One route home from my office on 42nd Street takes me up Fifth Avenue, past Rockefeller Center. Pausing in front of the statue of Atlas (pictured here), I wondered, what’s the story behind this statue? So, I did some research.
It turns out, the statue of Atlas was created in 1936 by Lee Lawrie, with assistance from Rene Chambellan, in the Art Deco style represented throughout Rockefeller Center. It shows the ancient Greek Titan Atlas, carrying an extraordinarily heavy weight on his shoulders as punishment for waging war against Zeus. This was harsh punishment; since the Titans were immortal in Greek mythology, his punishment was meant to last forever!
Apparently there is disagreement as to what this weight was. Atlas is often said to hold up the heavens, but another version has him holding the world on his shoulders. As one source commented, “To hold the weight of the world on one’s shoulders is to be burdened with too much responsibility for a single person.”
Hmmm…. Sounds familiar.
Why is this so? Is it because we believe we are in control, and that we do, in some measure at least, bear responsibility for making things happen in a certain way?
Many New Yorkers work under the pressure of unforgiving deadlines, juggling multiple responsibilities simultaneously. Continuously at the beck and call of our electronic devices, we pride ourselves on multi-tasking our way through the day…and, in some cases, through the night, as well. And all the while, we feel increasingly incapable of emerging victorious from this never-ending battle.
Instead of making progress, we often feel we’re falling further and further behind. Rather than a lightening of the load, the burden seems to grow heavier and heavier.
In short, it’s easy to feel like a modern-day Atlas — sentenced to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders throughout eternity.
Is this just the way life goes?
Oh, my gosh, I hope not! And that’s not just wishful thinking on my part. It’s based on my study of Christian Science, which offers hope — to anyone.
Christian Science suggests that this sense of burden stems from a false sense of responsibility. This begs the question, Who is really in charge?
In her book about Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “Mortals are egotists. They believe themselves to be independent workers, personal authors, and even privileged originators….” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures)
The example that Christian Scientists hold as their role model is Christ Jesus. Jesus said, “I can of mine own self do nothing.” That’s the King James Version of his statement. In The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson, this passage is translated, “I can’t do a solitary thing on my own” and continues, “I listen, then I decide.”
Who’s he listening to? I think he must be tuning into divine intelligence — Mind or God — to guide his decisions.
As a Christian Scientist, I strive to emulate Jesus in my everyday life. When I feel as if I’m crumbling under the burden of personal responsibility, I remind myself who is in control. That alone often begins to relieve the pressure. Then I tune in to hear what divine intelligence has to say.
Of course, this requires courage — and more than a modicum of humility — especially during those glorious moments when tasks have been completed successfully and I may be tempted to take personal pride in what “I” have accomplished. That’s when I find it’s most important to return to acknowledging who’s in control.
Giving the responsibility — and the credit — to a power greater than my own releases me from a false sense of laboring on my own. Then I no longer feel like Atlas — sentenced to carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. The punishment is lifted, and I am free.