EXASPERATED, I sat on the sofa, wondering what to do about the neighbors. The family on one side was worried about my salvation because of my religious beliefs; the family on the other side was fearful because my family relied on prayer for healing. During the few months we had lived in our new house I felt vexed by the steady barrage of questions about theology and medicine. The friendly-looking driveways separating our close houses seemed like barriers of doubt and religious bias. I prayed for an answer to soften the hardness in my own heart. I found myself looking at the telephone poles, following the wires as they connected each of the houses to the telephone system. Suddenly I noticed that there were no telephone wires between the houses. Even though I could call my neighbors, there was no private intercom system between us. To make connection I had to dial through the central exchange.
This simple thought was an answer to my prayer. I saw that in a very profound sense true communication takes place on the basis of each person's relationship to God. It is God, the one divine Mind, who imparts truth to His creation, who governs it wisely through His boundless love, and our clear recognition of this can have a healing impact on relationships. Trying to convince each other of the rightness of our opinions wasn't breaking down, but was erecting, barriers. My real desire was for all of us to have a wider perspective, learning from each other in the spirit of God's love.
As much as my talking had been about God, I had to admit I hadn't been listening very carefully to Him for direction about what to say and how to say it. I felt very reassured to realize that God speaks clearly to each of His offspring, and on this basis it's possible for us to communicate with other individuals in a way that will bless. I knew that no amount of human opinion could change the relationship we had as God's children.
Two passages in the Christian Science textbook by Mary Baker Eddy1 clarify this point: ``Not personal intercommunion but divine law is the communicator of truth, health, and harmony to earth and humanity''2 and ``The intercommunication is always from God to His idea, man.''3
For a period, my neighbors stopped coming over. Occasionally I would feel troubled, but then I'd remember that our relationship and communication were established by God.
After a couple of months I woke in the middle of the night to hear a soft but persistent tapping on my door. It was one of my neighbors. She and her husband had had a bad argument and she was in great need of help. In the wee hours of the morning we prayed together for her strength and comfort, and I felt all the objections to our friendship melt away.
It was some time later before there was a breakthrough with my other neighbors. But I still remember the sweet tears that flowed with the words of forgiveness we both spoke. For all our theological differences I continue to feel a Christly bond with both these families, and we still have opportunities for honest spiritual sharing even though we're no longer neighbors. This newspaper has reported that religious prejudice is increasingly being seen as a basic element in social injustice, economic inequality, and human disdain. But the experience I had with my neighbors gives me hope for the healing of religious intolerance wherever found.
The life of Christ Jesus provides us with a dramatic example of religious persecution and forgiveness. From the beginning of his healing ministry he was taunted and ridiculed by others. And he was eventually crucified. Yet he said, ``Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.''4
This is the challenge to each of us who has strong religious convictions: to refuse to allow them to be an excuse for condemning others. It is the very nature of religion to lift thought to consider a power greater than the human mind and to understand man as the offspring of God, governed by universal divine law. We cannot allow theological argument to overshadow the equal access we each have to the tender Father-love of God.
This is not to suggest that the significant distance between varying religious views can be totally overlooked. But each one in his or her own way can humbly admit that it is God's nature to communicate that which elevates and tempers human thought so that we are freer to love unselfishly and to serve mankind.
1The Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science. 2Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 72. 3Ibid., p. 284. 4Luke 23:34. DAILY BIBLE VERSE The Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men. I Thessalonians 3:12