THERE have been numerous reports of so-called ethnic cleansing in different countries. While experts say that these acts grow out of years of hatred, that doesn't justify such behavior in the former Yugoslavia, or in Rwanda, Nigeria, or anywhere else. There must be a way to break these cycles of hatred.
And there is. Prayer, practiced in the way that Christ Jesus taught it, is an active force for good. What Jesus did proves this. He refused to hate. He understood that God's love for all men is unending. He taught that we need to express this love to one another. Jesus counseled, ''Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven'' (Matthew 5:43-45).
Such love begins right where you and I are now. Here we can prove, for ourselves, that prayer does make a difference. And like even the gentlest breeze, these proofs of God's care affect the atmosphere of those around us; they spread out to all the world and ultimately support the victory of peace, even in places that are far away.
Some time ago, I was in a situation where I felt betrayed and attacked, personally and publicly. Even though I was praying, I was overcome at first by waves of hatred such as I had never experienced. At first, I prayed for mental peace so I could think rationally about what had happened. Since God is Love, I reasoned that each of us is the creation of Love; we do not include hatred, dishonesty, or malice. But in the midst of these prayers, hatred would still wash over me.
Then one night I understood the horror of this mental violence. My prayer brought the spiritual self-knowledge that I needed, and it led me to search for solutions. I continued to pray, but now with a real desire to leave hatred behind and to find peace. I also gained at least a glimpse of the kind of compassion and love that Jesus expected of his followers. This totally freed me from feelings of hatred. I gradually gained the courage to go to the people who had been so aggressive to me and speak with them about our mutual concerns. Instead of trying to establish who was at fault, I was now committed to healing and peace. And it turned out that they were as eager for peace as I was. Everything was resolved. But for me the most precious part of the whole experience is that now, whenever I think of those individuals, I can only think of them with love.
Experiences like this prove that the love Jesus taught is not sentimental or based on human emotion. God is Love itself, and man is God's spiritual creation. This knowledge heals us. It enables us to know that we really are ''the children of [our] Father which is in heaven.'' And this knowledge brings peace, even when we are most challenged.
The basis for having confidence is given in the following words of Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science. They are found in the book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: ''At all times and under all circumstances, overcome evil with good. Know thyself, and God will supply the wisdom and the occasion for a victory over evil. Clad in the panoply of Love, human hatred cannot reach you'' (p. 571).
The self-knowledge that helps us overcome evil is a recognition that each of us is spiritual. We are made to express qualities such as love, goodness, intelligence, and purity. When we are able to perceive this, we are more willing to give up fear, suspicion, and resentment, because we understand that these elements never bring peace and harmony. We can become more open to recognizing all men and women as responsive to God's direction.
Love is the only thing that brings us into line with God. Love saves. It is totally free from hatreds passed down over the years. It also enables us to counter present injustices by constantly reminding ourselves of our unbreakable relation to God.