Prayer and protocol
A WORK assignment took me to Moscow, and I happened to get into a conversation with a young Russian clergyman. We talked about many subjects -- most relating to whether religious hope can survive in the midst of official atheism. I pressed the point that Soviet children are taught that spiritual ideals have no value in society. He challenged my skepticism by reminding me that many parents and grandparents had always managed to preserve prayer and church in their hearts, if not outwardly in their cities and villages. ``God can turn even stones into the children of Abraham,'' he said. Sitting there in an autumn sun near an ancient Russian monastery, I couldn't help pondering the concept of God as Father -- not only of Abraham, as the Bible notes, but of us all. In one sense this Christian and I were brothers, even children of Abraham, united by faith.1 In a world crisscrossed by all sorts of mental and physical boundaries, it was a pleasing irony that over a period of months some of the strongest convictions I had heard about God's all-powerful presence were surfacing in an environment where, to many outsiders and insiders, God is officially absent.
During the further days of my stay there, this very fact of God's power to overturn the resistance of materialism became specifically evident. Amid the complexities of dealing with bureaucracy, spiritual intuition turned out to be a central factor in my accomplishing the work I had been assigned.
Ordinarily I do my best to pray each day to understand that God's wisdom and presence govern my experience. On this trip there had already been roadblocks -- inconveniences, discomforts, dangers, doubts, deceptions -- as well as beauties, courtesies, kindnessess, trusts, and opportunities. But the one constant for me, increasingly, was this awareness of the fathering nature of God.
Then one day I was summoned to a government office and severely reprimanded by an official for ``professional misconduct.'' The issue was that certain permission had not been obtained in just the right way.
At first I was tempted to confront the official to expose his charges as false and inflated. But instead I prayed to be led to say whatever God, our Father, prompted. My prayer honestly included the adversarial official as well. As a Christian Scientist I wanted very much to respond to these words in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy2: ``Rise in the strength of Spirit to resist all that is unlike good. God has made man capable of this, and nothing can vitiate the ability and power divinely bestowed on man.''3
It occurred to me next that my accuser probably didn't want, and surely did not need, to be tangled in a pattern of bureaucratic offense or defense, any more than I did. I felt a flash of sympathy for the man. It was obvious that he was simply doing what he had been required to do.
As things went on, I managed to remain cordial. It seemed natural, then, for me to say to the official that I foresaw no insurmountable complications from then on, and I appreciated the fact that he cared enough about our visit to be so candid. The official ended the meeting. We all shook hands, and there were no more difficulties during the rest of the trip.
As I see it, the conviction of God's power to maintain good -- and of the spiritual reality of man as the very expression of good, the image of the one God -- provided light to penetrate the fierce attitudes darkening that situation. Nothing needed to change in terms of man's relationship to God. No protocol was revised. It was a matter of staying conscious of God's constant care. And the peacefulness of God, Spirit, became evident.
Later I felt I had witnessed in a small way the decisiveness of prayer mentioned in a hymn:
Oft to every man and nation
Comes the moment to decide, In the strife of Truth with falsehood,
For the good or evil side.4
As the so-called superpower relationship is finding its way toward more open communications, recognition of the possibility of spiritualization of thought -- on all sides -- will do much toward letting more light shine for all the children of Abraham.
1See Galatians 3:7. 2The Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science. 3Science and Health, p. 393. 4Christian Science Hymnal, No. 258. DAILY BIBLE VERSE: The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. I James 5:16