expression of God, which is shining through that story right now. We can let this become more real to us, and as we do, that true story will reveal the glorious fact of our freedom and perfection in God. Then, not just in spite of human problems, but instead of them, we’ll see God’s magnificence.

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.