One heartbreaking aspect of the killing of the pastor in a Maryville, Ill., church last Sunday is that it happened in a church during a service – a place and time of refuge. It leaves one asking, Is there no time that is sacred, is there no place that is truly safe?
As meaningful as our places of worship may be, they are not the bulwarks of safety we wish they could be. But behind the physical structures is something unassailable and thereby safe because it is not material. It is our spiritual consciousness or our place of communion with the one infinite Creator, or divine Mind.
This all-knowing, all-loving Mind embraces us every moment of every day and cares for us wherever we go. Anyone can come into this place of refuge through prayer. Attending a church service may be one way to lift thought to this place of communion, but mental assurance and peace are present wherever and whenever we pray. Such spiritual consciousness helps protect individuals, churches, and other community institutions from becoming targets of attack from hatred, misunderstanding, and personal conflict.
The Psalmist referred to this place of peace as "the secret place of the most High": "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust" (91:1, 2). This psalm assures us that we all have a place not subject to events, not at the mercy of violence – a place evil can never touch because it can only be accessed by aligning oneself with God's good thoughts.
The secret place of the most High is not an abstract place of retreat to avoid dealing with the world. Christ Jesus prayed consistently and was always conscious of his spiritual refuge in God. This protected him from an angry mob in the temple. He'd been sharing with this congregation that his spiritual identity (and therefore everyone's spiritual identity) exists in timeless, deathless, eternal oneness with God. This offended some listeners, and the crowd responded violently, preparing to stone him. "But Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by" (John 8:59).
But what if, as in the situation in Maryville, even the act of praying and worshiping God doesn't seem to keep someone safe? A woman found help from her prayers at a time of tragedy. The father of her grandson was a dear young man who'd grown up in a Christian community where nonviolence was a major doctrine. But as he grew up, he struggled with some of the religious strictures he'd learned and also with a diagnosed case of depression. He often spoke with his mother-in-law about her faith-tradition, Christian Science, and he found comfort in thinking of God as a God of only goodness, of only Love. But one day, he felt so desperate, he went to a shooting range and shot himself. The woman was heartsick for the loss to his family and especially to her grandson. She was sad that her prayers for her daughter's family hadn't been able to prevent this tragedy.
But her prayers were still needed. She prayed to see something of that deathless, eternal place of refuge, the secret place of the most High where her son-in-law and family members and friends were safe and at peace. As she prayed, this Bible verse felt like a promise from God: "I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:38, 39). The peace she felt helped her comfort others. And it has helped her feel that her grandson is being supported by God's fathering love as he is growing up.
Mary Baker Eddy described Church as "the structure of Truth and Love..." ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 583). Prayer can help each person become conscious of dwelling in this spiritual structure. And we can feel this structure as an infinite embrace, the embrace of God's tender care, which is with everyone in Maryville, in churches throughout the world, and with all people everywhere.