During the holidays just seeing those snaking lines at the airport has often made me vow to stay home next year. I'm doing better at preparing myself, though, by starting with prayer. Psalm 139 from the Bible is a favorite in my mental carry-on bag. I recently discovered this version in "The Message" by Eugene Peterson:
I look behind me and you're there,
then up ahead and you're there, too -
your reassuring presence, coming
Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you're there!
If I go underground, you're there!
If I flew on morning's wings
to the far western horizon,
You'd find me in a minute -
you're already there waiting!"
The most important thing to know about traveling is that you're never outside the range of God's love and control. In fact, I try to look at the people around me as evidence of the presence of divine Life itself - of intelligence, harmony, and kindness.
That's not always easy. Heading home one year, I got off a plane in San Francisco and boarded a bus for a two-hour ride north to Santa Rosa. As I walked toward the back, I had the sinking feeling that there was only standing room. But there was one seat left.
A thin gray-haired woman seated next to the window had piled her belongings in the aisle seat. I paused, hoping she'd offer to move them to the overhead rack. Her eyes avoided mine. "Excuse me," I began apologetically, "This is the last seat ...." Gazing fiercely out the window she snarled, "You can't sit here."
From two rows behind, a woman called sharply, "Mother!" Mother didn't flinch. "Swell," I thought, "her own daughter won't sit next to her." I reached for the hand rail and secured my bag between my feet. But the next thing I knew, the bus driver appeared and without a word began moving the woman's bags. He directed me to the seat. The woman continued to stare grimly out the window.
A thank-you murmured in her direction went unacknowledged. Her hands twisted nervously. "Why me?" I wondered. Instantly the answer came, "Because you're equipped." I knew what that meant. I was equipped with prayer to handle this gracefully. I knew something about this woman and myself that wasn't apparent on the surface. No one can avoid Spirit or be out of its sight. Both of us were in that reassuring presence right then.
I settled down and thought about God's love. It was like the sunlight coming through the bus window and wrapping its warmth around everyone impartially. "Love never loses sight of loveliness," wrote Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," page 248). In divine Love's sight, everyone is lovely, coming and going.
After a while, my seatmate started to take off her sweater, and I turned to help her. "That %$#@ bus driver has us crammed in here like sardines," she snapped without looking at me. "It is cozy," I replied to the back of her head. Back to prayer: Right here, divine Spirit is the only presence. Everyone must be, can only be, wrapped in God's love.
I smiled as we pulled into Santa Rosa, a gentle little city nestled among oak-covered hills. I was glad to be there and grateful for the thoughts that had eased the journey. As we parked, my neighbor said almost under her breath, "I hate this town." I couldn't think of a reply. It appeared my prayers hadn't brought much good to anyone except me. I gathered my things and stood up.
And then, as they say, an amazing thing happened. At least it was amazing to me. My companion looked me in the eye and smiled. "Thank you," she said warmly. "Thank you so much." Stifling my surprise, I smiled back and wished her well. Why would she thank me? What had I done other than pray?