There was a period of time, in Brianna’s young life, that she struggled with her understanding of who God was to her. She heard growing up, everyone else’s ideology of who God was for them, in their lives, but she didn’t feel the same way. She pushed aside these perceived concepts of God and at eighteen, decided to search for clarity and answers. She headed to Peru, Greece and Argentina, to help others as a mission teacher in the slums and refugee centers. These places are filled with poverty, pain and desperation, unlike anything she’d had ever seen before. The sight of which, saddened her, to the point of tears, because she saw neither future, nor hopes for them. In spite of this, when she interacted with them, they were filled with so much love and hope, that she could literally see a twinkle in their eyes as they shared. This hope was beyond anything, that she could wrap her mind around. Every place she traveled and worked she saw the same hope and twinkle. She knew that this was something that was illogical and irrational, yet this common thread existed and it perplexed her.
Brianna learned from this experience that, when you are not looking for God, you find him in the most unpredictable places. In Athens, Greece, she worked with Afghanistan men in a refugee camp, where she heard, horrendous and horrifying tales, of their religious beliefs. Their disrespect for woman and American’s as well, so when one man came to her and asked her to pray for him, she was stunned. For him it was irrelevant that their understanding of God was different, that he was Muslim and she was a Christian, a woman and an American. What mattered to him, was that, their common core in their hearts was the same and this connected him to her. Brianna learned a lot from him, and her experience taught her, that this common core, lives in the hearts of every human being, and this love crosses barriers that can connect and heal us.
This man showed her an inner truth of God that she could relate with. She believes that if this basic human nature that we all carry in our hearts, can separate itself from spiritual righteous pride and find humility, it holds the capacity to change the world. When she returned home to New Jersey, she began volunteering with the homeless at tent city in Lakewood, and she encountered the same hope and sparkle which, confirmed her findings. We all want to love, and be loved, to have something to believe in, and we are all connected by a heart that holds compassionate love. This love crosses the lines of religious barriers into an ecumenical union.
While I sit in Brianna’s parent’s RV listening to her share her story during Hurricane Sandy, I am in awe of a woman, so young, and so wise. She didn’t connect with the image of God molded from her faith. She went in search of a God that was personal and found it, which I find impressive for a now twenty one year old. I look around this RV, at the faces of my neighbors, huddled together during a destructive storm and I see a light comparison to her story. We gathered together during the aftermath of the storm, to share what we have regardless of our different faiths, encouraging each other in hope that we would fare well. Her parent’s shared their generator from their RV that assisted at least 4-6 families make it through the storm. Other neighbor’s offered warm showers, water, meals, whatever they could. The outpouring of compassion was remarkable and one I will not soon forget.
This common thread of compassion is visible during challenging circumstances, in the eyes of those who suffer. I believe, this sparkle Brianna speaks of, holds the heartbeat of God, living inside of the soul. I pray this sparkle never dwindles, but continues to shine brightly. Not just during times of suffering, but in the everyday blessings we hold each day. For when we share our hearts with each other, we stand on Holy Ground, channeling God’s love to the world.