Rebuilding: an opportunity for spiritual renewal

In the wake of the Notre Dame fire, a Parisian offers a spiritual take on true substance that can never be extinguished.

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Like many people in Paris last week, I walked along the banks of the Seine to see how Notre Dame was doing the day after her all-night fight against the fire. The crowd was truly impressive – not only a lot of Parisians and people from the banlieues around the capital, but also a lot of tourists. Sweetness and reverence were in the air, a palpable sense of affection, a sense of talking to strangers as neighbors, a sense of belonging, of caring.

The togetherness expressed among believers and nonbelievers showed that something deep inside humanity had been touched. Humanly irreplaceable historical and cultural masterpieces are forever gone. The fragility of what we once thought would be there forever is suddenly capturing our attention.

Maybe the reason a wide diversity of individuals spontaneously gathered in a shared sense of reverence is that a similar feeling of irreparable, large-scale loss has been experienced one way or another in the lives of so many. So many have felt, at one point or another, that they were hitting rock bottom and that it would be hard to recover.

In my own experience, I have appreciated a phrase in a poem by Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, that simply says “… loss is gain” (“Poems,” p. 4).

Clearly, that’s not literally true in regard to what we will never touch or see again. But dire circumstances can impel us to value what we once had in a new way: to consider it beyond appearance, or merely what the eye sees, and cherish the feelings of majesty, beauty, and permanence that remain in our hearts as we look more deeply at the true substance of what the “lost” thing stood for.

Mrs. Eddy asks this straightforward question in her book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”: “What is substance?” She goes on to provide the following answer: “Substance is that which is eternal and incapable of discord and decay. Truth, Life, and Love are substance, as the Scriptures use this word in Hebrews: ‘The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ Spirit, the synonym of Mind, Soul, or God, is the only real substance” (p. 468).

We have Truth, Life, and Love – which Christian Science explains are synonyms for God – forever with us, no matter how it may seem to the material senses. We can think of “the evidence of things not seen,” for instance, as the inspiration of divine Spirit that animates us with the courage to start over, the energy of infinite Life that gives us the strength to carry on, and the universal embrace of limitless Love that comforts and encourages us.

Just as someone reaching the bottom of a swimming pool can push up to propel himself to reach the surface, so we, in whatever difficulties we face, can turn to the Divine – permanent, unbreakable substance – for newfound inspiration that impels and guides us forward. And as we look to Spirit, God, as the only true substance, we find that the true treasure lies in God-given qualities such as joy, strength, majesty, and intelligence. Timber can be destroyed, but the qualities it represents can never be lost because God is expressing them in His spiritual creation at every moment. So we can not only remember and appreciate past manifestations of these qualities, but also actively live these qualities and see evidence of them in new ways every day. As a hymn I love from the 1932 “Christian Science Hymnal” describes, God is the “Life that maketh all things new” (Samuel Longfellow, No. 218).

A sweet Parisian woman was full of hope as she looked at what remained of Notre Dame Cathedral. She told me, “They have all the designs of the lost roof saved on computers.… It will take time, but if they want to, they can rebuild.”

Time will tell whether that is what takes place. But whatever happens to a physical structure, when we’re dealing with large-scale loss, personal or collective, we can take the demand to “rebuild” as an opportunity for spiritual renewal that brings out the best in us. This is a promising and invigorating possibility that lies in the heart of each of us, wherever in the world we are, because true substance, the eternal expression of divine Life and Love, can never be extinguished.

Adapted from an article published on, April 22, 2019.

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