Hope beyond lip-service

by Annette Bridges. All rights reserved.

It’s easy to tell others not to give up hope. But have you ever asked yourself if you believe what you say?

In the past year, I’ve walked with many a friend and family member facing difficult challenges — be it illness, accident, divorce, or death of a loved one. In my desire to help, I’ve tried to offer words of hope and encouragement.

But because I struggled with despair in my own heart over their plight, I recently asked myself if I really had the hope for them that I voiced.

I’ve begun a search to understand more about hope because I want the hopeful words I speak to be words I truly believe.

In her writings, Mary Baker Eddy refers to a famous Italian proverb translated, “While there’s life there’s hope.” And I’ve wondered if the reverse is true — while there’s hope there’s life. A university experiment suggests this is so.

Two groups of mice were observed in the experiment. The first set was restricted so that the mice felt it was hopeless to try to escape. And the second group was arranged in a way to give them some hope of escaping. After a time, both groups were dropped into tubs of water. The first set sank. And the second group immediately swam to safety.

This experiment suggests that hopelessness leads to death while hope results in life. I’ve read other medical school studies that have concluded an attitude of hope contributes significantly to the healing process.

But while I could see the powerful effects of hope and hopelessness on the mice in this experiment, I didn’t want to agree that our hope is contingent on our circumstances and conditions. If I agreed, this would suggest that we could become overwhelmed to the point of drowning in our despair.

I turned to the Bible for more insight. My attention was captured by an account about a woman and the hope that saved her life.

She had struggled with her illness for twelve years and had spent all her money on physicians, seeking healing. But none of them were able to help her. No doubt she had heard about the healing works and teachings of Christ Jesus. And apparently her hope was so great she believed if she could simply touch his clothes, she could be healed. She was healed, but Jesus explained to her that it was her faith that had made her whole.

I thought about this dear woman’s long desire for better health. And I was inspired by her hope as she continued to believe she could be healed, in spite of years of futile searching.

Such examples strengthen my hope and fortify my own determination to never give up on the possibility for a life of health, productivity and potential. They make me hope and believe that healing remains possible for every one and in every case.

For me, this Biblical healing account, while teaching us not to give up but to remain firm in hope, also teaches us to remain open-minded about the method in which healing can come. It teaches us not to limit options and helplessly accept any diagnosis or fear as the final word on life.

So how do I maintain the same hope as this woman who went to Jesus for healing?

Mary Baker Eddy’s explanation of “belief” and “to believe” is helping me answer this question. She writes, “The Hebrew verb to believe means also to be firm or to be constant.” And she continues, “The Hebrew and Greek words often translated belief differ somewhat in meaning from that conveyed by the English verb believe.” The Hebrew and Greek meanings of belief “have more the significance of faith, understanding, trust, constancy, firmness.”

I’m getting a glimmer of what hope really means. Hope that is not merely wishful thinking or looking at life through rose-colored glasses. But hope that is a confident expectation of good and a firm trust based on the understanding of an omnipresent and omnipotent, entirely good God.

Because God is ever-present giving us all we need in every moment, our hope is ever present and a power in the face of whatever obstacle we may encounter. Because God is all-powerful and a loving divine Parent always caring for His children, our hope is indestructible and indelible and it cannot be smothered out as the mice experiment suggested.

With God, divine Love, at our side, we are embraced by hope that helps us see beyond a problem to possibilities. With God, eternal Life, as our guide, we are sustained by hope that keeps us moving forward expecting better days. With God, supreme Mind, directing us, we are renewed by hope that gives us confidence our goals and dreams are obtainable. And with God, infinite Truth, forever instructing us, our understanding is filled with the hope that healing is possible.

The Gospel of Mark says, “…for with God all things are possible.”

Yes, I choose to base my hope on that promise. Those are hopeful words I can believe!

Every day can be an Easter

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

When I think of Easter, I think of one of the most precious gifts Christ Jesus gave to mankind. The promise of resurrection – of life, and not of death.

At this time of year, many focus on the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross. I embrace his crucifixion as the supreme model of unconditional love and forgiveness. He unselfishly bore our infirmities. And I’m humbled.

But I can’t stop there. Especially in light of the fact that the crucifixion was not the end of the story. Evil didn’t win the day. How important for humanity that his life example continued with his resurrection and ultimately, his ascension.

Renowned spirituality and health author, Mary Baker Eddy, writes much about the life and works of Christ Jesus and shares poignant ideas about the meaning of his example. These ideas are found in her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.

Of his crucifixion she wrote, “Despised and rejected of men, returning blessing for cursing, he taught mortals the opposite of themselves, even the nature of God; and when error felt the power of Truth, the scourge and the cross awaited the great Teacher.” And she describes the cross Jesus carried “up the hill of grief” as “the world’s hatred of Truth and Love.”

Truth, as well as Life and Love, are among many Biblical synonyms for God, and error, the opposite of Truth, is one of many names Eddy uses synonymously with evil. And unfortunately, mankind has often found itself being misguided and controlled by evil in some form or fashion – dishonesty, jealousy, hypocrisy, slander, hate and all the etceteras.

Many have questioned why Jesus allowed his enemies to crucify him since they believed he had the power to stop them.

But might that be where one of the incredible lessons of the resurrection comes in? He allowed his enemies to attempt the destruction of his mortal life. But his resurrection gave us proof of his immortal life. And as Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “Nothing could kill this Life of man.”

What a promise for each of us!

His example teaches us that we can never be separated from Life, God — the source of our spiritual, indestructible, eternal life.

Can’t this knowledge also become our resurrection, in a sense, right now?

Think of the many ways we may feel like we’re being crucified today.

Overwhelmed with debt that seems impossible to get out of. Battered with illness leaving our body weary for peace. Depressed with loss and loneliness with dim prospects of a brighter tomorrow. Feeling misunderstood or not appreciated.

Might Easter give us the promise of being resurrected from such crucifixions?

Remember the disciples’ mistaken grief over the death of their Master. And their hesitancy to believe his resurrection could really happen. Christ Jesus later upbraided them for their unbelief, as the Gospel of Mark tells us.

Have we given up hope?

Perhaps it’s possible to believe no more that something can forever destroy our hope and peace – or even our health.

Is it possible that such knowledge, such confident expectation, could roll away the stone from our tomb of despair?

What if the revival of our faith and hope could bring renewed strength, regenerated courage and restored confidence. Such a faith might proclaim that nothing can extinguish our health, our hopes, our dreams, and our peace that is given by God to all of his beloved children.

And today could be an Easter for you and me!

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.”

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.