BOSTON — My ears and arms were bright red, and I was in pain. My friend also had a sunburn.
We had been canoeing on a pond and just hadn't realized how much sun we were getting. I had been healed of a very severe sunburn before - through prayer. And I felt confident that prayer could help me again. It was nice when my friend asked me to pray for both of us.
I have learned that we each have a spiritual identity; that we are each an idea of God, the divine Mind. God created all that is. He made it perfect and good, like He is. Nothing in His creation can hurt anything else. I didn't need to be afraid that the sun had a power separate from God that could damage me or my friend.
Of course, when we pray we can't just think of facts like these as being abstract concepts. That day, I had to accept them wholeheartedly. To understand that God's powerful love would free us from the fear and the physical discomfort.
It is a little bit like the difference between listening to a description of a traffic light and actually interacting with one when you're driving a car. The traffic light in the description is just an interesting concept. The traffic light on the road is something that directly affects your behavior.
As I became more conscious of God's love, this had an effect on both my friend and me. It took our thoughts away from a focus on the sunburn, to a sense of God's love for us. I was convinced that divine Love would not hurt us. Psalm 121 assured me, "The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night" (5, 6).
Prayer is striving to understand that reality is spiritual, not material. For my friend and me, the practical effect of prayer was a change in how we saw ourselves - and in our physical condition. The Christian Science textbook explains this: "Consciousness constructs a better body when faith in matter has been conquered. Correct material belief by spiritual understanding, and Spirit will form you anew" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," by Mary Baker Eddy, pg. 425).
One aspect of "faith in matter" is believing that having a nice suntan can make our lives better. Then there is the great fear of skin cancer. This involves the opposite belief that material conditions can hurt us.
The bottom line is that what is spiritual - what is of God - is what has power. The best way to improve our lives, or to heal physical ailments, is to turn from the material to the spiritual in our thoughts. To see ourselves in spiritual terms, as God made us. This might include specifically the recognition that beauty does not come from matter - "is more than skin deep." Beauty is from within. It comes from the quality of our thoughts about ourselves and others.
For example, are we loving one another? Are we letting good (God) be in our thoughts? Are we hopeful and expectant of good instead of evil? The answers to each of these questions are mental clues. They are signposts that direct us toward a higher understanding of who God made us each to be.
This approach describes my prayer in connection with the sunburn. I reasoned that God is omnipresent, and therefore that there was no time when we could ever have been outside of His care. Since His is the only creation, we couldn't be created unlike Him, material and vulnerable. We were always under a totally loving God.
The result? Our sunburns went away very quickly. There wasn't even any peeling. And for the rest of our holiday, which lasted several more days, we had no further negative effects from being out in the sun. The best part was that we were not only without discomfort and fear but were also free to have fun wherever we went.
Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.
Psalms 91:5, 6
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society