Life is a Wonder
by James Dillet Freeman
A friend told me he has read too many articles where the authors claim that God has appeared to them and spoken to them. He asked: "What about all the people to whom God has never appeared and never spoken? Could you write an article about them?"
I have felt how he felt, yet I am not at all sure that God is not in some way speaking to all of us all the time. It may come as a word we hear or an idea we conceive. But however it comes, we know it only when we listen, when we pay attention to it. Let me share with you my own writing experience.
Of all the pieces I have written, the one where I clearly heard a voice speak to me and all I had to do was write down what the voice said was "I Am There." In my book Love Is Strong as Death, I tell how when my first wife Catherine told me she was sick, I took her to a doctor, and I then went to pray for her in the Silent Unity Prayer Room at Ninth and Tracy in Kansas City.
As I turned toward the prayer room in fear and agony, suddenly I heard a voice. I am always listening for an inner voice. That is how I write all that I write, but this time the voice I heard was audible. The voice was so audible that I looked around to see who was there. The voice said: "Do you need me? I am there." As I sat down, the voice began to speak again. I always have a pad and pencil in my pocket, so I took them out and wrote down the words as they came.
It was several weeks before I showed it to Martha Smock, who was then editor of Daily Word. She said, "Let's print it, Jim." I am glad we did. It has been such a help to so many. Nothing I have written has helped more people.
It even helped an astronaut, Col. James Irwin, so much that he carried it with him when he was making his journey to the moon on Apollo 15. When he returned to earth, he visited me at Unity Village. I do not know how many letters I have read from people who have been helped by this prayer.
As I say, this is the only time I have heard an audible voice, and all I had to do was put down word for word what the voice said to me.
However, every time I have something to write, I pray to God for the words I need, and I try to open my heart and mind to God's inspiration and guidance. Most of the time, thank God, the words come quickly and easily. I probably would quit writing if they didn't, but I always keep writing until the words come that say what I want them to say and what God wants me to say. I am like Jacob, and I wrestle with my angel, and I affirm: "I will not let you go, unless you bless me" (Gen: 32:26).
Most of my writing does not come like "I Am There." It comes piecemeal, and I have to change it and struggle with it; but what I struggle for, thank God, may turn out to be just as helpful to people as what comes direct.
Let me tell you how I wrote Unity's "Prayer for Protection."
When World War II was raging in Europe, we received many letters and phone calls from people caught in the conflict, but for a long time we did not have a prayer for protection that we were all satisfied with. This is how one came.
Silent Unity has always written a special Christmas Prayer Service just for Silent Unity workers. And in 1940 I was asked to prepare this service. We had never before needed a prayer for protection, but in 1940 we needed one, so wrote one to go with the Christmas service. What I wrote was a little four-line verse:
"The light of Christ directs me The love of Christ enfolds me The power of Christ protects me The presence of Christ upholds me."
I had hardly finished this Christmas service before Silent Unity came to me again and asked me to write a protection pamphlet that we could send to people, so I did. It was called His Protecting Spirit.
They told me they wanted affirmative prayers for protection on the back page. Among these was the verse from the 23rd Psalm: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me" (Ps. 23:4 KJV).
One of the young women who worked in Silent Unity was reading my manuscript as I wrote it, and as she finished it, she came up to me and said: "Jim, if I were a woman in England and they were dropping bombs on my roof, or if I were a soldier and someone was pointing a loaded gun at me, I wouldn't want to feel like I was walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Can't you do better than that?"
I thought, You want me to do better than the 23rd Psalm? You have to be out of your mind. But rolling around in the back of my mind was the little verse I had written as a prayer for protection at Christmas. I had written it just for Silent Unity, but now it came rolling up to the front of my mind and demanded that I pay attention to it. It enticed me to see what I could make of it. First I took the rhymes from it. I felt it would be more universally received if it was not a rhyme. Then I changed Christ to God. It had been Christ because it was a Christmas prayer, but I felt if we were going to send it around the world, God might be more acceptable to more people. So the little prayer became:
"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."
That is the way we first printed it. Then a line came to me that I felt would make the prayer even more powerful. The line was:
"Wherever I am, God is."
I added it as the fifth line. The "Prayer for Protection" first appeared as a four-lined prayer in 1941, but when we reprinted it in 1943, it appeared in the form it has had ever since.
"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!"
The "Prayer for Protection" came through change after change, not at all like "I Am There," when I felt that God spoke those words to me. But what is the word of God? It is possible that no prayer Unity has ever printed has reached so many people as the "Prayer for Protection," for not only has Unity printed it over and over, but almost every Unity church uses it to conclude its services. Like "I Am There," it was carried to the moon. On the very first flight to the moon, on Apollo 11, astronaut Col. James Aldrin carried Unity's "Prayer for Protection" with him. He did not know me or Unity.
It has appeared in hundreds of different publications that have no connection with Unity, and millions of people have carried it around on cards that fit into their pocketbooks, pockets, and billfolds. It has been translated into many languages. Sometimes it appears with me as the author. Often no author is given. Sometimes other people are named as the author.
It has been changed and changed again before it reached the form that it now has that best meets people's needs. This prayer is the product of much thought and concentration and of a mind that was willing to stay open to receive divine inspiration.
I think Unity's "Prayer for Protection" is as much God's word as "I Am There" is. Sometimes God speaks to us when we don't even know it is God. I think God has many ways of speaking to us and not only in words that we hear with our ears. I think God speaks to our hearts and minds, and sometimes God's message has nothing to do with words. God is love and intelligence and life. More than anything we say God is, or even imagine God is, God is the one universal Presence and Power and is seeking to express Truth and beauty and good through all of us and for all of us.
Thank You, God, for "I Am There," and thank You for Unity's "Prayer for Protection," and thank You that when I wrestle with You, though I do not even know it is You I'm wrestling, I do not let You go until You bless me and bless my fellow human beings too.
God is speaking. Are you listening?
"Life is a Wonder", (from James Dillet Freeman's book The Hilltop Heart:Reflections of a Practical Mystic.)
One morning in my garden I asked God to bless every living thing. And God asked, "But what is not a living thing?"
First of all I thought of air-invisible, inert. But the air leapt into my mouth and became my living breath. The air became the red of my blood and in the secret furnace of my cells the air became the fire of life itself.
Then I thought of water-colorless, inert. But drinking the water, I thought, "What is this body that drank the water? Is it not itself mainly water? This water that I drank is now the essence of my blood and tissues. When, then, is water merely water and when is it water of life?"
Then I thought of earth-brown, inert. "Earth, "I thought, "is not living, "and I kicked at the clods under my feet turned green and put forth leaf and stem and flower and the grain ripened in the ear. I took the ear, ground it, made bread out of it, and ate the bread. And the bread became the very stuff of myself, so that I could not separate that which was me and that which was earth. This which now was me had but a short time before been the clods of earth that I had kicked with my feet.
"Surely, "I thought, "there is something that is not living. "I thought of stones. But even with the thought I sensed the stirring in the stone, and I knew that the immovable, changeless stones were changing and moving, flowing no less than rivers, to become the living pith and bone of creatures yet unborn.
Oh, then I caught a vision of the world- not as dead and inert, but as living and alive!
Suddenly I saw that even the infinitesimal particles of which all things are formed- too small even to imagine, too small almost to conceive- are alive. I watched and I saw that they were dancing; I listened and I heard them singing.
I saw all the world of which I am part, and I saw that it is life, nothing but life. Everything is alive and has the power of life. Things pass from one phase to another, from one form to another, but they are always alive. There is no line between living and not living. Both are aspects of life, as breathing in and breathing out are aspects of breath. There is only the breathing in and the breathing out again.
We move through a world of opposites, but the opposites are not the reality, they are only aspects of reality. They are only reality as seen from this viewpoint- or that. The reality is One, and it is Life.
I thought of some of the opposites- of night and day, of evil and good, of hate and love. I asked Night, "What is Day?" And the Night answered, "I am Day,only seen from the other side."
I thought of living and not living, and I saw that life is not the opposite of death, as it is generally thought to be. Birth is the opposite of death. Is death then but the same door as birth, only seen from the other side?
Now we can see things only from where we stand. Can it be that we see only one side of all that is, as we see the moon?
Ah, if we could see life not from the viewpoint of the moment, but in the radiance of eternity!
We would see not night and day, but eternity; not yea and nay, but truth; not birth and death, but life; not good and evil, but God.
We are the namers. We give names to all things and try to describe them.
But when is a rose a rose?
When is it a seed? when it is a new plant green with spring? when it is a heart-shaped bud? when it is a full-blown bloom? when it stands thorn sharp against the winter snow?
The universe is the rose of God.
The universe is not the fixed and finished work of a Master Maker, who made it and the things in it as a watchmaker makes a watch. The universe is a living organism, unfolding from within, creatively expressing the creative Spirit of God, from the smallest particle to the largest galaxy continually breathing, growing, expanding through space and time and mind and spirit, with no end or limit to the possibility of development.
And I, too, am the rose of God.
When was I, am I, shall I be?
Of this that is my body now, how much was my body a year ago? Of the stuff that was my body twenty years ago, does a single atom remain the same?
As to my mind, nebulous, delicate, subtle, dancing with thoughts, how shall I make my thoughts stand still long enough for me to say, "This is my mind"? This very thought has altered the configuration.
Now from the viewpoint of the moment, I see my existence as an isolated fragment, beginning, ending; but, could I but look from the fixed center of being and take in the whole reach of reality, I would see that what seems to be a broken arc is really the perfect circle of eternity.
Is this what the Lord of living saw when He hung upon the mount? From that anguished, ultimate peak of experience, did He see things not one-sidedly but whole? Did He look past endings and beginnings, past every appearance of separateness, clear to the Animating Principle, and did He see that the Animating Principle was Himself?
And we, when we see things whole, shall we, too, not share the wholeness?
O living air, earth, water, breath, blood, flesh, O metamorphosing rocks, there is no begining and ending, there is no living and not living. There is only the ever-renewing, ever-unfolding expression of infinite life.
Walking in my garden, I asked God to bless every living thing.
Even as I asked, I knew that in all the world there was not one atom that did not leap up in acknowledgment.