Not long ago I was stranded for a few days, along with my traveling companions, in a mid-sized town in Germany. We were riding bicycles and taking barges across a swath of Europe from France across Germany and Austria and into Hungary. Our delay in Germany was due to heavy rains that raised the river level so much our barge couldn't make it under the lower bridges.
While taking advantage of the delay and enjoying some of the local scene, I had a brief encounter with a young worker at a small bike shop. Although I spoke no German and he no English, we communicated by pointing and gesturing.
Our group needed large bike boxes to ship our bikes back to America at the end of the trip the kind of boxes in which a bike shop would receive new bikes. He generously provided them but refused payment and wouldn't even accept a generous tip I tried to urge on him.
That act of kindness by a young German, perhaps a high-school student himself, is what I will continue to cherish as much more revealing than last week's tragic news of a deadly school shooting in another German town, just down the road from where we were waylaid.
His simple kindness, reaching across cultural and language barriers, hinted, for me at least, a divine underpinning to all acts of grace. A divine presence to call on in times of grief. An antidote to the madness of random violence.
The Love we commonly name God is more real, even more potent than its opposite. And this divine Love finds a way of expressing itself. At first perhaps we glimpse this in acts of kindness, such as that young man's. But it leads so much higher. Wherever there are signs of divine affection, there are also signs of divine protection. And as we get a sighting on immortal Love's ever-presence, we find that it's everywhere.
Put differently, divine Love tenderly provides comfort in times of tragedy, and also provides spiritual defenses to help neutralize the next tragedy, before it happens. The book of Job in the Bible says, "I would seek unto God, and unto God would I commit my cause: Which doeth great things and unsearchable;... To set up on high those that be low; that those which mourn may be exalted to safety" (Job 5:8, 9, 11).
Those that mourn exalted to safety. Those that are low set up on high. These promises from the Divine are the very things I'm filling my prayers with today. The Love that impels strangers to commit acts of kindness also forwards the comforting of those plunged in grief. Even better, when recognized, it lifts them, and us, to safety. God's presence and nature, realized in prayer, becomes a comforting embrace, a protecting shield, an uplifting arm that sets us high above any menacing danger.
Unfortunately, a certain perspective sees nothing but the wreckage of hatred and takes in none of the divine promise. But we have a choice. We can ground ourselves at that lower perspective and perhaps become devoured by fear, bitterness, cynicism. Or we can build on a higher foundation offering a more panoramic, spiritual perspective one from which more of God's exalting, uplifting power comes into view. And therefore one from which both comfort and safety make more sense; we can see they are more real and attainable.
For anyone wanting to pray for the comfort and safety of all students and teachers in Germany and around the world, Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy who was a teacher herself shared her own mental perspective in a message to her students. "How blessed it is to think of you as 'beneath the shadow of a great rock in a weary land,' safe in His strength, building on His foundation, and covered from the devourer by divine protection and affection. Always bear in mind that His presence, power, and peace meet all human needs and reflect all bliss" ("Miscellaneous Writings, 1883-1896," pg. 263).
As we bear in mind something of divine Love's nature and power, we find it is more lasting and more potent than hate. And we contribute, at least in a tiny degree, to both the comfort and the safety of those who now need it most.