I'm writing this article in a sloping green field, where the cane is as high as an elephant's eye and will soon be ready for harvesting.
This is the sugar belt of South Africa, and from where I'm sitting, I command a fine view of the Indian Ocean. If I look up, I can see a flock of pelicans - about 30 of them - catching thermals like gliders, using their elevation to choose which beach they'll use for a late-afternoon swim.
Post-apartheid South Africa still wrestles with high unemployment, violent crime, and a shaky economy. But there's a palpable spirit of renewal among its peoples.
Not far from where I'm reporting is a humble wood and iron structure, which, during summer storms, struggles to keep out the wind and rain. It's a church - without proper doors, glass in the windows, or funds to finish the construction.
But "This is God's edifice," the minister tells me, with just a hint of pride in his voice. "It's built to let songs of praise reach high into the heavens."
And every Sunday afternoon, that's just what happens here. The minister, speaking and singing in Zulu, leads his congregation in praising God. One of his favorite songs of praise, he says, opens Psalm 9: "I will praise thee, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will shew forth all thy marvellous works."
With growing excitement, he explains further: "In my church we love the Old Testament, which foretells the coming of Christ. But I like to preach from the New Testament because it shows us the way we have to go."
He says he teaches the members of his congregation never to take the law into their own hands; never to seek revenge for anything. "If they trust God, He will supply all their needs. My message is always one of love, and forgiveness, and salvation."
This leads us naturally into an exchange of thoughts about the limitless provision of God for all of us, wherever we might live, under whatever circumstances. It gives me a wonderful opportunity to tell the minister about Christian Science, about which he's heard little in his remote country parish.
I explain that Christian Science, which was discovered by Mary Baker Eddy in New England well over 100 years ago, shows how, through prayer, we can change our thought about environment, government, employment, relationships, health.
This Science, through God's power, reveals the ever-present possibilities of progress for us. It sets out truths that rectify, even heal, the situations in our lives that seem to hold us down. In truth, men and women exist as the likeness of their Maker, the divine Spirit; they are Spirit's witnesses.
My newfound friend listens with rapt attention. He contributes many thoughts of his own about the Africans' enthusiasm not only to receive the message of Christ's healing power but to share it. We rejoice together over the inspiring example of Christ Jesus, and agree that no one ever worked with more energy and dedication to demonstrate true being. He mastered every limited, material condition, while at the same time teaching humankind that the kingdom of God is within consciousness - is not a place, but a Christly state of mind.
As we speculate on how Jesus would address the world's challenges if he were with us in person today, I share some of Mrs. Eddy's thoughts on this subject: "He would mightily rebuke a single doubt of the ever-present power of divine Spirit to control all the conditions of man and the universe" ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," Pg. 294).
We agree that this is the way God has always governed the earth, and that those who become conscious of this true order of existence, even in a small degree, demonstrate Spirit's control of their daily experiences and activities, right where they are.
Another observation enriches our discussion still further: "What mortals hear, see, feel, taste, smell, constitutes their present earth and heaven: but we must grow out of even this pleasing thraldom, and find wings to reach the glory of supersensible Life; then we shall soar above, as the bird in the clear ether of the blue temporal sky" (Eddy, "Miscellaneous Writings," Pgs. 86-87).
The minister looks up with a knowing smile and embraces the wide, blue African skies. The pelicans still hover high above. And our thoughts are way up there with them, soaring with gratitude for the richness of God's blessing to all.