One of the most effective stories I use is borrowed from Robert Wicks, an American psychologist. He tells of the young woman leaving home to study in a far-off city. After some months she writes to her father who has begun to worry about her. You can read the story here. At the end of her letter, the daughter gives the father a vivid lesson in the importance of retaining perspective in life.
I was reminded of this during the week when I visited the Jesuit Church Gesu in Rome. Alongside the Church are the rooms where Ignatius lived the last twelve years of his life and where he died in 1556.
Alongside Ignatius’ simple rooms, a more recent corridor has been decorated by an artist who used all his skill to pay tribute to Ignatius in his work. The result is quite overwhelming and deeply satisfying (from a certain point as you will see in a moment).
Surrounded by such beauty the mind and heart is raised to God. Because the beauty of the artist’s creation achieves this divine focus, Ignatius, the poor man who gave everything to God, would be satisfied with any excesses of the art.
The corridor is perhaps twenty metres long. On entering at one end, one is overwhelmed by colour and design. On closer look the shapes and figures appear contorted.
It is only when one stands at a marked point in the centre of the corridor that the images fall into right perspective. Only from this point does the full beauty emerge.
The clearest example of this are the ‘beams’ on the ceiling. From the point of ‘right perspective’ the beams, which are painted on the curved ceiling, appear strong and straight. The human figures which seemed ugly and overweight as you entered, now appear in their full beauty.
I spent some time savouring the art from both the intended position of perspective, and away from this centre. It was remarkable how I developed a taste for the right perspective. Before too long I could not take even one step from the centre without being irritated by the distortions.
So for the past twenty four hours I’ve been reflecting on this.
How easily I settle for living with distortions. Such a life takes its toll. I’ve been thinking that this is a pretty good definition of “stress”. Most of us think that stress is caused by the things that happen to us. Sickness, struggle and other forms of suffering cause stress … or maybe not?Perhaps all that I call ‘stress’ is caused by my lack of ‘right perspective.’ When I stand at a sound centre, everything that makes up my reality in this moment, falls into a broader perspective.
To be honest, if I had not read the guide book before entering that corridor I probably would not have noticed that I needed to be in a specific spot to savour the art as the artist intended. That’s why I share this! It’s good news. Perhaps I cannot change the tough stuff that is going on in my life at the moment. But, thanks be to God, I can change my perspective.
You can probably see where this is going!
In the last day I have re-committed to anything that helps me to stand in this ‘right place’. I have enjoyed doing this and the rewards flow instantly. At the same time I have had to choose to not stand in the wrong place when that ‘temptation’ comes.
Choosing to live with a lively sense that God is with me, gives me right perspective. From the security of this relationship everything, even suffering and troublesome people, safe-guards me from every form of unhealthy stress.