Light in the neighborhood
What could be done about a neighborhood that somehow seemed outside God's love?
I'd been very concerned about where we were living. My immediate neighbors and I were pretty sure that prostitution was going on and drugs were being sold in a house just down the block; our terrified daughter, from her bedroom window, had seen a drug-related stabbing in the street; and at night we could hear sounds of fighting, if not domestic abuse, coming from other houses' open windows. The only real topic of conversation among the neighbors was how people were trying to get out of there.
As a dad, I was of course deeply concerned for the safety of everyone's children. As a homeowner, I was concerned that a downward spiral of property values would give a body blow to my finances from which I couldn't recover. Yet I felt that picking ourselves up and running wasn't the answer, either.
Late one night when I was thinking about our situation, I realized that there was a solution, and it was a more spiritual way of seeing things.
I'd been assuming our neighborhood was somehow outside God's love. But when I thought about it, I knew that wasn't correct.
Some Bible verses from the book of Psalms helped: "Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there" (139:7, 8). I had to admit that sometimes I had been feeling as though I had indeed made my bed in hell, but even if I had, God would still be there.
I spent some moments pondering the deep truth of God's ever-presence. God's presence means there is no space for anything unlike Him. This meant that in His universe there could be no sin, no crime, no violence, no unhappiness. These were not part of God's neighborhood and were no more real than a mirage, like a distant but phony vision of water we sometimes see on a highway on a hot day.
Next, I found I was grateful for the good I did see in my community – a woman caring for her children, a playground, convenience to various services, even quick police protection. This gratitude, which I cultivated over the next several months, continued to operate in my thinking. I soon felt that we were living in blessedness, surrounded by the warmth and protection of God's dear love for all humanity.
Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, wrote about this recognition of God's ever-presence in her major work, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures": "The substance, Life, intelligence, Truth, and Love, which constitute Deity, are reflected by His creation; and when we subordinate the false testimony of the corporeal senses to the facts of Science, we shall see this true likeness and reflection everywhere" (p. 516). I was seeing more evidence of God's care.
It's been two years since then. During this time the neighborhood has changed dramatically. There were some people who needed to be behind bars, and justice has been served. But more than that, the whole community atmosphere has improved. Neighbors talk and greet each other in English and Spanish. There are more expressions of loving concern and happy conversations. We wave at our friends when coming and going. People have begun home improvements, and we're even talking about organizing a first-ever block party later this summer.
We're living the blessing that God has given us. In a modest way, this has taught me that prayer has a wonderful way of regenerating, not only our thinking and character, but also our communities.
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren
to dwell together in unity!