Like most people I know, I've been feeling a little on edge about the presidential election. But an unanticipated meeting with the President a few weeks ago really helped calm me down.
My husband and I spent a couple of days in California's Sequoia National Park, home of the awesome giant sequoia trees. Early one morning we were almost alone, walking in Giant Forest, the largest grove in the park. As we meandered along reverently, we suddenly came upon the President.
OK, it wasn't anyone you've seen on the front page lately. It was actually a towering tree with a sign in front of it that said, "The President." We sat down on a bench that was designed for leaning back and looking up.
Gazing at that still colossus was an experience I won't forget. It was like having an audience with the wisdom of the ages. It spoke of unswayable integrity and strength. These trees can grow to over 300 feet tall, weigh over two million pounds, and live more than 3,000 years. They've survived countless storms and fires, and thrive. Their presence made me feel like praying. And I'm sure I'm not the only one who has felt that way. While I saw the usual initials carved on park benches, I didn't see any marks on these big trees, even though thousands of people walk right up and touch them year after year.
My prayer-conversation that morning went something like this: "Eternal Truth, thank you for giving me this larger view of presidency. I see now that it's really an idea - an idea of authority and power. That's just what I needed to know. Presidency is a symbol of the only real power, the divine wisdom that controls the universe. Presidency, in this sense, is bigger than any person who fills the office - as this tree dwarfs even the largest human being. Because presidency is an idea, it can weather crises, scandals, and even misguided ideologies, and keep on standing. And knowing what this office stands for can help any occupant of it grow in stature.
"Help me hold on to this vision of stability and strength. Help me not give in to discouragement at personal failings. Give me patience and love to keep demanding that the integrity I see in this tree be expressed by all God's sons and daughters, beginning with me."
I left that grove inspired, clearer about the real power directing the world even though it looks as if human beings are in charge. The massive base of those trees reminded me how important a firm spiritual foundation is to withstand storms of passion and disappointment.
Committed spiritual thinkers have that foundation. They deal with people's failings day after day and keep encouraging them to live up to their potential as God's likeness. I think their patience and faith come from their deep-rooted understanding that people are innately good. Jesus was disappointed by rivalry and small-mindedness in his students, but he also knew they were better than that and never stopped working to bring out that best self.
Gandhi was known for his ability to bring out the best in people, even those who opposed his work for social justice. He once visited an official in the South African government named Jan Smuts and told him he was going to oppose the government and win. Surprised, Smuts asked Gandhi how he planned to do that. Gandhi smiled and said, "With your help." Years later Smuts wrote that Gandhi did in fact win his respect and friendship by his fairness, patience, and persistence. Over a period of time, unjust laws against Indians were overturned (Eknath Easwaran, "Gandhi the Man").
Mary Baker Eddy, a spiritual healer and founder of the Monitor, followed the same love-based approach. She discovered that seeing people in God's likeness brought healing. She wrote: "Holding the right idea of man in my mind, I can improve my own, and other people's individuality, health, and morals; whereas, the opposite image of man, a sinner, kept constantly in mind, can no more improve health or morals, than holding in thought the form of a boa-constrictor can aid an artist in painting a landscape.
"Man is seen only in the true likeness of his Maker" ("Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896," page 62).
Whether one supports or opposes the policies of the next administration, anyone can contribute to the country's progress by holding the spiritual idea of creation in mind. Then we can trust that the presidency will continue to stand and its people continue to grow.