THE current series on cities in the Monitor reports a new spirit of cooperation and determination to meet urban challenges. There are high hopes for what cooperation and commitment, combined with imagination, can do. But are these empty hopes when urban unemployment is high, people need to be fed and housed, and sewers, streets, and buildings need repair?
Actually, genuine cooperation, and the determination not to crumble before a challenge, can tap powerful resources that don't fluctuate with economic cycles or population trends. Seen in the light of Christian teaching, these efforts show a yearning for the spiritual vision that regenerates and the spiritual strength that comes with unselfish love. This yearning is really a form of prayer. Prayer reaches deep into the inexhaustible resources of God, divine Spirit. The influence of divine Spirit opens thought as nothing else can, because it transforms our view of ourselves and others. And this new vision is fundamental to any lasting progress - for ourselves and our cities.
The challenge of our cities is really the challenge a lawyer put to Christ Jesus after the Master spoke of the necessity of loving God and our neighbor as ourselves: ''Who is my neighbour?'' n1 Whether we live in the city, commute there for work, or only come occasionally for an outing, we must love our neighbor as ourselves. In the quietness of prayer, we can learn how to love him. We can gain the certainty that there is more to ourselves and our neighbor than the record in the census report. We can begin to recognize just how radical this Bible insight is: ''The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.'' n2
n1 Luke 10:29.
n2 Romans 8:16, 17
It is because each of us, in his true being, is God's spiritual expression that we can be a force for good and begin to see wonderful potential in ourselves and in our neighbors.
In a contemporary retelling of the parable of the good Samaritan, n3 one actor in the musical Godspell portrayed the Samaritan as a friendly drunk. This portrayal was particularly vivid to me. The despair of the city might be symbolized by homeless, unemployed street people finding no escape but alcohol. Yet here a derelict was the good neighbor.
n3 See Luke 10:30-37.
For me this suggested that no one should be written off. No one should be denied his true heritage as the child of God. In our prayers we need to ask what would make us withhold the recognition of our neighbor's true, spiritual selfhood. And we need to ask for the strength to give that recognition.
In doing so we are freer to see new solutions to problems in the city - whether we're trying to find good housing there for our own family or some way of improving city housing as a whole. Our recognizing and keeping uppermost in thought the spiritual nature of man begins to restore trust, willingness to listen, and commitment to work together.
Prayer requires discipline, though. It demands a willingness to admit God's presence and power and to do away with stubborn cynicism. It means not being afraid to follow the spiritual insight we gain in the privacy of prayer and to bring that insight into our lives.
What good is our prayer when the obstacles loom so large? Perhaps we can glimpse the answer in something that Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, wrote to members of First Church of Christ, Scientist, in New York City: ''As an active portion of one stupendous whole, goodness identifies man with universal good. Thus may each member of this church rise above the oft-repeated inquiry, What am I? to the scientific response: I am able to impart truth, health, and happiness, and this is my rock of salvation and my reason for existing.'' n4
n4 The First Church of Christ, Scientist and Miscellany, P. 165
It is the power of Spirit at work in individual lives that transforms and brings needed renewal to us and our cities. Through prayer, each of us can feel and obey that divine power which heals. DAILY BIBLE VERSE Let us not . . . judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occassion to fall in his brother's way . . . Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. Romans 14:13, 19