Civil rights: then and now

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

About a year ago, I was in a part of the American South that had been a major battle zone for the civil rights movement in the 1960s. It was hard to imagine the courage it must have taken for African Americans to take those first steps toward equality. They were willing literally to give their lives for basic human rights - to vote freely, to use public facilities without discrimination, to be free of persecution because of the color of their skin.

Over the years, I've found their example very inspiring. Yet for a long time I didn't feel a personal connection with their struggle, perhaps because I believed that my ancestors had come to the States long after the slavery period. It was easy to stand off a distance and feel I wasn't in any way part of that terrible history. Then I discovered that a few of my ancestors had actually been here much earlier than I'd thought. For some reason, it now seemed harder to shrug my shoulders and say, "Sorry about that."

Instead, I needed to take a mental journey - to look a lot deeper into the nature of existence, to see all of it in more spiritual terms. I soon realized that in a very real sense we are all inextricably intertwined with each other. My actions have an impact on others, and their reaction to what I do has an impact, and so forth. Unkindness can lead others to be unkind. The opposite is also true - good deeds open the way for more good. From this standpoint, Jesus' direction to love one's neighbor as oneself makes a lot of sense.

If we actively love our neighbor, we're embraced in a circle of love that surrounds us and spreads outward to the rest of humanity. Active love includes respect, an expectation of encountering intelligence, honesty, and goodness. This love reflects back on us because it affirms the inherent goodness of our being.

But there's more to this love than a bunch of people being kind to each other. In a letter St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he likens all of us to parts of one body - what he calls the body of Christ. He says: "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; .... For the body is not one member, but many" (I Cor. 12:13, 14).

In other words, when we express love toward one another - and really mean it - we're uniting with each other in a spiritual way. We're being what we were created to be: the good and pure ideas of God, divine Mind. And from this goodness and purity, wonderful things can flow.

Instead of relegating each other to stereotypes, we can see each other and ourselves as God's spiritual creation. This frees us from believing that one's race or background necessarily inclines one toward certain behaviors or attitudes. When we are all "us" as part of God's family, there isn't a "them" against whom we must protect ourselves or fight.

Such commitment to "us-ness" wipes out barriers that would separate people and families. It also opens the way to the deeper racial healing that Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life to achieve. This healing is inevitable no matter how long it takes, because all of us are on a spiritual journey together - a journey of learning our unity with God and with each other as God's creation. Every step on this journey, however small, frees us from believing in an "other" who must be feared.

Mary Baker Eddy, the Monitor's founder, wrote, "Citizens of the world, accept the 'glorious liberty of the children of God,' and be free! This is your divine right" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 227).

This freedom is yours and mine and the world's. It's natural and right for this freedom to be universal. As you and I love more spiritually and embrace everyone we meet in this view of life, we will help to end the legacy of slavery, of hatred, distrust, fear, and anger. Then, truly, all people around the world will be free.

Now is the time

to open the doors

of opportunity to all

of God's children.

Martin Luther King Jr.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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