A world without borders

by Annette Bridges. ©2010. All rights reserved.

My mamma has quoted Bible verses to me all of my life. So, perhaps it’s no wonder that regardless of the situation I’m in, a Bible verse comes to mind with some new lesson to teach.

It doesn’t even matter what the original context of the verse is or whether or not it makes sense for my current circumstances. In fact, it’s sometimes a curious fit, which is why I think the words capture my attention.

As I entered the plane for my journey to Italy, once again scripture came to my thought — “Enlarge the border of thy tent” — to be precise.

Actually, when I checked it later, the correct phrase is “Enlarge the place of thy tent.” (Isaiah 54:2) But there are Biblical references that talk about enlarging one’s border as well. These include two phrases, “…the Lord thy God shall enlarge thy border” (Deut. 12:20) and “…that they might enlarge their border.” (Amos 1:13)

As I sat down on the plane, I immediately wrote in my journal: “Enlarge the border of thy tent. I have a feeling I will be learning the meaning of these words.”

Since I was soon to be leaving the “borders” of my country for the first time ever, it’s no surprise the word border come to mind. After all, I had not been able to get that fact out of thought for weeks!

Not long after I wrote my journal entry, a beautiful woman in appropriate Islamic attire sat down next to me. I couldn’t help but notice the prayer book in her hands that she continued to reference and clearly pondered prior to the plane’s take-off. Her actions reminded me that I should do the same and pray for everyone’s safe journey. And so I did.

The flight would be a long one from Boston to Paris — my stop before heading on to Verona, Italy. So, it would be natural to have a conversation with my neighbor. This proved interesting, since my neighbor spoke very little English, and I could not speak any other language but English!

Still, during the course of our flight, I learned quite a bit about her. She was a mother of many children. And one of her children was living with her sister in Boston finishing his high school years with plans to attend an American college, too. I gained respect and compassion for her commitment to the well-being of her children and the separation she was enduring as part of that commitment. Suddenly, I was more aware of what we had in common as mothers than any presumed differences. This was pretty big for me, since there was a time when the sight of her would have brought suspicion and fear.

Prior to my trip, I had reached the conclusion that God was indeed enlarging my border or He was making it possible for me to enlarge my border — whatever that was going to mean. And He wasn’t wasting any time helping me find out!

I don’t believe in coincidence or luck. I tend to view every situation and circumstance of my life as one to learn from and grow. So actually, I guess this whole idea of enlarging my border is not a new one. I’ve been aware for a few years now that I had many self-imposed boundaries, limits and confines that needed to be enlarged, widened, broadened and stretched in countless ways.

It wasn’t luck that I received an invitation to go to Italy. And it wasn’t coincidence that my plane neighbor was this woman.

And it wasn’t surprising that my flight was taking place on my dear husband’s birthday — an occasion I’ve never missed in our thirty years together. It’s funny because even though I was far away from my husband, it felt like he was with me. This may sound corny, but I think he so fills my heart that it’s impossible to feel separated from him. But it seems it required me being away from him to realize this fact!

There is no doubt in my mind that my concept of home has been enlarged by this trip. This topic may require another column to fully explore it. I’m in awe at how a person can be in a foreign country and feel at home. But I did! I’m certain that it had something to do with me realizing that God created the entire world without boundaries — borders we’ve named “countries.” And it took me leaving the comfort and familiarity of my own small “world” to give any thought to what this meant.

When we’re faced with a situation that is forcing us to stretch in some unexpected or unknown way— perhaps going through unchartered waters — we don’t need to be afraid. With God at the helm of our ship, we can’t help but travel through and beyond the confines of limited views and narrow opinions. And we learn more about a world without borders — the world God created for all of us to share together.

What is God’s will?

by Annette Bridges. ©2010. All rights reserved.

I don’t presume to know the answer to this question in regard to the earthquake in Haiti as some people have claimed.

“Jesus never prayed to know if God were willing that a man should live” are words written by Mary Baker Eddy, which I heard read during this past Sunday’s Lesson Sermon. Every time disaster strikes, there will be those that conclude God’s will is at work. I can’t explain why tragedy falls prey to some and not others, but I could never believe that God’s will for His children is pain and suffering.

When multitudes gathered before Jesus, he didn’t know the history or plight of all who gathered. There was no discussion with his disciples about who was worthy or not worthy of being saved. He prayed for everyone. He loved everyone. And he healed everyone who came to him for healing.

Surely this was true because Jesus knew our Father-Mother God loves and cares for everyone impartially and unconditionally.

When sadly hearing the news about the horrific earthquake in Haiti, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a survivor’s story who experienced the tsunami in Sri Lanka. Her story is one I often think about and have shared with others many times. The question of whether or not it was God’s will that she be faced with a tsunami is not what came to her mind.

She was in Sri Lanka for the wedding of her niece, along with other family members and friends. They were having breakfast in their beach hotel when the monstrous wall-high waves hit. She spoke of not knowing how to swim and being crushed by furniture and other debris as she reached out for something to save her.

But the first thought that came to her as she tumbled in the water was the Psalmist’s words “I shall not die, but live.” (Psalms 118:17)

More thoughts came to her, some giving her direction such as “Cycle … paddle … use your legs.” She thought of Jesus calming a storm on the sea with those powerful three words, “Peace, be still.” (Mark 4:39) And also the words, “Know that God is here.” And again that declaration, “I shall not die, but live.”

I was comforted that in her extreme peril, she received what she described as “angel thoughts.” Mary Baker Eddy’s words, “These angels deliver us from the depths” suddenly seemed poignantly true.

Hearing about this survivor’s story taught me that perhaps it’s not necessary to try to explain why bad things happen, where evil comes from or whether or not it is God’s will. I thought if she could survive a tsunami of that proportion, what could I not survive, endure or overcome? So perhaps even against all odds, any of us could be victorious, saved or healed.

This tsunami survivor example has given me encouragement to meet disaster or catastrophe in life. Maybe you, too, will be encouraged to find answers for overcoming your own catastrophes.

Clearly, this dear woman believed she could turn to God to help in her time of crisis. She must have known God not as a destroyer but as Creator — as a protector and preserver of humanity and as a God of love. The book of I Kings says God is not in the wind, earthquake or fire. God is the “still small voice” that is present no matter how dire the situation. (I Kings 19:11-12)

Perhaps such knowledge and faith could help any of us when faced with a crisis. You and I may never encounter a tsunami or experience an earthquake, but how do we contend with whatever we may be facing — extreme debt, divorce, unemployment, injury, illness?

Do we give up? Do we believe there is no hope? Do we resolve to a life of chance, vulnerability and uncertainty? The inspiration I gained from one woman’s victory over a formidable foe has strengthened my confidence and trust in the mightiest power of all — the Divine.

While we all may face struggles and hardships that at times bring us to our knees, we can be assured that the “still small voice” will be with us, will lift us up and guide us onward and upward to a new day — to solutions, freedom, peace, comfort, healing.

May we too have the strength and faith to look at adversities and proclaim, “I shall not die, but live.” Surely this is God’s will for His beloved children!

Peace among enemies

by Annette Bridges. ©2009. All rights reserved.

The “season of goodwill entered the trenches” were words that I read describing what some call the “Christmas Truce of 1914.” Others refer to the event as a “shining episode of sanity from among the bloody chapters of World War I.”

While the details of this event have often been embellished in hindsight, there is one conclusion that is never denied — the fact that Christmas managed to bring so-called mortal enemies together as friends for a time.

Some say the soldiers exchanged cigarettes and cake. Some say they joined in song and in a game of soccer. Whatever, it is indisputable that at least some of the men who were lined up in trenches along the Western Front — sometimes no more than 30 yards away from each other — on the first Christmas of the first World War, ceased fire and had the courage to meet one another face to face in no-man’s land.

The beauty of this moment was that it was spontaneous, unplanned, not orchestrated or scripted. With no interference by generals and politicians, the lower ranks — whose life expectancy during World War I was maybe two weeks — figured out how to create peace.

No, the peace did not last. Generals on both sides eventually ordered that the fighting continue. And there would not be another Christmas truce in the next four years of war.

I came upon this information only recently and I don’t recall ever learning it when I studied history in school. Most history books I’ve looked in since, only give the incident a fleeting mention as if it was pretty much inconsequential. But the more I ponder it, the more hope-filled I become.

I’m reminded of an email forward titled “Polar Bear: I come in peace” that made the rounds months ago. It was a collection of photographs featuring a polar bear’s approach to a team of tethered sled dogs in the wilds of Canada’s Hudson Bay. It was noted by Stuart Brown that the photographer, Norbert Rosing, was sure he was soon to see the demise of his dogs. But that didn’t happen.

The photos he took, to our point of view, might conclude that the bear and dogs played together. And it was said that the bear returned many nights to “play” with the dogs. Some dispute the interpretation of “play” and say rather the animals were just being curious of each other. Regardless, nobody died during the exchange — the point that captured my attention at the time.

And again, it seemed that peace was possible — dare I say natural — among supposed enemies.

I can’t help but think that among the disciples of Jesus were also some unlikely friends — fishermen, political activists and a tax collector who might never have become friends if not for Jesus. Jesus often associated with and helped those that some among him would have defined as their “enemy.”

And I can’t help but remember when Jesus was captured in the Garden of Gethsemane when a disciple cut off the ear of one of the arresting soldiers. Jesus stopped his disciples from fighting and healed the soldier’s ear. (Luke 22:51)

Jesus had much to say about those we perceive as our enemies including, “Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.” (Luke 6:27-28)

Oh I know we live in difficult times these days when such instructions may seem impossible or crazy. We don’t often know who to trust. And there are those who are so consumed by their fears, hatred and misconceptions, that all they can think about is killing their enemies. How can peace be possible with such people? How could we ever be friends with people who want to kill us?

Almost ten million died during World War I and millions more were wounded. I suspect among those killed were many of the same ones who found a way to create peace on Christmas in 1914. If only they could tell us how they did it. Apparently both sides wanted peace that Christmas — if only for a day.

I suppose wanting peace is a good beginning.

For me, the Christmas Truce of 1914 showed that living in peace is the most natural action for humankind. Peace is our God-given nature that Jesus aptly illustrated for us during his lifetime. And if peace is more natural than war, then peace among all enemies is possible.

Surely if peace is possible for some — if possible in the midst of battle — then peace under any circumstances and at any future point in time can be a reality. We can live in the manner God intends for His creation. The thought of this peaceful possibility gives me hope.

Olympic-size quest for peace

by Annette Bridges. ©2008. All rights reserved.

Watching the parade of nations during the opening ceremony of the Olympics reminded me just how many different countries and cultures make up this world of ours. Oh I know — not every country in the world is participating in the Olympics. But I was so surprised by how many countries are participating — many of which I had never heard of. As I watched the athletes enter the stadium, I began to feel that the slogan of this year’s Olympics — “One world, one dream” — was a fitting one. Despite the differences that I was certain existed in political and social philosophies, I saw unity of purpose in the eyes of each and every athlete.

And then I wondered — “Could it be there is much to be learned from each other?”

Of course even if we answer yes to this question, our political and social differences may be a gulf that seems impossible to bridge. And this gulf threatens to keep us from learning from each other, from appreciating each other, from understanding each other, and from living in peace with one another.

But just because there is an Olympic-size quest before us, does this mean we never try or that we ever stop trying to bridge the gaps? No doubt any gold medalist would concur that if they had given up or stopped trying, they would not be wearing the gold medal around their neck. And I suspect every gold medalist would also affirm that their success was built on a long record of failures. And yet every failure was most assuredly replaced by progress and still more progress until their golden success was achieved.

This gives me hope. And I admit I’ve not been feeling a whole lot of hope lately, especially for a permanent and peaceful resolution in the war against terrorism. It is difficult to imagine mutual respect, acceptance or even tolerance among the many cultures of our world.

The imagery of those perfect circles we saw formed during the opening ceremony perhaps gives us some helpful insight on how we can begin to learn how to live more harmoniously with one another. The perfection of those ever-moving circles was accomplished with awareness by each participant of their neighbor. Somehow this example was telling for me as I sat there thinking I don’t know my neighbors.

I don’t know anything about my neighbors who live only a block from me much less neighbors who live continents and oceans away. Yet unity seems to begin with an awareness of the neighbor to your left and to your right. But no doubt for those performers to be able to maintain the kind of constant awareness that formed those perfect circles required vigilance, hard work, and practice and was no easy feat. This says to me I need to work harder at knowing my neighbors and understanding those that have very different viewpoints from me.

Each performer who helped form those perfect circles was needed and important. In fact, a perfect circle would have been impossible if one was out of step or if one was missing. This reminds me of where the apostle Paul speaks about diversity of gifts and the many members of the body in one of his letters to the Corinthians. (I Corinthians, Chapter 12)

He makes an analogy speaking of the ear, the eye, the foot and the hand. He says things like, “If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?” And “the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.”

His words affirm that although we are each very different from one another, we are each necessary to the whole of humanity. God’s creation was formed in perfect balance — each with its own unique purpose. So somehow and in some way it must be possible for the children God created to live peacefully and harmoniously on this circle we call Earth.

So although the quest for peace on earth may seem to be Olympic-size, there is divine reason to hope. We are one world with one Creator. A good beginning would be to believe this truth and accept that all of God’s children have a right to exist and to exist harmoniously.

Walking among the giants

by Annette Bridges. © 2008. All rights reserved.

My husband and I were hiking through a redwood forest in the southwestern tip of Oregon — an incredible experience that I highly recommend. It was a bright sunny summer day, although you couldn’t tell it as we journeyed through a forest so dense it allowed only a trickle of sunlight to peer in.We came to a section of the forest where many of the big trees were hollow. In fact, I took a picture of my husband standing inside one of these trees. This tree was so big in its hollow center that I suspect a dozen or more people could have stood beside him.

We met a local resident who was also enjoying a hike on this beautiful day, and we asked him about the trees. We learned that a forest fire had actually hollowed out the trees. I would never have guessed these huge, healthy trees had ever encountered anything destructive.

This man seemed to know quite a bit about the redwood as he explained the trees had a tough exterior that was almost impenetrable to fire. He said the redwood trees were so tough that even if only a small part remains alive after a fire, the tree still flourishes and grows. In fact, even when a tree dies, it reproduces itself with seedlings that sprout and grow around its remains.

We learned that although the roots of the redwood are not particularly deep, they are intertwined with their fellow redwoods. Since the trees grow in groves, their roots crisscross each other and form a pattern of support that gives them additional life-giving strength and endurance.

Our new friend told us these ancient trees are equally resistant to insects and disease, which also contributes to their long life span. It seems that the giant redwood — or sequoia — is by far the largest living thing on land. And he told us the species had been on earth over 110 million years. Some alive today have lived as long as two millennia. He said this enduring giant that stood among the dinosaurs was among the few to survive mass extinction 65 million years ago.

With such hardiness, why is it that only 10 percent of the tree species remain on earth today? Apparently, the greatest and perhaps the deadliest enemy to the redwood has been man cutting them down.

We were intrigued to learn about these inspiring trees. One can’t be in their immense presence without being humbled and awed. And you can’t help but ask yourself, “Is there something to be learned from a life that is far older than us and one that has endured many obstacles?”

When I told our daughter about them, she said she was reminded of a song we heard several years ago at Epcot’s World Showcase in Walt Disney World. The song is titled, “We go on” — music by Gavin Greenaway, lyrics by Don Dorsey, sung by Kellie Coffey — and it was played during the close of the evening fireworks show at that time. As I became reacquainted with the song’s lyrics, I could see why my story about the redwoods reminded her of this song.

”We go on to the joy and through the tears, we go on to discover new frontiers, moving on with the current of the years,” proclaims the chorus. Certainly when I think of the redwood trees surviving a forest fire, they did continue “to go on” despite what could have been devastating and life-threatening circumstances. These trees seem to have the invincible ability to hold on to the promise of life — a life that only expects progress, growth and to never end.

And the lyrics explain how we go on. We go on by “moving forward.” And how is it we’re capable of moving forward even after experiencing the most traumatic day of our life? The song says we keep “moving on” because we have “a spirit born to run.”

Indeed, God has instilled all of His creation with the energizing and uplifting spirit of life. And as we understand more about our indestructible spiritual life, we will learn that we are just as capable as the redwood tree to overcome even the most challenging ordeal and keep moving forward to each new day. In fact, it is our natural instinct to do so — our divine birthright.

So like the redwood tree, my friends, you and I will go on. We, too, can go through any troubled times and be untouched, unharmed, untarnished, without blemish, spotless, pure, fresh, intact, perfect — as God intended.

Perhaps the redwoods’ interconnected root system gives humanity its best clue for its own survival. Actually, the roots of humanity are already intertwined and established by the same Creator. My hope is that we will someday recognize, accept and believe this fact and live in peace and unity as the brothers and sisters we truly are.