I'm not coming to the program tomorrow," Mrs. Brown said over the phone. "I've been told the school is in a rough neighborhood and the students may resent me since I am an outsider." Mrs. Brown was a music educator from London, here on a special grant to visit U.S. schools in several cities. That very morning she had expressed excitement about seeing the program that would include the best choirs, bands, and string ensembles in our Washington, D.C. schools. Now, I couldn't believe I was hearing this. We'd already made all of the arrangements.
"No one will harm you," I finally convinced her. "I'll meet you at the door." When she arrived the next day, one student offered to bring her bags into the school. Another opened the door for her and offered to take her to the office. I watched with pride as the students were friendly toward her just as they are to all visitors to their school. Then I took her to the auditorium.
After the program, she admitted that she thought violence took place on a daily basis in American city schools. She had not expected well-disciplined students or a musically appreciative audience. How terrible it must be, I thought, to travel to a place where you are constantly in fear for your life.
Fear of the City
Many people have this fear of the city. It's understandable. Each night, on the evening news, the major emphasis seems to be on the latest stabbings, shootings, rapes, and suicides. The good news is often not heard. But fear of personal danger isn't the only problem people have with the city, and out-of-towners are not the only ones guilty of misconceptions.
Years ago, when I first became interested in metaphysical studies, I longed to go to a monastery to live, study, and put Truth principles into practice without mundane interruptions. I thought that the greatest spiritual teachers were in monasteries and the greatest growth for me would take place there in "God's country". I have since learned that growth is experienced through interaction with everyday people and everyday problems; sometimes the troublesome people in our lives are our greatest teachers.
When I was beginning to write plays and songs for children, I enjoyed reading biographies of famous writers. It seemed that all of them had summer homes in New England where they could look out their big picture windows at the ocean waves and write about the beauty of nature. The closest I could come to simulating this scenario was during our once-a-year family vacation in the mountains or at the seashore.
For a while, I convinced myself that this was the only time I could write. And it was true, that was the only time I wrote. I would sit for hours gazing at the calm lake stretched out before me against a backdrop of trees of many hues reflecting in the water. The sky seemed bluer, the clouds whiter and the stars at night far more brilliant. It was as if God put all that beauty out there for me. I would start with a simple idea and by the time we left for home, the first draft of a play or story manuscript was completed.
One summer when I needed to write a play for my students and couldn't get out of the city, I found a quiet park around the waterside that was unpopulated during work hours. I spent the day there and wrote the play I needed. How grateful I was that I had found my "seashore" in the city.
The following winter, when again, I couldn't get out of town and the quiet park was cold and bare, I wrote my play in the quiet of my dining room early in the morning before the rest of the family had awakened. I then realized the limitations I had placed on myself. That which I expected, I received.
When I expected God at the seashore, He was there. When I expected Him in my dining room, He was there. Now, when I expect Him in the midst of people and activity, He is there. Wherever I am and whatever I need to do, I am assured that God is there with me, guiding me.
"Wherever I am and whatever I need to do, I am assured that God is there with me, guiding me. "
Seizing Every Opportunity to Bless Someone
How wise God was to have given someone the idea of designing a city, a place where people could have the opportunity to see God every minute of the day in the faces of their co-workers, neighbors, and people they pass. Imagine how we can grow spiritually if we seize every opportunity the city offers to bless someone.
When I'm on a busy street corner and people are moving in all directions pushing and rushing, I step aside and bless them. "God, bless and keep all of these people, including me, in your care. Move us closer to your love and peace." Then I move on, knowing that everyone in that rushing, pushing crowd, including me, has been made better by my blessing. That's why I was there.
In the city, I can be a part of the crowds in the museums and concert halls, the thousands gathered at a Fourth of July picnic. I can bless the people going to work, the people who stand on the corners because they can't find work, the homeless people sleeping on the grates. I can be home and sit alone on my back porch -- gaze up at the topmost leaf on the only shade tree on the block and embrace the stillness of that leaf.
I can look at the tulips planted in the tree box across the street from me or at the rubber plant just inside my window -- and know that God is there. I can look out at the innocent and eager children playing tag on the crowded sidewalk or at my husband sitting across the table from me at breakfast and rejoice that God is there.
More Positive Than Negative
And though I am constantly aware of the sounds of the fire engines, police cars, ambulances, and the TV news, I know that there are far more positive than negative activities being participated in by kind, honest, loving people. And in the city, God is in the midst of them all.
All that I see, feel, and know about the goodness around me may never make the evening news, but I am here to experience it, to recognize it, to be part of it, to write about it, and to thank God for it. Whatever lessons I have to learn, whatever good I have to give, can take place right here where God is. And wherever in the world I choose to be, I know that...
"The light of God surrounds me:
The love of God enfolds me:
The power of God protects me;
The presence of God watches over me.
Wherever I am, God is!"
(Unity "Prayer for Protection')
And God IS here, in the city!
Article reprinted with the author's permission
and first published in Unity Magazine,
Commemorative Edition 1989.
About The Author
Grace Bradford is a composer and playwright of numerous songs and musical plays which have been performed in the Washington metropolitan area. Her works, including her most recently published song, "Every Body Needs Love," carry a message for youth that is designed to promote positive living. Grace can be reached at: 641 Ingram Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20011.