Comforting others

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

I remember the time of Martin Luther King's assassination very well. I was a young college student at the University of California at Berkeley. Like many others on campus, I gave a lot of thought to Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" speech. But I was deeply discouraged. The world seemed a pretty bad place to go on living in if someone that good, and that gifted, could be gunned down in cold blood. It seemed to me like King's "dream" for a better world was dead. One day as I was walking to classes, the chimes on the campus bell tower, the "Campanile," began to play. As I listened, I recognized the tune as belonging to one of the hymns I'd sung from the "Christian Science Hymnal," with words by Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper: "O gentle presence, peace and joy and power;/ O Life divine, that owns each waiting hour,/ Thou Love that guards the nestling's faltering flight!/ Keep Thou my child on upward wing tonight" (No. 207). I felt comforted. I felt that God, who is divine Life itself, "owned" all our hours. The ideas that King had shared - messages about freedom, perseverance, brotherly love - were eternal. They could not die. The work he had started would continue. About a year ago, I thought of this experience again when I was visiting another college campus. This time it was to attend a memorial service for a friend and professional colleague, who had been killed very suddenly and senselessly in a car accident. My friend was a brilliant scholar as well as a warm human being. He and his young wife had been very much in love. I was myself facing a number of personal challenges. I'd prayed deeply and earnestly about each of them. And yet I seemed to be seeing no progress anywhere. What comfort could I possibly be, I wondered, to a young widow who had just lost the love of her life? I felt very discouraged. Just before the service, I paused and turned around to face the campus. There, within the line of my vision, was another bell tower. And it was chiming the hour. I remembered the comfort and inspiration that the chimer at UC-Berkeley had provided for me those years before - certainly without ever having known how very much he or she had helped me. That comfort, I recognized, was evidence of the presence of Christ. A Messianic promise in the book of Isaiah speaks of Christ this way: "The spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord ... to comfort all that mourn ... to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness" (61:1-3). That Christ-spirit had certainly sustained and guided Martin Luther King, Jr. And I'd been leaning on God and His promised Messiah to help me through my own personal problems. I knew that all the inspiration and comfort I had received from my prayers could be of use to those around me, as King's were to those he touched. For a moment I prayed something like this: "Dear Father, please don't let anyone at this service look at me and see a woman overwhelmed by her problems. Please let them look at me and see what it is I am leaning on to get me through them!" The service was beautiful. When it was over, I went up to speak with my friend's wife. She asked me to sit with her and to tell her about my friendship with her husband, and about the research he'd helped me to do. She listened with a beautiful smile as I told her how grateful I'd been to learn of their love for each other, and how certain I was that his work had been important and that it would endure. We ended up sitting together, alone, for half an hour while everyone else went in to the reception! Later she told me how very comforting our talk had been. My experience suggests that even when we ourselves are going through tough times - maybe even especially when we are - we can still comfort others. And Martin Luther King's example shows that prayer-inspired words not only comfort, but stir to life-affirming, positive action.

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