WE were among the last summer tourists on the tiny island. Walking at dusk, we noticed people going into a small Christian church. ``Is there an evening service of some sort?'' I asked. ``Oh, yes, we have a midweek meeting for singing together and praying. You are most welcome to join us.'' And so we did. First there was hymn singing. Then the member who was leading the meeting asked who we should be praying for. Various people were mentioned. We prayed silently, and then we prayed together the Lord's Prayer.
The Scripture reading was from Romans, chapter 12, familiar verses: ``Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.... So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.... Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love.... If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.''1
People in the congregation took turns commenting on what this passage meant to them. One woman said she had to be honest that loving her enemy sometimes seemed impossible, but since she knew that was a requirement for being a Christian, she was bound to try harder, and even trying did bless her, she knew.
I loved the honesty of her comments. This had been my goal, too, as a Christian Scientist, and I had struggled many years to feel that unconditional brotherly love. How often I had pondered and been comforted by the words of Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science: ``Human affection is not poured forth vainly, even though it meet no return. Love enriches the nature, enlarging, purifying, and elevating it. The wintry blasts of earth may uproot the flowers of affection, and scatter them to the winds; but this severance of fleshly ties serves to unite thought more closely to God, for Love supports the struggling heart until it ceases to sigh over the world and begins to unfold its wings for heaven.''2
The man who spoke next was a fisherman, I learned later. He spoke about the Bible verse, especially how the last phrase about heaping ``coals of fire'' had always bothered him. Taken at face value, it didn't seem a very Christian thing to do.
So he had done some research. One source suggested that loving an enemy confronts him with goodness. Since love is the one power that cuts through hatred, this can stir the sinner to see himself honestly and feel the repentance that will help him. Thus to ``heap coals of fire'' is not punitive but corrective.
Another man got up and said he'd thought about that too, and about the unconditional love that Christ Jesus taught. The tone of the last verse of Romans l2, ``Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good,'' was important to him. He thought about how in the early days people warmed themselves with hot coals. Treating a persecutor with love could help to warm him.
The affectionate responses in that modest gathering of fellow Christians wonderfully enlarged my sense of the family of man. There was no question that we all had one Father and were united in His love. And their specific welcome for us -- strangers -- confirmed that feeling. To hear these friends praying for each other reminded me of the omnipresence of the Word and the strength of primitive Christianity. I wondered how many tiny islands there may be throughout the world, in crowded or isolated locations, where friends and neighbors are gathering in Christ's name, their natures purified and elevated through divine Love. 1Romans 12:2, 5, 10, 20. 2Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 57.