It was the image of flames that captured my attention. But it was these words that got me praying: "The continuing unrest [in Paris] appears to be fueled less by perceived police brutality than by the frustration of young men who have no work and see little hope for the future" (The New York Times, "Rioting spreads in Paris suburbs as angry youths burn more cars," Nov. 4, 2005).
My heart goes out to the young men in the photos. I want to say to them, "I know you're angry, frightened, frustrated, but there is a way out. A way out of desperation. A way out of helplessness." I want them to see themselves through God's eyes so they can see what I mean.
I was thinking about Moses when I began to pray for those young men. Moses whose people were slaves in Egypt. Moses who became a murderer when he witnessed the mistreatment. Talk about a guy - and a nation - without a way out.
Things weren't all that bad for Moses at the moment his life changed forever. He had a wife and a job. But he was in exile. And his people were still in bondage. Could he have felt trapped - discouraged, even desperate, about a scenario he saw no way to change?
What I want to point out to those young men in Paris is that God didn't forget Moses. Even in exile, in who knows what kind of a mental state, Moses was able to hear God - to find hope - because God spoke to him in a way that got his attention. There was no denying the divine power that caused a bush to burn, but not to be consumed.
There was also no denying God's message of salvation. "I've taken a good, long look at the affliction of my people in Egypt," God told Moses. "I've heard their cries for deliverance from their slave masters.... And now I have come down to help them, pry them loose from the grip of Egypt, get them out of that country and bring them to a good land with wide-open spaces, a land lush with milk and honey" (Ex. 3:7, 8, "The Message").
Then God explained how that would happen. Moses would go back to Pharaoh and ask for his people's release. Moses would lead his nation out of slavery and into a free and fruitful life.
God's call to Moses, I'm thinking as I pray, is one that echoes even today, because it says, "You don't have to worry about the past. Don't fret about your qualifications or the place where you come from." God's response to those concerns was "I AM THAT I AM." To me that says that in any given situation, God is the only "I" that matters. And that "I," unlike the "I" we often associate with ourselves, is directed, unlimited, full of purpose and potential.
That's the "I" guiding each of our lives today - and the "I" we each have a right to claim as our identity. We are the children of a God who leads us out of the slavery of believing that we're trapped by history or in bondage to the DNA that has stamped us with a certain ethnicity or intellectual ability.
Here's the way Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy articulated this idea: "The human capacities are enlarged and perfected in proportion as humanity gains the true conception of man and God" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 258).
To me, the story of Moses can be anyone's story because God creates and loves each of His children equally. He doesn't leave us bound by situation and circumstance, but speaks to us in a way that frees us from any misconception about our life and our potential. God shows us how to move forward. He leads us into the heritage of good we deserve.
This is what I want to tell those young men in Paris. That, and one other thing: I'm not giving up. I'm going to keep on praying for Paris - and for you.