It was my second trip to Bosnia, and I had been gathering information on the aftermath of war. One day, as I was looking out at the countryside, being rebuilt but still devastated by war, a line came to me from a poem by Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science: "... heaven's aftersmile earth's tear-drops gain" ("Christian Science Hymnal," No. 207). I've known that line for a long time, and I'd always thought "aftersmile" was a beautiful, poetic word, but I'd never quite understood it.
All of a sudden, "heaven's aftersmile" took on an amazing quality of God's love. I'd thought "aftermath" was a pretty big subject. Well, "heaven's aftersmile" became bigger. I had a feeling that Bosnia's troubles could be embraced in that aftersmile of an infinitely loving God.
So many of "earth's tear-drops" have been shed in that country. So many teardrops have been shed in countries all over the world - recently in the United States and in Afghanistan. It became a living prayer for me during the course of the month that I spent in Bosnia - that heaven's aftersmile is here. God - not conflict, destruction, hatred, or death - had the final word or the final embrace of these people. Heaven's aftersmile was there.
I visited a town in an area where there had been severe ethnic conflict, where the Muslims had been forced out in 1992 by their Serb neighbors. This had happened all over the country, and in a few cases, it was Serbs who were leaving because of Muslims. Now, many people are trying to return and to rebuild homes. I was touched by the activity of one particular organization that had been helping a primarily Muslim village rebuild. In the hills above a fairly big town, this group had rebuilt 29 homes. The man in charge of determining what should be rebuilt had insisted on rebuilding the home of one of their Serb neighbors. He wanted this Serb family to be included because they were good people. He could see their goodness. He was not blinded by the overarching ethnic conflict of Serb versus Muslim.
That day, a group of several people were sitting at a long picnic table with a car backed up behind them with its trunk open so they could have music. There was a little house next to them that had been rebuilt, and haystacks that were there from harvest time. The land was on a triangular prow that jutted out over the valley. As I was looking out at the amazing view, one of the women came up behind me and began talking to me. I didn't understand, but she pointed at a triangular shape on the ground and said, "Serbski tank." She repeated it. She was telling me that a Serb tank had been on this spot, here in their yard. It was a perfect military vantage point. A lot could be seen and destroyed from that spot.
But as I looked down, there was no sign of a tank. The ground was covered with grass and little wildflowers, and all around me were evidences of rebuilding and hope, and these people behind me laughing and so happy. There were a lot of little young trees. Then the same woman pointed to herself and to the trees, and made me understand that she had planted those trees.
I was overwhelmed with the sense of what really is real - what does make a lasting impact, what does have the final word. There was no sign of that tank, and there was every evidence of a resurrected sense of life and community, kinship and caring, all around me. And the grass had grown over the spot where the tank must have, with its heavy weight, cut deep ruts into the soil. This is a very small thing. There's so much to rebuild and create again, and new bonds to be built, but this gave me hope, and such a sense of the God who is Love, and the God who is Life. This is the God who has the final word in the aftermath of whatever conflict arises.
As we said goodbye, they took my hands in theirs. I spoke back in a language they didn't understand, but there was an affirmation of love and of life going on. Sometimes the evidence that hate or sorrow is ruling the day seems overwhelming. But I have that clear example of the activity of the Christ - that sense of "God with us" or what the Bible calls "Emmanuel" - that presence of the truth of God and His children, calling us to real life and love.
Each of us can love that much, to stand with what is really real - to love so actively that we, too, feel the "aftersmile" of God's dear love.