No one likes to be reduced to a stereotype. At one time or another, we all have probably felt unfairly judged because of surface factors such as skin color, gender, or the way we dress. Whether prejudice is manifest in small-scale suspicions or wide-scale wars, the barriers between people sometimes seem insurmountable. But they are not.
The very fact that we yearn to feel like part of a universal family is a message from God, assuring us that such a family does exist. And by listening to this spiritual intuition, we can gain an ever-clearer understanding of this family. This isn't just something we can tell ourselves in order to feel hope; it has practical applications.
I learned this most clearly during my junior year of college, when I moved to Kingston, Jamaica, to do an internship and to study at the university there. For the first time, I was living in a place where mine was often the only white face on a bus, in a classroom, at a store. But I had arrived with a mind and heart prepared for new adventures, and with the trust that God was guiding me in all my interactions with the people who called this beautiful island home. I was thinking about the essential qualities we all shared, such as joy, curiosity, intelligence.
I did attract attention, though. When I walked from the bus stop to the university, young men often called out to me, sometimes walking beside me - even asking me to marry them! It was clear to them that my white skin represented wealth. I responded with friendliness, knowing their intent was not to harass me. But these interactions began to wear on me.
Usually, I could gently reject someone's advances and he would good- naturedly let me be on my way. But one day, a man became hostile and accused me of being racist; I wouldn't go out with him because he was black, he argued. As the two of us walked alone along the path to the university, I asked him several times to leave, and finally, he obliged. Then I broke down in tears. I wanted so much to see the incident resolved in a deeper way.
As I sat on a bench and prayed, one thought instantly answered my need. God is "all-seeing." It was part of a definition of God I had become familiar with through studying the Christian Science textbook, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," by Mary Baker Eddy. Thinking of God as the only true "seer" assured me that my peace and joy, and my relationship with others, could not be sabotaged by how a person saw me. Right where that man had apparently been seeing me as a "white woman," the only seeing really going on had been God's perception of both of us - defined not by skin color or gender, but by our spiritual individuality, made in the image and likeness of God.
What God sees between us is equality, respect, and love - love that is based on a desire to bless. By understanding this as God's law, we can know we are protected from misjudgments and the harmful actions that result.
My tears dried quickly as I rested in these thoughts. And I prayed that the comfort I felt would also reach the man with whom I had just parted ways.
If my prayers only provided comfort after a harrowing situation, you might wonder why I'm so sure that I'm part of a universal family and that knowing this is practical. But the story has an epilogue. A few months later, I realized that that day had truly been a turning point. I hadn't again experienced such harassment on the streets of Kingston, and the mild forms of unwanted attention that had become a pattern virtually disappeared. I was seeing God's family more clearly, and my daily life conformed to that spiritual view.
This tangible result reminded me of how the Bible describes unity as evidence of the Christ in our lives: "For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us" (Eph. 2:14).