Tomorrow, citizens of Israel will be choosing the government they want to guide them through the next stage of peace negotiations. It's an awesome decision to make in a part of the world that has seen so much turmoil.
A few weeks ago I heard an interview with an American rabbi who was asked about his views on the prospects for peace. To my surprise, he spoke fervently about everyone's individual spiritual responsibility for peace.
Instead of speaking of a "top down" peace where negotiators work out a deal and it gradually filters to the populace, he urged the growth of a "bottom up" peace. This will occur, he said, when people in the marketplace, in schools, and in other parts of daily life are able to respect each other and interact peacefully, no matter what their culture or religion. He feels it's important not just for the nations in the Middle East to work toward this goal but also for other countries, such as the United States, that are involved in the process. He believes such efforts at the grass-roots level would ultimately lead to peace.
The rabbi went on to say that Jewish law expects its adherents to be kind and honest not just to their fellow Jews but also to those who don't share their beliefs. This led me to think more deeply about my own religious practice - specifically of Jesus' teaching, based on the Hebrew scriptures, to love others as you love yourself (see Mark 12:28-31 and Lev. 19:18).
Some people think this love is impractical because it overlooks wrongdoing. But Jesus' life reveals a wide spectrum of behavior - tenderness. certainly; healing, definitely; seemingly infinite patience with his disciples. But there was also firmness. Insistence on right behavior, a demand for honesty and reformation. Jesus didn't hesitate to speak sternly, but he also taught the great value of forgiveness.
For example, Peter, a disciple, once asked Jesus how often he should forgive someone who wronged him. Peter asked if forgiving seven times was enough. Jesus replied, "I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven" (Matt. 18:21, 22).
Having been in situations where I felt continually offended against, I know being willing to forgive that often isn't easy. In one situation I would have given just about anything not to have to struggle with it any longer. But I had no alternative. The moment when I realized there was no escape was at first very depressing. But that was actually the turning point I needed.
With no human way of escape available. I began to pray in a much more focused way. I listened more diligently for God's guidance and tried truly to love the other person. My perspective became more spiritual. I changed for the better, and so did the relationship.
Prayer helped me because it made me focus on what was good about that individual and required me to think more lovingly. This spiritual discipline changed the way I thought about people in general. I saw more kindness, intelligence, love, truthfulness, and a whole host of other qualities I hadn't noticed before.
But it's legitimate to ask: why should this kind of bottom up peacemaking make a difference in a much larger arena such as the Middle East?
The change I experienced illustrates the point the rabbi was making. When each of us moves beyond keeping score of wrongs and makes a full commitment to finding peace, change within each of us will occur. That inner change inevitably affects our interactions with humanity.
This same realization applies to the situation in the Middle East. The Palestinians, the Israelis, and the other ethnic and religious groups involved are not magically going to go away. But their mistaken views of each other, any refusal to forgive, any unloving thoughts, any history of hurt and hatred - those things can and must go away. In her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," Mary Baker Eddy. the Monitor's founder, says that freedom doesn't "...come from the cannon's mouth." But that "Love is the liberator" (pg. 225).
In our prayers, we can affirm the presence of Love that liberates. The presence of this Love in our own lives and our own hearts. We will feel the peace and liberation that prayer brings. And our recognition of Love's presence around the world will help bring peace to the Middle East.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society