I was hurrying through the city on my lunch hour when I noticed a scruffy man on the street selling Spare Change, a newspaper written and distributed by the homeless of Boston. I was a graduate student at the time, living on a tight budget, but I noticed that this man was not doing much business. So I pulled a few dollars from my purse, intending to just hand the money over, grab a newspaper, and quickly be off with a smile. But as I reached for the paper, he hesitated and began to talk to me about the publication. He pointed out several articles, including his own, and spoke of the "eloquent writers" and "unique perspective" of the newspaper.
After a brief chat, he sent me on my way with a "God bless you, darling," and I walked down the busy street, deeply touched by our interaction. This man led a much harder life than I did, rarely enjoying the pleasures I was so accustomed to. But as he talked about his writing, I knew he labored over each article with the same toil and dedication with which I approached my graduate work. Although we were coming from two completely different perspectives, we shared a connection as writers attempting to express ourselves to the world.
That sense of kinship reminded me of the New Testament writings in which early members of the Christian church referred to one another as "brother" and "sister." These early Christians boldly chose to adopt a communal way of living, which was contrary to the established ecclesiology and social norms. The Book of Acts relates that an important component of their worship was koinonia, a Greek word that translates "fellowship" or "community." This practice of referring to one another as brother and sister was a constant reminder of the spiritual family these early followers felt in their embrace of Jesus' teachings.
This concept of universal brotherhood and sisterhood is fundamental to the theology of Christian Science, founded by Mary Baker Eddy. Recognizing each man and woman's true nature is vital to Christian practice. Essentially, it is Jesus' call to action in the Golden Rule - to love your neighbor as yourself. This directive extends beyond a mere colloquial salutation of "brother" or "sister" to embrace a deep understanding of the spiritual kinship of every individual. Mrs. Eddy believed that this understanding had the power to revolutionize the world, end wars, and establish universal brotherhood and sisterhood (see "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 340).
Jesus was an exemplary model of the Golden Rule in action. He was consistently able to look beyond society's stigmas to recognize the spiritual nature of every man and woman, including lepers, tax collectors, or prostitutes. The gospels attest that Jesus didn't offer just words to those he met on the street, but he extended a healing love, which restored their health and faith in God. This keen insight into the spiritual relationship between God and His creation enabled Jesus to heal and inspire the downtrodden of society.
The profound extent of Jesus' healing ministry and his practice of the Golden Rule can almost seem supernatural - something locked in antiquity and totally unattainable in the modern world. However, it is possible to integrate this spiritual practice into daily life. Thomas Merton explains that the love of another person "demands a complete inner transformation - for without this we cannot possibly come to identify ourselves with our brother" ("The Wisdom of the Desert").
In difficult situations, it is helpful to go to God in prayer, asking, "What is man? What is woman?" and in these quiet moments to drop our opinions and prejudices and reconnect with the concept of everyone created in the image and likeness of God. This consistent embrace of universal kinship is the practice of the Golden Rule, which helps foster good works in our own life.
I glimpsed this during my brief chat with the homeless man selling newspapers on the street. I had intended to just drop my money and be on my way. But after he stopped me to talk about his writing, I realized that there was not such a large gulf between us after all. A profound lesson for me - that pressing money into someone's hand is an act of kindness, but understanding and affirming universal brotherhood and sisterhood contributes to making a difference.