'Of course, no one here believes in God," the young tour guide told us, as we rumbled through the South China countryside. "No one goes to church or to the temple."
"No one?" someone ventured from the back of the van.
"No one!" she repeated emphatically. "Of course, we're free to go to church now. But only the old people actually go. The people who were here before ...."
This tour guide, whose English name is Sharon, was speaking of the people raised in her country before the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s that banned religious services. Only these older people, she was saying, remember what it is to worship God. Only they go to churches, temples, and mosques today.
As she said this, a sort of unspoken sadness settled over our little tour group ... until Sharon broke the silence.
"Once in a while," she said hesitatingly, "my friends and I do go to a church or to a temple. We go ... to make a wish."
We asked Sharon what kind of wish she makes. "Sometimes I wish just to be happy," she said. "Or to find a good man to marry."
"Or to have bad things get better?" we asked.
"Yes," she said. "Sometimes I wish that."
Her words set me thinking. What is a "wish," anyway? It's something you hope for. Something you desire.
I remembered what Mary Baker Eddy said about desire on the very first page of "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." "Desire is prayer," she wrote, "and no loss can occur from trusting God with our desires, that they may be moulded and exalted before they take form in words and in deeds" (pg. 1).
Suddenly I felt better. Maybe those wishes Sharon makes at church aren't so far away from prayer after all, I thought. Maybe she's praying without really calling it that - without even knowing!
Of course, people could wish destructive, selfish things. But they can also desire legitimate things - like basic food, clothing, health, living quarters, or a special someone in their life.
Or they could desire things that you can't touch but are felt. Like joy, peace, love. Or things that will help someone else.
Whatever it is that you or I may desire - even if it's not the best thing to start with - it will take a better form if we trust it to the Father and Mother of the universe. Then He/She will shape it and elevate it into something beautiful and excellent. Something that brings happiness instead of hurt. Something productive rather than destructive, unselfish rather than selfish, spiritual rather than material. Into something divine.
All this happens because God's character is so perfectly good that His love redeems whatever in human thought is unlike that divine good. God's love does this inexorably, irreversibly - and so gently that we sometimes don't at first understand the wonder God is performing within us. We just start to feel better and act better. And to be more at peace with ourselves and everyone.
When these good results come from the "wishes" you trust to God, you'll want to try wishing again. And again. And again. Until, bit by bit, you realize there's a Principle behind your wishing - and that this Principle is God. You'll realize that such wishes or desires are really prayers, which transform naturally into faith and trust in God.
* * *
In the late afternoon that same day, Sharon took us to a lovely temple. There we saw a young woman kneeling in what looked like prayer.
Sharon said, "See? She's making a wish!" We nodded. Yet somehow I felt sure - and maybe Sharon did, too - that the earnest young woman before us was engaged in much, much more than making a wish. And my heart leapt to acknowledge how broadly - at that very moment - the Lord of heaven and earth was pouring the marvels of His love into this woman's life, as she knelt in rapt devotion.
The Christian Science Journal, a monthly magazine, contains other articles about prayer.