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From the May 11, 2009 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

CLIMBING THE GREAT WALL was supposed to be the highlight of our trip to China in 2007. Little did I know that it would also be about climbing to a higher understanding of motherhood.

My husband and I had never been to Asia. To get ready for this adventure we hiked local mountains for weeks to prepare. In May we arrived in Beijing. For two days, our guide, Zhi, took us to see the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Imperial Summer Palace, and the famous Pearl Market. At last, the seven-kilometer trek on the Great Wall was only a tomorrow away.

Then in the middle of the night before the climb I became violently ill. Eating was unthinkable and climbing impossible. I started to pray as best I could, by silently repeating the Lord's Prayer. But it was hard to remember the words, even though I'd said it thousands of times. Zhi was concerned, but my husband explained to him that we pray to God for healing. I asked if Zhi could help us phone a fellow Christian Scientist we'd met in Beijing. He dialed and handed me his cellphone. With a weak voice I told her my situation. She calmly reminded me of a fact that I knew from studying Christian Science: that my spiritual identity was safe in the kingdom of heaven, which is a description of God's omnipresence and love for His creation. Then she offered to call a Christian Science practitioner in the United States to pray for me. I accepted the offer.

Perhaps what pained me most was the thought of missing out on the Great Wall. I really wanted to master my fear and disappointment—and sickness.

The first step to freedom came when I thought of God in a new way. In the book Science and Health, Mary Baker Eddy described God as "the great I am; the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-acting, all-wise, all-loving, and eternal" (p. 587). It occurred to me that on this day, I could learn more about witnessing the goodness and greatness of God. So my focus shifted to the "great I am" instead of merely reaching the goal of climbing the Wall. Great I am; Great Wall. It wasn't wordplay. I began working mentally to remove thoughts of sickness and putting the priority on thoughts of God. I decided to go to the Great Wall and be guided by the "Great I am."

We drove to a slightly less difficult part of the Wall. I gazed at the steep steps leading up into a hazy blue-hued sky, but doubted I could do it.


Just then a local woman in a crisp, white shirt approached me at the bottom of the wall. Speaking Chinese, she offered to walk with me. As she and I started the climb, I stopped repeatedly. Undaunted, she gently took me by the hand and led me forward, a step at a time, like a loving mother would walk patiently with her child. This act attracted another Chinese woman, who joined us on our journey. Few tourists were there, so I had many quiet moments to keep praying, settle my thoughts, and find strength to go on.

Then I realized that back home in the States it was Mother's Day. My own mother had recently passed away. One of the reasons I'd taken this trip was to divert grief. Now I realized I needed to address it. Gradually, I recognized that I'd been feeling far from home, motherless, and even sick about losing her. I knew as a Christian Scientist that God, good itself, is actually everyone's eternal Father and Mother; thus, real parenting cannot pass away. So, my mom was in good hands, and I was too.

And this looked to be quite true, as the local women—one on each arm—smiled and held my hands as we climbed to the first tower. There I was able to tell my husband to go ahead and enjoy greater heights with the guide. The women and I walked very slowly together. Then we rested, ate, and I took some photos that included a man who was their friend. Without conversing, we all enjoyed a good time smiling, and even laughing. And that's when the sickness abated.

Today I cherish that day on the Great Wall because God, Mother-Love, met my need and helped me experience universal brotherhood—or, in this case, sisterhood. A Bible verse took on more meaning for me: "Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God" (Eph. 2:19). Despite being with strangers in a foreign land, I felt the joy of being absolutely mothered on Mother's Day. | ♦

Elizabeth Beall lives and writes from Park City, Utah.

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