In recent weeks, the nation has anxiously watched reports of court proceedings regarding the execution of Timothy J. McVeigh, convicted mass-murderer in the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building. Many survivors of the blast, and family members of victims, were given permission to watch the execution on closed-circuit television. And, while that was the focus of argument a few weeks ago, the debate, and the heat, have spread recently. If the ranting on some talk shows is any barometer, there is a great deal of anger focused toward the FBI, lawyers, and judges, as well as Mr. McVeigh.
Issues of this gravity deserve the close scrutiny they're getting. But close and responsible scrutiny isn't the same as obsession. Is there a lurid fascination with the execution and the legal maneuvering swirling around it? If so, does that deserve our prayer, our quiet and earnest appeal to the Judge of all the earth? I don't believe this fascination and obsession has seized everyone, by any means. Most Americans just want this sad chapter over. They just want closure with as much justice and mercy as can be had under the circumstances.
If there's any flicker of light here, perhaps it's that this somber episode might stir some rethinking of what we watch and why. Could something from pre-television and pre-Internet days - something from the Bible - be relevant? It was during Jesus' night in the garden of Gethsemane that he admonished a mentally drowsy disciple. "What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation" (Matt. 26:40, 41).
As I thought about that admonition, I began to ask myself what it was that Jesus was asking this disciple - and by implication all of us for all time to come - to watch. On the eve of his crucifixion, what was he asking his disciples to watch? This is a different take on watching. For me at least, it has come to mean: "Keep watching your own thought. Make sure you're carrying out the tasks God gives you. Stay focused on living your prayers."
Jesus couples watching with praying. And that's a healing match. Because every time we pray, we can also watch to be sure that we're carrying out that prayer - that we're living it, following through on it, fulfilling it. Say, for example, a close relationship has turned tumultuous on me and is now storming with anger, jealousy, resentment. Then I pray to smooth things out and find peace. Perhaps I remember a familiar Bible verse, "Love one another" (John 13:34), and feel that's the answer to my prayer. But my work isn't finished. Instead of focusing my watching on the details of the problem, I need to watch my own thought and actions, see to it that I'm replacing the anger and resentment with love and appreciation for all that's good in my friend. Only when I have done this do I feel I'm actually applying the love I was directed to in prayer. Then, in a sense, I have performed the task that God has given me. I have loved.
This watching and then performing is work that brings closure. It happens with each torn relationship mended, with any gash of misunderstanding healed, with every inclination for revenge dissolved through Christly love. But while there is closure, there is no end. Because more love is always needed. More watching and praying and following Christ's example in all we do.
Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science and founded this newspaper, once wrote, "... it is never too late to repent, to love more, to work more, to watch and pray ..." ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," pg. 195). To embrace this reminder and put it to work in our own lives, is to be changing society one heart at a time.
Those who look into the
perfect law, the law of liberty,
and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act -
they will be blessed
in their doing.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor