As I write this, the plans for elections in Iraq at the end of January are still developing. Continuing violence and resistance from the Sunni Muslims, among others, are making it hard to bring the country together. It's possible that the elections will lead to a united government, but with so many obstacles ahead, major prayer is needed.
At the same time, it's important not to be discouraged. The turmoil and resistance are in some ways the birth pangs of Iraqis' new concept of nationhood - one that doesn't rest on the will of a dictator but on the willingness of people to work together and build a free nation.
In an article entitled "The New Birth," Mary Baker Eddy pointed the way toward a birth that will be productive and safe. She wrote, "The prominent laws which forward birth in the divine order of Science, are these: 'Thou shalt have no other gods before me;' 'Love thy neighbor as thyself.' ...
"With this recognition man could never separate himself from good, God; and he would necessarily entertain habitual love for his fellow-man" ("Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896," page 18).
These two laws are a summary of the Ten Commandments given by Jesus, who also taught that each individual is spiritual and is valued by divine Spirit. To me, this means that our relationship to one another is shaped by our relation to God. If we are loving the one God, then no person can manipulate us - become a god - and because we love the one God who has created all, it follows that we must love each other because God is Love. These concepts can provide common ground in the midst of division, whether in Iraq or elsewhere.
This way of life has helped me many times. Once I had to work with people whose approach to things was quite different from mine. They seemed very controlling and not totally honest. What helped me the most was my conviction that there was only one God, and that all I had to do was to obey His guidance. I didn't need to fear these people, even though they were good at manipulating the internal politics of the organization. But I did need to love and respect what was good about them, just as I would want to be respected.
Throughout my assignment, I obeyed these two rules. Whenever it looked as if these people were going to do some manipulative thing, I firmly held to the idea that all of us were under one God. As a result, the work went forward in a unified and even inspired way.
While my experience isn't on the same scale as the Iraqi elections, it shows how our prayers can help bring the country together so that the elections will be peaceful and honest. As we pray to know that the best influence people can respond to is good, this will lift feelings that one owes allegiance to the will of a particular party or religious group, or even a certain clan. To worship these instead of God would be to reject the will of infinite Love. But all people want good and, ultimately, to be good. This is how God created them.
Another obstacle to progress can be complacency - too much comfort with the past or the status quo. This leads to stagnation and resistance to progress. Here, Mary Baker Eddy offered a hopeful concept in her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures": "Each successive stage of experience unfolds new views of divine goodness and love" (page 66).
Our prayers can help ensure that goodness is not hidden. Nor can it be appropriated by a certain group and kept from others. All are embraced in Love.
Some analysts have argued that Iraqis are being manipulated by religious teachers to turn the country into a radical theocracy. Here again, the commitment to worship the one God only and the recognition that God is able to speak clearly to each individual - and to be heard - will support the kind of leadership that will bring the country and its diverse people to unity and peace.
To some extent, we may never know if our prayers were specifically successful in Iraq. But if they encourage individual Iraqis to work together even in small ways, those small ways, collectively, can make a huge difference. Our prayers - yours and mine - can help that happen.