By: Ginny Luedeman
August 9, 2004
CS Sentinel

At an elephant camp in Chiang Mai, in the north of Thailand, my adventuresome sister and I climbed aboard a female elephant. Along with a procession of other tourists, we headed into the jungle for a two-hour journey. Each elephant had a bamboo seat for two attached to its back. Because of changes in the forestation in Thailand, these elephant rides have become an essential source of income, providing food for these magnificent animals, and we were happy to support this effort. Our guide, a native Thai man, was clearly amused at our efforts to cling to the bamboo seat as we swayed from side to side--the familiar sights of buildings and people disappearing, and the heat and lush tropical foliage engulfing us.
With the guide’s permission, I gingerly crawled forward to sit on the elephant’s neck, as I had seen him do. I was determined to get the most out of this ride! Once on her neck where the swaying was even more pronounced--I discovered there was nothing to hang on to except the rolls on the top of her big ears. But in the inspiration of the moment, I brushed my concerns away.
As we plodded deeper into the jungle, though, I started to get scared. Then, to top it off, the elephant plunged down a steep part of the trail and began to slip in the mud. And because it was so hot, all the elephants started fanning themselves with their ears. Finding it almost impossible to hold on to my elephant’s ears, I tried to lean against her head. But going downhill and leaning forward made me feel as if I was going to fall, so instead I tried to lean back. A feeling of panic began to close in on me. And I launched into prayer.
Earlier in life, I had suffered from panic attacks for many years. I never knew when one might hit, and the fear would often cause me to leave whatever situation I was in and seek a safe place where I could pray and get my feelings under control. Although I didn’t give up on leaving home, my preference at that time was to stay indoors in my “safe zone.” Travel definitely was not one of those zones, and I avoided it whenever possible.
During those struggles I prayed with many ideas from the Bible. Among the things I read, two passages strengthened me in this battle with panic: “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (II Tim. 1:7); and “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: (I John 4:18).
I discovered that fear is only a succession of suggestions that the love of God is absent in some form. Fear isn’t really a sudden whoosh of feeling, or even a change of conditions, but a thought-by-thought deception. Learning that good thoughts from my divine Parent come to me all the time, because God is always with me, I found I had the spiritual conviction to refuse to be deceived by panic. I simply refused to accept those bogus thoughts, and, instead, clung to good and powerful truths from God. And in this way, my defense against fear became an offense.
Everything I read in my spiritual study supported the fact that I didn’t have to accept panic as a condition I must live with, but that it was an imposition on me. Everything encouraged me that I could not only resist the fear, but that I could be free of it altogether. I found courage in this statement from Science and Health, a book that I study along with the Bible: “We can, and ultimately shall, so rise as to avail ourselves in every direction of the supremacy of Truth over error, Life over death, and good over evil, and this growth will go on until we arrive at the fulness of God’s idea, and no more fear that we shall be sick and die” (p. 406).
My prayer-battle against panic wasn’t easy. It lasted a number of years. But the attacks happened less often and with less intensity. And slowly, thought by thought and prayer by prayer, my fears began to vanish and my horizons expanded.
Now, on the back of that big elephant in Thailand, I recalled some of what I’d learned, and I realized that I was as safe as if I were back home in Oregon, watching TV and eating popcorn. I may have been halfway around the world from my home address, but I was not halfway around the world from God’s love. Reaching out in prayer, and declaring with conviction that fear could not persuade me away from my divine Parent’s love and protection, I leaned with all my mental might into the thought that this creature, and I, and everything there in the jungle, belonged to my Father-Mother--Love--and that we were safe in that holy place.
As I continued praying, I began to feel a sweet calm come over me. And then the most wonderful thing happened.
Slipping down that slope, the elephant stopped fanning herself and instead tightened her ears against my dangling legs. I couldn’t have pulled them out if I had wanted to. All the way down that path, until we got to steady ground, she held me legs firmly between her body and her big ears.
When our path leveled out, I felt so much love for her that fear and doubt simply melted away, leaving me with only the sweetest joy and peace. I hoped no one would see me crying with gratitude as I patted the hairy head of my big-eared friend, who I felt had loved me so perfectly.
When it was my sister’s turn to ride on the elephant’s neck, I climbed back into the bamboo seat. The rest of the journey was pure joy. Swaying rhythmically in the bamboo seat. I saw love in the beauty all around us. I was keenly aware how God’s perfect love is everywhere.


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Ginny Luedeman


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