As the sometimes contradictory news reports from the tragic terrorist attacks in Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay), India, continue to filter in, more and more specifics now appear to be certain. The attacks on at least 10 sites were the result of a highly coordinated effort. The terrorists were well trained, and while they were prepared to die, they were not suicide attackers. The death toll, still rising at this writing, exceeds 150.
One counterterrorism expert said, "It's the opening of a new front, a strike in a place that causes surprise." He added, "For the first time in a long time, you see the use of combatants who take hostages, like the Palestinians in the 1970s" (Los Angeles Times, Nov. 28).
More than one pundit has called this grimmest of episodes a "success" from the terrorists' point of view – given that the terrorists' immediate goals of seizing headlines around the world, creating havoc in the counterterrorism community, and instilling massive amounts of fear just about everywhere, have been achieved.
But it is in no way a lasting success. It will never be a permanent victory. The "new front" runs into an old fact. It may seem naive to say this, but the fact is: the door on terrorist acts can be shut and shut decisively. How? A spiritual insight from the prophet Isaiah offers this clue: "In righteousness shalt thou be established: thou shalt be far from oppression; for thou shalt not fear: and from terror; for it shall not come near thee" (54:14).
Yes, that's an assertion that flies in the face of mountains of tragic evidence. For those caught in the web of violence, it may seem incomprehensible. But no, the prophet was not wrong to make such a bold assertion. It all has to do with the way prayer works. When a spiritual fact contradicts terrible evidence, such as that of a terrorist attack, you need to stick with the spiritual fact, not with the horrific carnage, if you want to put your mental weight on the side of healing, if you want to begin neutralizing the evidence of tragedy.
Take the spiritual fact within Isaiah's words, the fact that divine power is mighty enough to shut the door on terror. By insisting in prayer that despite the human evidence to the contrary, God's love and harmony are all-pervading and violence is not – the spiritual fact begins to take hold in thought. Then it begins to upgrade one's mental outlook. And, finally, it actually begins to transform the human scene for the better.
The God of Isaiah, the God of Christ Jesus, the God who is the one and only in the universe, is that powerful. He is that almighty. From the Almighty emanates almighty love, almighty peace, almighty healing power. That's true for those close to the tragedy and now plunged into grief. That's true for those at a distance and now plunged into a tornado of emotions but determined not to slip into a downward spiral of hatred. And equally determined to reach out for some kind of healing response.
In a passage very much in line with Isaiah's spiritual insight, Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy once wrote, "There is no door through which evil can enter, and no space for evil to fill in a mind filled with goodness. Good thoughts are an impervious armor; clad therewith you are completely shielded from the attacks of error of every sort. And not only yourselves are safe, but all whom your thoughts rest upon are thereby benefited" ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," p. 210).
The promise of safety is real – for oneself and for those upon whom one's prayer-filled thoughts rest. If the impact of one person's prayers seems miniscule, it is not nonexistent. When those prayers are grounded in a realization of the divine nature as here and now and all-powerful – even more powerful than hatred – they do make a difference. They do bring nearer the day when the door is permanently shut on terrorist attacks.