Something to believe in

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

Once upon a time, there was a kingdom …

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away …

However the story begins, we are a people enthralled by fantasy and science fiction. In fact, fantasy and science fiction are two of the biggest-selling genres of modern-day literature.

This month’s hot story is Potter-mania. Harry Potter is a series of seven fantasy novels by British author J.K. Rowling. The first six books collectively sold more than 325 million copies and have been translated into more than 63 languages. The universal success of the novels has made Rowling the highest-earning novelist in literary history. The world waited, with bated breath, to read the seventh and final book in the series, which was finally released July 21, 2007.

If you are one of the few in the world who doesn’t know who or what Harry Potter is, I’ll give you the short story. Harry Potter is a great epic fantasy that incorporates magic, heroes, quests, mysterious creatures and the ultimate battle of good vs. evil, among other things, and brings all to life in a world that is surprisingly similar to our own.

Harry Potter is not the first epic fantasy to grab and hold our attention. C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia,” J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” and George Lucas’ “Star Wars” are three other popular ones that come to mind. What is it about these fantastical stories and their characters that make them so irresistible and compelling?

On the surface, these presentations seem so bizarre and outrageous that one wonders how we can relate. Perhaps we have a need to escape for a time from the challenges in our life and have our soul entertained and refreshed. So we let our minds go to strange places and enter into enchanted lands where the impossible seems possible and the imaginary seems real. Perhaps we long for a hero on whom we can depend. Or we need faith to believe trials can be overcome and good really can conquer evil. Maybe we just want to believe that being happy ever after is a real possibility, at least for a little while.

I think it’s the heroes in these stories that capture our hearts. These heroes, who could be described as the most unlikely and not so obvious, teach us that heroes come in all sizes and are not limited to the strong, beautiful or famous. This is reassuring for many of us, confirming that we, too, can achieve greatness and save the world.

But greatness is not what our fantasy heroes seek. They have a noble cause and a selfless mission. They serve the greater good without personal ambition or need for glory. Our fantasy heroes remind me of Jesus’ words: “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12).

Ah now, Jesus was an unlikely savior. He was probably considered by many of his peers as the least likely Messiah. After all, Jesus was a mere carpenter’s son from Nazareth. He spoke of peace and of loving your enemies. How could one with a battle cry of peace and love save the world from captivity and sin and its own destruction? Perhaps when all of humanity can answer this question, wars will cease and there will be peace on earth.

Given the universal appeal and success of Harry Potter and other fantasy epics, there’s something about these tales that strikes a chord around the world, crossing language barriers, with fans being children and adults alike. It seems we all have more in common with each other than we realize.

Maybe we’re just all hungering for more faith in our lives. Faith brings balance, security and certainty to our world. Faith turns doubt to trust and fear to confidence and expectation — faith in the Divine does this, that is. Maybe more of this kind of faith is what our unstable world needs most.

Beating the New Year blues

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

Are you beginning the New Year with confidence and expectation or with dread and trepidation?

Certainly last year humanity struggled with wrenching challenges – tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, bombings, shocking terrorist acts. It surely does not make for a Happy New Year to start it with worries about what catastrophe will happen next in the world or in your own life.

I’ve become preoccupied lately with uncertainties in my life and anticipation of unwelcome changes in the future.

Recently, I came across a statement of promise written by Mary Baker Eddy in her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures:

“The divine Love, which made harmless the poisonous viper, which delivered men from the boiling oil, from the fiery furnace, from the jaws of the lion, can heal the sick in every age and triumph over sin and death.”

These words prompted me to read again one of my favorite Biblical stories about Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego when King Nebuchadnezzar ordered them cast into a fiery furnace for disobeying his orders. (Daniel – Chapter 3)

I’ve always been in such awe of this account. How even though they were bound and thrown into this fiery furnace, their lives were not destroyed. In fact, not only did they survive, the Bible says, “nor the smell of fire had passed on them.”

And they were not alone “walking in the midst of the fire”. When the King peered into the furnace, he saw four men and said the fourth was “like the son of God.”

In discussing this with a friend, she pointed out that they didn’t have to be pulled out of the fire to be saved. They were saved while in the midst of the fire. And the Christ remained in the fiery furnace with them walking by their side.

Pondering this Biblical story has brought me reassurance. It’s very comforting to know that no matter what situation I may face in the New Year, the Christ will be with me caring for me, protecting me, nurturing me, strengthening me. And I know this is true for everyone, too.

And this reassurance is increasing my confidence in a loving and all-powerful God that can conquer evil in whatever form it may appear. And encourages me to view the New Year through His eyes

Seeing through His eyes is giving me a different view than that of doom and gloom, illness and death. His vision is only that of the perfection and goodness He made.

Whether His children are walking in a fiery furnace or peacefully by the sea side, His beholds only His beloved children whom He will always care for. His sight never wearies or dims. His perception never changes. His outlook is hope-filled and joyous.

Such a view is helping me replace the New Year blues with an expectancy for a New Year of progress, restoration and healing.

Surviving the storm

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

When I think of the thousands of families displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, I can’t help but travel back in time when my life was traumatized by a storm of events.

It wasn’t a hurricane. Nor a flood. But it was equally devastating and for me, just as sudden.

I was ten years old that September evening, taking my bath getting ready for bed when my mom unexpectedly came through the door. She promptly whisked me out of the tub to make a quick departure to escape from her bitter and angry ex-husband – my dad. I was never to see my home or my dad again.

There was no time to pack, so we left with what little could be grabbed in a flash. All that was once part of my life – my toys, my books, my dog, my friends – were now very far removed.

For the months that followed, we were homeless with little money.

Some have asked my mom, what enabled you to survive such terrible conditions?

Call it a can-do spirit. Perhaps a positive attitude. Or a cheerful outlook. Or a never-give-up perspective. My mom could never be brought down, stopped or hindered – for long, anyway.

Or she has been asked, how did you hold onto hope when everything you once owned was lost?

I can only explain that it had to be her faith. Her faith in a new concept of God she had recently been introduced to. A God that is good and omnipotent. A loving God who will steer His children safely amid any storm. A God who has given His children the ability to prove evil powerless. A God who sent His son, Christ Jesus, to teach us how.

With her faith, came hope and expectancy. With her faith, came the vision to see good and to find new opportunities. With her faith, came peace of mind and yes, joy.

My memory of those childhood days is not of lack, uncertainty or fear. I never even thought of myself as homeless or poor.

Some may look at my childhood experience with sympathy or regret. But those days for me transformed into a great gift. A lesson in how to beat the odds. How to overcome the insurmountable. How to begin anew when all is lost. How to find something good in every moment. And the assurance, as the old saying goes, that “The darkest hour precedes the dawn.”

And there was a “dawn.” A new home and a happy life for both me and my mom. That included me being reunited with my dog.

My mom says these words from a poem called “Mother’s Evening Prayer” by Mary Baker Eddy, brought her much needed peace and confidence during downhearted and dismal days:

“Love is our refuge; only with mine eye can I behold the snare, the pit, the fall: His habitation high is here, and nigh. His arm encircles me, and mine, and all.”

So as I now think about all those precious families struggling to regain some sense of normalcy in their lives, I want to whisper in each of their ears and say, “Don’t lose your hope. Have faith. All will be well again.”

A long time ago in a theater far, far away

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

It was a day that would not be forgotten. One of those unsuspecting defining moments that touched my life. I saw movies most every weekend, but Star Wars would be unlike any movie I had ever seen before.

In 1977, I was a freshman in college. My interests were boys and having fun. That was pretty much it. At that point in time, I can’t say education or career were high priorities. Nor were things spiritual. I probably went to see Star Wars swept up by the anticipation hype of the day with my friends. All I know is I saw it not once, not twice. But dozens of times.

In Bill Moyer’s interview of George Lucas, Lucas said he hoped the Force would “awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people.” One that was more about a “belief in God than a belief in any particular religious system.” One that would simply make young people think, question and consider. Well, his hope proved true for me.

Some have asked if the prequels have attracted the same audiences as the original Trilogy. If you count me, I suppose the answer would be, “Yes!” And I admit I’ve been among those trying to be first in line. Along with my daughter, I might add.

It was interesting that Lucas gave us the middle and end of the story before going back to the beginning of the saga. After recently watching Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (My daughter and I were first in line), I’ve decided I’m glad I knew the rest of the story. It would have been too depressing to watch Anakin Skywalker seduced by evil, by the dark side, and not be assured of his later redemption.

And now the long awaited answer to the decades old question has been provided. How Anakin Skywalker transformed into Darth Vader.

Perhaps Anakin’s greatest flaw was fear. He became intoxicated by fear. Thus he was led to believe and do that which he should not, would not. As he succumbed to his fear, his doom was sealed.

But in witnessing Anakin’s “fall,” I was immediately relieved and heartened by knowing he would be redeemed. His “fall” would not be the final chapter of his life. I find great hope in Anakin’s example. The hope that promises no one is beyond help, that it’s never too late to change. The same kind of promise felt in the prodigal son parable told by Christ Jesus.

I can honestly say in 1977, it was the first Star Wars episode that prompted me to think more spiritually and broadened my perceptions to consider how one action begets another. That reminded me of the Higher Power that unifies all creation. That all of creation has a purpose. And that included me!

As a result, I became more studious of things spiritual and interested in reading books by spiritual thinkers. This included spiritual thinker and author, Mary Baker Eddy. She was speaking of Galileo, but Eddy’s words ring true of Anakin’s fall: “This awful price: the temporary loss of his self-respect. His fear overcame his loyalty; the courage of his convictions fell before it.” She elsewhere states, “A man’s fear, unconquered, conquers him, in whatever direction.”

If fear is one answer to the question – What makes man evil? – perhaps love is the answer to the question of redemption. Love was certainly central to Anakin’s redemption.

So for me, Star Wars is much more than a mere tale of science fiction. It appears that through his films, Lucas’ own spiritual vision has had a profound effect on two generations of spiritual seekers. Of which I am one.

Will hope save the world in Hollywood?

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

Newspaper headlines tell the story. “When Dogma Meets Drama on Television.” “It’s the End of the World – on NBC.”

NBC’s mini-series of religion-flavored drama, Revelations, is being scoffed at by Biblical scholars while drawing in millions of viewers.

Last year, no one predicted the extraordinary box-office success of The Passion of the Christ. Nor the public and media frenzy that surrounded it.

Bestseller The Da Vinci Code has created a stir of discussions and debate among the general public, media, and churches, authors and scholars, which will not end. Soon The Da Vinci Code will make its movie debut.

The trend in exploring all things spiritual is not a new one. Is this hunger growing? Or does this desire now crave more specificity?

Regardless of one’s opinions, viewpoint or interpretation of Scripture, surely spiritual exploration is good. And perhaps it’s not so surprising that in the search to understand spirituality, the need has grown to want more definitive answers. Not surprising if one acknowledges the inherent nature of humankind as a spiritual one with the same divine Creator.

The urgency ignited by the 9/11 attacks and the war on terrorism has fueled the fear of “humanity at the brink.” Many believe this fear is also feeding the surge of religious-themed entertainment.

Certainly, Hollywood wants to cash in by accommodating public interest. And Hollywood’s goals are more about entertainment than presenting fact. But I think even in fictitious religious dramas, nuggets of truth can be found worthy of contemplation.

NBC’s Revelations features the unusual partnership of skeptic and believer, Science and Christianity – Dr. Massey and Sister Josepha. Their dialogue in the first episode sets up the ensuing conflict.

“Believe whatever you want to,” said Dr. Massey.

“Deny whatever you want to,” replied Sister Josepha.

But it was something Sister Josepha said in the second episode that has given me pause. Dr. Massey asked, “…even if this child is Christ, how can this child save the world?” And Sister Josepha responded, “Christ is hope…Perhaps hope can save the world.”

Now there’s a thought worthy of reflection. How can hope save the world? What kind of hope would it take? What message of hope comes from Christ?

Few would deny the effect of depressed hope. The history of civilization provides its chronicle. Unending cycles of poverty. Stalled progress. Limited vision. Ignorance. Anguish. Envy. Misunderstanding. Fear. Hatred. And so on. History has shown that depressed hope unchecked leads down paths toward doom and death.

So what of hope?

For centuries, many have thought of the Christ-child as a symbol of hope. The life and lessons of Christ Jesus teach of the infinitude and inclusiveness of God’s love and of the infinite possibilities of God’s help. History has also shown that faith in Christ Jesus and his teachings restore hope and lead up paths toward healing and life.

So maybe hope can play a part in the world’s salvation. Maybe humankind can change its destiny, as the character of Sister Josepha asserts. Biblical scholar and author of her own book on spirituality and healing, Mary Baker Eddy, describes the ministry of Christ Jesus. “Panoplied in the strength of an exalted hope, faith, and understanding, he sought to conquer the three-in-one of error: the world, the flesh, and the devil.”

Perhaps we must put on the same armor – exalted hope, faith and understanding – in order to win our own battle for salvation. Christ Jesus’ example affirms our hope that victory over evil will be the outcome. Such a victory was his.

In the meantime, the warfare between good and evil will probably continue in the creation of more shows like NBC’s Revelations. Ultimately, I believe the heart of humanity forever cherishes hope and no fear of Armageddon can destroy it. Hope will enable humankind to endure, overcome and win the day.