"Oh no, not again," was probably re-echoed by people around the world hearing the tragic news of another shooting on the West Bank on Wednesday. If my own response was of the "oh no, not again" variety, my next response was "How can I pray?"
When thinking of Arabs, Jews, and all those living in the Middle East at this difficult time, is there a meaningful way to reach out to the Almighty? What will help every family member of every victim feel a divine embrace?" Not long ago at a time of another crisis, I turned to the Bible, to the Psalms, and randomly landed on a passage I did not know. "Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in Thee my soul takes refuge, and in the shadow of Thy wings I will shelter until these calamities have passed" (Ps. 57:1). That was it. That was where I needed to plant my prayers. And the statement is powerful in this situation as well. The final phrase is key. "In the shadow of Thy wings I will shelter until these calamities have passed."
A good beginning for prayer is to acknowledge God's presence, power, and mercy. The spiritual facts of His nature, taken together, provide a sanctuary for every grieving heart. They forge a refuge for each one to feel protected during times of unknown dangers and known heartaches. Each individual can remain in that place of refuge - that spiritual understanding of God's nature - until they regain some confidence, however slight, that the storms of destruction are not God-empowered and therefore must pass.
In the Bible, Saint Paul goes through a daunting time when calamities follow one after another. Imprisonment. A dangerous voyage at sea. A storm. Shipwreck. And finally, a potentially deadly snakebite. Never during this grim parade of troubles does Paul say, "Oh no, not again." Nor does he even seem to think it. With the snakebite, for instance, he simply shakes the snake off into a fire, and stands unharmed.
Was he assured because he knew the Almighty would continue sheltering him until all calamities passed? Did he have a sense that God's presence, realized, neutralizes tragedy? Whatever his prayers, they made a difference. They benefited him in healing ways, and not just him but the surrounding community as well.
Prayer at its best does that. It goes beyond begging God for help to a keen awareness of His nature as divine, all-embracing Love. This awareness helps us experience the care and solace Love pours forth. As we persist in prayer, the presence and power and mercy of Love become more real, more meaningful than their opposites. The feeling of being shell-shocked or overwhelmed by troubles begins to recede. The love of divine Love, and the healing this brings, stand as the genuine and lasting event of any day.
Divine Love never wavers in its action of loving its offspring - each one of us. The presence and the action of Love on our behalf give us the strength to go forward and the comfort to know life isn't really about tragedies lined up in a row. Life is about knowing God, living Love's love, expressing His mercy, sharing His courage, feeling His support. It's about doing all these things on behalf of one another. Actually living these prayers will help the Middle East. And every nation. And every heart.
Exactly a century ago the founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote a letter of comfort to the recently widowed First Lady, Mrs. McKinley. In it Mrs. Eddy said, "My soul reaches out to God for your support, consolation, and victory. Trust in Him whose love enfolds thee.... Divine Love is never so near as when all earthly joys seem most afar" ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, pg. 290). The nearness of divine Love, its presence and power, are more real than all else. Prayer helps us all feel this.
As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort
you; and ye shall be comforted