I LIVE in Los Angeles, and along with almost everyone else here, I spend a fair amount of time in my car on the freeways. Yet I do travel to and from work on public transportation. A small episode occured a few weeks ago on the bus, and I've been pondering its larger implications for calm and safety on the freeways -- or for any crowded situation where frustration can cause tempers to rise and people to react. A mother came on board with her young son. She took a seat near the back, and since there were no more seats available, he stood in the aisle holding on to a handrail. Almost immediately the mother started verbally abusing the boy -- not in a noisy or widely noticeable way, and not for any apparent reason. In a whisper with venomous undertones, she began threatening him violently. He stood in the aisle, whimpering and quietly crying.
Well, I got angry and was almost out of my seat to go do something (just what, I didn't know) when I caught myself. It wasn't a disinclination to get involved that stopped me. It was the fact that as I stood up I had to take out of my lap the Bible I had been reading. As I started to set it aside I realized there was a better way to help than through confrontation with the mother. The Bible went back onto my lap and I started to pray.
One of the things I read that morning was from I John: ``We have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.''1 I realized that everyone, in truth, does dwell in divine Love, is the offspring of this eternal Love. That's the spiritual fact for each one of us, a fact often contradicted by appearances but nevertheless the spiritual reality of man. Because God, divine Love, is infinite, man inescapably and invariably abides in Love.
And, as the works and teachings of Christ Jesus illustrate, a recognition and an understanding of that Love -- of its presence and power -- have a transforming impact on frustrating, even menacing encounters. One famous example from the Master's life occurred when an angry mob was on the verge of stoning a woman taken in adultery.2 His response was quiet, almost wordless. He knelt and wrote on the ground. What was he thinking? It's hard to say for sure. But knowing what we know of Jesus' life, we might conclude that the presence and might of Love were at the center of his thought, and along with these an understanding of the powerlessness of evil to oppose divine Love. His few words caused the scribes and Pharisees to be ``convicted by their own conscience.'' The anger was defused, and the crowd drifted off. Then Jesus counseled the woman to ``sin no more.'' She was saved from harm; and the crowd was saved from inflicting harm.
It is the nature of man, as the very likeness of God, to express divine Love. It is native to man to embody the love of Love, to dwell in it, and have it dwelling in him. It is not natural to embody frustration or anger. Those are elements of thought foreign to God -- and therefore foreign to man as God's likeness. They're elements of the false, fleshly, carnal mind. Of course, it takes prayer -- a steady acknowledgment of Love and an active effort to bring it out in our lives -- in order to be consistent at dispelling frustration and anger.
Such prayer has effect beyond quieting our own thought. It can help bring calm to the freeways or other crowded situations. It made a difference with Jesus and the angry mob. And apparently it made a difference with that mother on the bus. After I started praying, the bus filled with more passengers so I was no longer able to monitor her threats to the boy. In about five minutes we came to a major stop and the aisle cleared. As I glanced back I saw that a seat had opened up next to the mother. The boy had climbed into it, and both were sharing a good laugh. For the rest of the ride there was a friendly banter and lots of laughter coming from the two of them.
It would be contrary to divine Love, and to Christianity, to use prayer simply as a kind of cocoon, enveloping oneself in safety but ignoring the rest of the world. Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered and founded Christian Science, saw the impact that one's thought has on one's life. And she saw how the right kind of thought, prayer really, reaches out beyond one's own life to help and protect others. She writes: ``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.''3
1I John 4:16. 2See John 8:1-11. 3The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 210.
Daily Bible Verse: The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. James 5:16.