In this story from August 1982, actor Beau Bridges shares the experience that helped him understand that God played a role in his life.
When was the first time you became aware of God? For me, it happened in an odd way when I was a kid. It was the summer when archery was the craze among my friends. And, of all things, it was an arrow that first led me to think about God.
I was a boy, just 12, growing up in Mar Vista, California. My father, Lloyd Bridges, was a film actor, and my brother Jeff, my sister Lucinda and I did the same kinds of things other kids did—like mowing lawns for extra money and playing softball. We had chores around the house, and we loved hanging out with friends.
In fact, I was hanging out with a bunch of my pals the day this strange thing happened. We had brought our bows and arrows to a field about two miles from my house. We had made our own arrows that summer, gluing colored feathers to the ends and painting the shafts so that each was unique. That day I was using my favorite arrow; it had red dots outlined in black, and I’d stuck black and red feathers on the end. There was no classier and, I felt, no swifter arrow in my collection.
We weren’t using targets. Instead we were playing a game we’d created on our own—one of those crazy, “death-defying” games that boys that age seem to love. We’d played this game many times that summer, and the fact that it was dangerous only heightened the excitement.
We would stand in a tight-knit group in the middle of the field. Each of us would put an arrow on his bowstring, then pull it back and raise the bow so that the arrow was pointing up, perpendicular to the ground. Then someone would call out, “Let ‘em fly,” and we would all shoot our arrows at once.
The arrows would zoom up into the sky, out of sight. Then we’d listen for their return. We knew that, having flown straight up, they would be falling straight down, and we huddled in morbid anticipation, hoping they wouldn’t be hitting us. The object of the game, you see. was to have the arrows land as close to the group as possible, without, of course, hurting anyone. The winner was the owner of the arrow that hit the nearest.
That day when I heard the call, “Let ‘em fly,” my bowstring reverberated with a loud zing and I watched the polka-dotted shaft of my favorite arrow whiz up into the sun’s rays and disappear. Soon we heard, zump...zump, zump, and the arrows began falling all around us. When they stopped, everyone rushed to claim his, and several of the fellows shouted, “Mine is the closest!” I looked around, but mine was missing. It was strange. My arrow should have landed close to the others, but there was no trace of it.
I covered every inch of the field, and my friend Chuck Bylor helped, but we couldn’t find it. Doggedly, I continued searching. I was disappointed, and felt a little silly...and puzzled. Where was it? Mine went up with the rest, it should have come down with the rest. It made me feel, well, kind of eerie.
Earlier I had promised to help Chuck mow a neighbor’s lawn. Chuck was ready to go to our job, but I wanted to search some more.
“Come on,” he yelled at me, “it’s time to go.”
“Let’s look just a few more minutes,” I begged. “It’s bound to be here.”
“Look,” said Chuck, “you promised to help me this afternoon. Now, c’mon, we’ve got to go!”
It’s funny how something as small as an arrow can mean so much to you when you’re 12. But I felt strangely sad, as though I’d lost a kind of friend. A lot of myself had gone into making it. I had shown it to my father and friends, and everyone had complimented me and made a big deal over it.
And now it was gone. Probably buried in the matted grass. I visualized it snapping under the weight of someone’s foot, and groaned. And now I had to go help Chuck; I couldn’t back out of that. I had promised.
Have you ever wished very hard for something, with all your energy, even though you knew it would be incredible if it ever really happened? Well, that’s how it was with me and that arrow. While I was helping Chuck cut grass, I daydreamed about finding it.
When we finished our work, I waved “so long” to Chuck and headed home. Then, for some reason I can’t explain, I was suddenly bursting with energy. I felt good! I wanted to run. And did I ever! I raced at top speed down the street. I charged along not knowing the reason for my elation, and then, out of breath, I slowed down to a walk. Ahead of me was a great tree whose branches reached out across the pathway. My clothes were sticking to my sweaty body, and my breath was coming in great gasps; the tree offered welcome shade from the sun, and as I drew nearer, I lifted my head up slightly and felt grateful for the coolness.
My eyes rested for a moment on the tree’s gnarled branches; the leaves fluttered. Something red and black fluttered, too. I glanced down along the trunk and over to the other side of the tree, but the bit of red and black pulled my eyes back. A bird?... No... My brain did a double take, and I came to a startled halt, I blinked. Yes! There it was! My arrow! Two miles from where I had shot it!
I felt happy and bewildered all at once. The question—how did it get there?—kept turning in my mind. Could it have been carried along on a wind current, then dropped down into the tree? That seemed unlikely. And why this tree, along this path? Could some kids have found it and thrown it up into the branches? Still, no one—not even I—knew I’d be coming down this path; there were other ways home. Why did I choose this one? How did I happen to look up just in time to see the black and red feathers?
I was stumped. The arrow couldn’t have traveled two miles on the power I had used in drawing back on the bowstring when I let it fly. I knew I wasn’t that strong.
“Gee,” I said out loud. I reached up to grab the arrow. Something superhuman, superstrong, Something so immense that I couldn’t understand it was involved here. It made me feet a little weird, a little scared. As I took my arrow in hand again, a shiver ran down my spine.
That was the moment when I had my very first intimation of God.
It was a little thing, my finding that arrow, but it was something that had happened to me—it was my own special mystery. For the first time in my life I had to accept something I couldn’t understand, and I was in awe of it.
From that day on I began attending church and Sunday school with new interest, learning about faith, talking to God, praying the Lord’s Prayer—which became a part of my daily life. As I grew older, I discovered that my experience with the arrow that summer’s day was but a tiny sample of what religion is all about. Faith in God is a mixture of mystery and awe; you cannot see it or touch it; it requires only that we accept and believe.
And that has been my understanding of faith ever since. It is something that I like to talk about to my own sons Casey, 12, and Jordan, eight. Casey is just the age I was when I shot my red-and-black arrow into the sky. Yet I wonder if he can really comprehend my story. I wonder if faith doesn’t come to everyone differently, in some mysterious way.
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