One year our teenage son, always living life a little differently, decided to trick-or-treat the day before Halloween. He disguised himself, and went only to neighbors he knew. Many were really good sports about it. They got out their candy and engaged him in conversation, trying to figure out who he was. But some were afraid of him, perhaps because they thought his mask was a disguise and that he might rob or harm them.
Only one household figured out the mystery without help. The mom at this house answered the door, turned to her 8-year-old son, and whispered, “Who is it?”
The son looked the hooded figure over and said, “It’s Daniel. Those are his shoes.” Smart boy. Instead of looking at the costume, he looked at the one thing that was genuine about the figure in front of him.
This incident is legend in our neighborhood. People still remind me of it. Beyond a funny story, though, I actually find it a useful example of tools we have to help us keep our peace.
Every day, we see or hear about expressions of anger, indifference, racism, selfishness. The list is endless. But I’ve found it helpful to look beneath the surface to see what’s genuine, to possibly see something that speaks of everyone’s true, spiritual nature as the creation of God.
I learned to recognize this thanks to someone who wasn’t always easy to be with when I was growing up. Sometimes he could be so much fun, but at other times he would be in a rage or manipulate and belittle people. Eventually, I dreaded being around him.
As a teenager, I began reading “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” the principal work of Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science. I can still remember the awakening in my thinking that came when I read these lines: “Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals. In this perfect man the Saviour saw God’s own likeness, and this correct view of man healed the sick” (pp. 476-477).
I found comfort in the idea that I could follow Christ Jesus’ example and make a real effort to look behind an unlovely mask, in order to catch a glimpse of how God could be expressed in this person. Before long I was struck by the fact that this individual loved, really loved, little children and animals, and was very kind to them. And they responded to that kindness.
To me, this was huge because it was evidence of good. Whenever I was tempted to focus on the bad masks this person wore, I went to this spiritual view of “God’s own likeness.” I could make a separation between the brutish qualities and his Godlike qualities. I could recognize that the good qualities had real substance because they were the very expression of God.
Once I saw this genuine quality, I found freedom from feeling under this person’s control. That freedom has grown over the years, as I have been able to see many other wonderful, genuine Godlike qualities in this individual.
One time I put on a scary mask that belongs to our son. When our dog saw me, she ran to me, put her paws on my chest, and repeatedly licked the mask. She knew what was underneath the mask. Every day, figurative masks pop up and take us by surprise. But we have the ability to look beyond them for a glimpse of the genuine individual. That effort can keep us calm and perhaps help them hold to a higher standard of thought and action.
Adapted from an article in the Oct. 26, 2009, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel. A version of this also aired on the Oct. 31, 2017, Christian Science Daily Lift podcast.