When I read the opening comments about Toni Morrison’s legacy of leaving “an indelible mark on America” in The Christian Science Monitor Daily for Aug. 6, something clicked. Recently I discovered that the Greek word kharaktēr, from which the English character is derived, means “engraved mark” as well as “instrument for marking.” I saw how this meaning of character certainly applies to the impress of Ms. Morrison’s life on humanity, as she not only “unflinchingly plumbed” difficult subjects like racism and rage, but did it with empathy and the ability to help others see their own value.
My takeaway from that short read? Character matters.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about what really undergirds character. Partly because I just want to do better. But also because in the apparent climate of distrust and rage often ignited by harsh rhetoric and an “us and them” viewpoint, it almost seems like the importance of character, as well as even character itself, is being sidelined by reaction.
The teachings of Christian Science, based on the Bible, have helped me understand more profoundly that all of us have a spiritually based character given to us by God. Qualities that have their source in God, Spirit, like integrity and purity, constitute our true character and in reality are indelibly imprinted in everyone. When it is understood that Spirit is the only source of each of us, we realize how unnatural it is to express anything that doesn’t have its source in spiritual good.
Reasoning prayerfully from this perspective with an open heart lifts us to the realization that we are forever the children of Spirit, wholly spiritual, made in the likeness of divine Love and able to express such attributes as mercy and kindness in our daily life. And bringing these to bear wherever we are imparts an uplifting influence, however small or humble, that can contribute to healing in communities and individual lives.
In my late teens when I began to study Christian Science, my human character needed improvement, to say the least. But I clung to this idea that I was a perfect reflection of God – that my true character was formed by God, not by human emotion, heredity, or habit.
As I prayed to feel practically that I was under the governance of Spirit and God’s law, not materiality, I saw that I could act from that standpoint. Self-absorption and moodiness began to fade in the light of more joyful stability and the desire to help others. Relationships became more harmonious and activity more purposeful. The mistaken sense of myself as including finite character traits lost its grip because such traits were never created by God.
Christ Jesus defined divine character for all time through his unparalleled example. Referring to a description of Jesus as “the express image” of God in the book of Hebrews (1:3), Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, wrote, “It is noteworthy that the phrase ‘express image’ in the Common Version is, in the Greek Testament, character” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 313).
This character is the Christ, the indissoluble expression of God’s goodness that Jesus so fully and lovingly illustrated for all humanity. The all-power of Love that defined his very existence and nature enabled him to love and bless his enemies. And as we follow Jesus’ example, we gain clearer views of God and of our own true character, which in turn enables us to help and bless others in a more substantial way.
One of Mrs. Eddy’s other written works, “The People’s Idea of God,” explains how our perception of God’s nature shapes our character, individually and collectively. It says: “Proportionately as the people’s belief of God, in every age, has been dematerialized and unfinited has their Deity become good; no longer a personal tyrant or a molten image, but the divine Life, Truth, and Love. ... This more perfect idea, held constantly before the people’s mind, must have a benign and elevating influence upon the character of nations as well as individuals, and will lift man ultimately to the understanding that our ideals form our characters, that as a man ‘thinketh in his heart, so is he’” (pp. 2-3).
We may not all make an indelible mark that will be written about in newspapers, but there’s no telling the good we can do when we clearly recognize what constitutes our own and others’ true character – and live accordingly. Clearing off whatever would hide our devotion to a higher understanding of God and a greater manifestation of true Christian character, we’ll contribute to bringing out more of the goodness that humanity has been forever blessed with by God.