An underwater guide to life

by Annette Bridges. © 2008. All rights reserved.

I felt like I was visiting another world. And I suppose that’s exactly what my husband and I did when we toured the mysterious world under the sea. During the time we were in Maui, a day rarely went by without us snorkeling in the crystal-blue waters.

I can’t help but think of and appreciate Jacques-Yves Cousteau. The goggles he designed enabled him to explore the breathtaking and awe-inspiring world under the sea. And now his creation had enabled us to do the same.

We were never alone in our fascination and exploration. Whether by boat or beach, we and our fellow adventurers respectfully entered the ocean to observe its domain. We were all immensely curious and reverent as we peered into a realm so unlike our own. And there was a great desire to learn and understand more about this foreign underwater land and its inhabitants.

As I came eye to eye with many a fish, I wondered what they thought about their nosy intruders. I wanted to assure them to have no fear, that I would do them no harm — that I only wanted to look and relish the beauty and uniqueness of their world. But they didn’t seem to mind their onlookers as they continued about their business.

Wintertime in Maui means seeing mother and baby humpback whales. In fact, they are why my husband and I save for this incredible trip again and again. We love to see and admire these enormous and intriguing mammals.

Reflecting on this underwater world tour prompts me now to ponder how truly wide the world is — filled with many different people and cultures, ambitions and tastes. And I wonder if I could ever approach the rest of this great, big world of ours with the same consideration, courtesy and civility that I give to our underwater land and friends.

We make every attempt not to disturb or harm the coral or any part of the ocean world when we visit. But do I give the same care and concern to the land upon which I live?

When it comes to people who have different interests from mine or who have different backgrounds, different opinions or who are different from me in any way, do I have an earnest desire to know more about them? Do I sincerely and respectfully want to understand why they think or believe the way they do? Do I give the same respect to other cultures and customs that I give to the underwater world that is equally foreign to mine?

Perhaps it seems a stretch to compare my response to life under the sea with life on land, but these are some of the thoughts that I’ve been pondering since my return from my underwater excursions.

It has occurred to me that I need to be sure that consideration, courtesy and civility guide my attitudes and actions on land and sea in everything I do and with everyone I meet. And I think I need to do a much better job of this. These life values should come as natural on land as they do when I am snorkeling in the ocean waters.

Peter, one of the apostles of Jesus, elaborated on what it means to show consideration, courtesy and civility when he said, “Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble” (1 Peter 3:8). All are attitudes and actions that further express what it means to live by the Golden Rule established by Jesus — “as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (Luke 6:31).

It’s poignant to me that no matter what life lesson I’m learning, the Golden Rule is found at the basis. So yet again I’ve discovered this simple command, when followed, to be the ultimate and universal guide to a life lived in unity and peace.

Always in good company

by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.

I have to admit, the fall season hasn’t always been my favorite time of year. Oh, I enjoyed the cooler temperatures and lovely colors of the season, but I never relished spending ten days alone at home while my husband took his annual sporting trip to Colorado. In fact, I dreaded the arrival of the days! Even if I had friends or family with me, I still struggled with loneliness when my husband was away.

One year after my husband left on his trip, I found myself having to face up to this completely on my own. Our daughter had gone off to college and I was alone in our house for the first time. I was miserable. I managed to get through the first day by staying busy with various things, but as night fell I became increasingly despondent and lonely.

I knew it was just me and God, and I needed a prayerful resolution to make it through the night.

Having been a student of Christian Science for several years, I knew that as a child of God the companionship of my divine Parent and Friend was forever with me—ready, willing, and able to help. In fact, the Psalmist assured me that God was my “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” This passage reminded me of other difficult times in my life when I’d witnessed the presence and help of my Father-Mother God with me. This was comforting, but I still couldn’t stop feeling very much alone without my husband.

Like Jacob in the Bible, wrestling with his limited, material view of life, I found myself wrestling that night with the extreme loneliness I felt. I knew I needed a prayerful resolution to make it through the night.

I perused Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, looking for words of comfort to capture my attention. As I read, statements that always helped me when I prayed about physical difficulties were suddenly speaking to me in a fresh, healing way.

I decided to stand up for myself and contradict the isolating thoughts that had encroached on my peace of mind.

One of these statements read, “Mortal mind alone sentences itself…. Mentally contradict every complaint from the body.” I’d always used this idea to dispute symptoms of discomfort and illness. But now this familiar statement took on even greater meaning. It meant not just giving up and accepting the verdict that I was bound to feeling isolated.

Mrs. Eddy pointed out that fear is at the root of most difficulties. And she wrote about how to go about mastering fear: “Take antagonistic grounds against all that is opposed to the health, holiness and harmony of man, God’s image.”

Imagining myself as a lawyer on the case for my defense, I decided to stand up for myself and contradict the isolating thoughts that had encroached on my peace of mind. I replaced them with the spiritual facts of my identity as God’s child, expressing dominion, poise, and confidence. As I did this, I could sense my thoughts changing, moment by moment, to a more uplifted outlook.

Love knows no boundaries and is not confined by time and space.

Through prayer I gained a clearer view of my Father-Mother’s ever-presence, and the fear began to subside. It was a talking with God time—aloud actually—pondering the expanse of His love for me, my husband, and everyone. I couldn’t help but feel united with my husband as I thought about the all-inclusive nature of divine Love.

I realized that the tender, patient, joy-filled relationship my husband and I share is simply a natural expression of God’s love for each of us. And Love knows no boundaries and is not confined by time and space. So I couldn’t be living with a deficiency of love for ten weeks, ten days, or even ten minutes.

During that night of consecrated prayer I found a lasting sense of wholeness in my relationship with God. And the sense of incompleteness I felt without my spouse just disappeared. I was able to glimpse that I am indeed, a “whole-souled woman,” of God’s creating (Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896, p.224).

Time alone in spiritual reflection can help bring balance and perspective to our lives.

Do I miss my husband when we’re apart? Sure. But these days loneliness no longer consumes my thought. And it certainly no longer confuses and distorts my perception of myself. Now, I cherish my moments of solitude. It may mean sipping a cup of hot tea while studying my Bible Lesson, taking a walk, writing in my journal, or relaxing on the sofa with a book. But it doesn’t include fretting about loneliness.

Time alone in spiritual reflection can help bring balance and perspective to our lives. And such holy moments can refresh a troubled heart with reasons for hope and point toward solutions. These alone-with-God moments are a wonderful gift to ourselves. They’re moments that enable us to feel the embrace of our Father-Mother God, reminding us that we’re loved and wanted.

Yes, a good dose of “heavenly inspiration” that leads to solid convictions about our true, spiritual nature is the only lasting solution I’ve found for overcoming feelings of loneliness—or anything else. And I get my best inspiration when I’m alone with God.

As you take your stand against loneliness and despair, rest assured, “…the God of love and peace shall be with you” always!

Why can’t we live together?

by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.

“Why Can’t We Live Together” was the title of the hit song by Timmy Thomas in 1972. The song’s title and lyrics ask a poignant question today for schools, communities and even nations that continue to struggle with mistrust, misunderstanding and deep-seated hatred as well as resentment and envy.

So, why can’t we live together? A question I asked myself as I watched the recent news reports from Jena, La. Perhaps it’s also an important question to reflect upon with this month being the 50th anniversary of the Little Rock school integration. It was September 1957 when Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., became the battleground for a showdown over integration, as nine black students enrolled at the “all white” school.

For me, it was 35 years ago when integration began at my school. I was 14 years old, in the ninth grade and participating in the junior high’s drill team. I don’t recall having any particular opinion about my new fellow students other than feeling sorry that they had to wake up so much earlier than I did in order to make the long bus ride across town to attend school.

But some students did have opinions. Or perhaps they were merely asserting viewpoints they learned from their parents. Many of my new fellow students seemed unhappy to be forced to go to a new school. All in all, there was tension and conflict, and eventually there was violence.

Divisive and abusive speech became daily occurrences. I can’t say “who” said “what” “first” on any particular day. It didn’t seem to matter, actually. The animosity and hostility appeared to be mutual. But that said, I do want to be clear that the ill will that ruled my school days was not harbored by the majority of white or black students. As often seems to be the case, a few became the voice for the many. This reminds me of words by Martin Luther King Jr. when he said, “We will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

And, unfortunately, the voice of the few among the white students was coming from some football players, cheerleaders and drill team members. For me, this culminated one day when I entered the gym in the middle of an argument between some white drill team members and black female students. My entrance was what some would call being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As I walked into the gym, a tennis racket was in midair, with my nose soon to be its target.

My response to the incident was the same as when I heard recently about black students in Jena feeling they must ask permission to sit under the so-called white students’ tree or three nooses hanging from that tree or six students beating up on one student: Why, please tell me, why can’t we live together? Will it ever be possible to have good will for others, regardless of the color of our skin, our religious beliefs, our sex, our age, our wealth, our political viewpoints?

Should I have been angry that day in the gym when I was caught in the middle of an argument not my own? Was it fair that I suffered for the actions of others? Who should have gotten the blame for my injury? I wasn’t angry at anyone, though. I was sad, at the time, that such pointless tensions continued to plague the peace and harmony of my school days. And I wasn’t about to allow myself to get sucked into what I saw as a disposition that served no good purpose.

Jesus is the ultimate role model of how to respond to discrimination and injustice — both in his actions and in his teachings. It was certainly unfair that he was arrested and treated like a criminal. Some could say his disciples were justified in fighting the guards who came to arrest him, and some would have praised the disciple who cut off the ear of one of the guards. But not Jesus. He rebuked the violent actions and healed the guard’s ear.

Even on the cross — being an innocent man wrongfully sentenced — Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:34).

His teachings give us specific instruction for our response to others’ treatment of us. He said, “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth. Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: Don’t hit back at all. If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, gift-wrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.”

And regarding those whom we think of as enemies or those who mistreat us, Jesus taught: “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best — the sun to warm and the rain to nourish — to everyone, regardless: the good and the bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you” (The Message, Matthew 5:38-48).

It’s quite clear that we will never live together peacefully, in friendship, with mutual respect, until we agree to disagree if need be, replace ill will with good will, hold no grudges or hard feelings, and release resentment, bitterness, rivalry, jealousy — and all feelings that truly serve no good purpose and will never have a good outcome.

We must endeavor to understand one another. Understanding will impel respect and dispel fear. And we must love in the way Jesus taught. “Love, love, love — everyone — no exceptions!” Then we can live together!

In a conversation with God …

by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.

The jet engines were roaring with the promise that take off was fast approaching, and we would soon be on our way. We were beginning the dream vacation we had long been anticipating — a celebration of our 25th anniversary.

The anticipation was so high I could almost feel the sea breeze on my face, smell the salt water and hear the ocean surf.

We looked forward to swimming and snorkeling Maui’s Pacific Ocean waters, activities we both enjoy. We were anxiously awaiting an ocean view — a real treat of a view since we live on a cattle ranch in north Texas and glimpses of the ocean are infrequent.

Throughout my childhood years, my mom thought a trip to the ocean was a cure for anything. Anytime we were struggling with some difficulty or had a major decision looming, my mom would suggest a trip to the ocean in search of peace or direction. Eventually, I began to associate peace of mind, body and spirit as only truly possible when I was by the sea.

I do love to pray sitting by the sea. I can’t help but feel peace-filled in those moments. I’ve begun to liken the seashore to my prayer closet — that kind of closet Christ Jesus instructed us about when he said, “When thou prayest, enter into thy closet…”

Or as “The Message” Bible translates his words, “Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.”

I think honest communicating with God requires understanding and acknowledging the inseparable bond between me and my divine, eternal Parent. When I trust in His love and presence wherever I am, this helps to quiet anxiety and weariness as I listen for His guidance.

It’s sometimes difficult not to role-play the dramatic scene of the day, starring the stress-filled me, the angry me, the sad me, the bewildered me or some other “me.”

So in my conversations with my Father-Mother God, I find I hear God’s messages clearer when I first speak boldly to the trouble at hand. Like when Jesus calmed the storm at sea declaring — “Peace, be still.”

Apparently, Jesus was sleeping in the rear section of a ship when his disciples woke him alerting him to a bad storm. High winds and waves had become so intense that the ship was getting tossed around pretty bad — enough so the disciples were afraid for their lives. In the gospel of Mark, we read that Jesus got up, “rebuked the wind,” spoke those famous three words — “Peace, be still” — and “the wind ceased and there was a great calm.”

“Peace” was proclaimed with such boldness, as if Jesus was affirming peace as a law of God. A law powerful enough to “still” the high winds and waves. A law, which when enforced, would bring about tranquil, untroubled, undisturbed, harmonious results.

So when I’m confronted with problems, I’ve discovered that a good beginning for my prayers is to contemplate peace as the ever-present, always active and available law of God.

I remind myself that I’m God’s beloved daughter. Created in His image. Reflecting His nature. Good.

I’m encouraged as I remember Father-Mother God is indeed a good and loving parent, forever with me, watching over me, caring for me, guiding me. I only need to listen for His Word to feel his grace embracing me.

This kind of honest communication has always led to solutions, healing, and most definitely . . . peace in my life.

I admit I can hardly wait for our next seaside vacation. But the conviction in my heart tells me to believe firmly that peace is a present possibility, whether I’m at home or by the ocean.

Peace as a law of God is a permanent spiritual peace. Peace that is not dependent on a person or a place. Nor on an occasion or circumstance. And God continuously assures us that this peace is ours. Having a little conversation with God always reminds me that this is true.

Imagine John Lennon’s Dream

by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.

I will not accept that peace is NOT possible — whether we’re talking about peace between siblings, neighbors or work associates or peace between nations or religions.

First of all, I believe there is one God who is Lord and Creator of all. Truly, we are all children of the same divine Parent — or whatever we call the Almighty. Like it or not, regardless of race, tribe, cultural or religious beliefs, we are all brothers and sisters of the same fold.

Recently, I’ve recalled something Israel’s Space Agency Payload Specialist, Ilan Ramon, said in January 2003 when he was 180 miles from the earth aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia. He observed how peaceful the world looked and that his view from orbit revealed no borders on the earth below, and no war.

I’ve been pondering this universal view — all nations and peoples sharing the same world — without borders and boundaries and at peace.

How natural it was for the space shuttle occupants to wake up to the sounds of John Lennon singing “Imagine,” with its dream of the world living as one, living life in peace, a brotherhood of man. He sang, “Imagine there’s no countries… nothing to kill or die for.” An appropriate song since the view from space made such a dream seem possible.

Several years ago, I was preparing to teach my first kindergarten class. A friend found an old copy of a newspaper article she thought I would enjoy titled, “We learned it all in kindergarten.” It outlined how we would have a better world, a more peaceful world, if everyone remembered what they learned in kindergarten.

But today, some children are being raised to hate, fear, mistrust, judge, condemn, and all the etceteras. But, what could be learned in kindergarten (or, as children) that could create a peaceful world?

I’ll tell you what kids were taught in my kindergarten class. Almost every lesson centered on what many folks call the “golden rule” — treating one another as we would like to be treated ourselves. This didn’t mean we all had to be best buddies. We didn’t even have to like everyone. But we did have to show each other respect and courtesy in just the way we wanted respect and courtesy shown to us.

This meant we would share and play fair. We would work together and cooperate with each other. We would listen to each other. We would wait patiently for our turn. We wouldn’t take things that didn’t belong to us. We would never be mean, never hit or say hurtful words or make ugly faces. And if we forgot and were mean and hurtful, we would say we were sorry… and mean it. This would require also being forgiving.

So, you may ask, what does the “golden rule” have to do with nations? I remember reading in the book of Genesis in the Bible how Abram and Lot decided to part and live separately from each other. It became clear they could no longer live together and share the same land. Abram came up with a peaceful solution. He said, “Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren.” And he said, “Is not the whole land before thee? Separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.”

So, boundaries between two “nations” began. And there was no need to be at war to determine the borders. But there was a need to be in agreement. And to have respect for that agreement.

Reaching an agreement apparently requires listening, patience, fairness, cooperation and perhaps even forgiveness.

Sound familiar?

Perhaps peace in the world begins with what our children are taught. But I don’t think it is ever too late to learn. Abram and Lot showed us that peaceful cooperation is possible even as adults.

I believe peace begins with an understanding that we are brethren with the same God who loves us all dearly. But I believe peace can not begin without the conviction and certainty that peace is possible. There is power in every person and nation that shares this conviction. So maybe we need to at least start by believing that peace in the world — in the Middle East — is possible!