Northern Ireland and the Kingdom of Heaven
WHEN I was going to Ireland to do research, a colleague asked me to try to talk to people in Northern Ireland. He had a religious television program on which he planned to interview me, and we agreed that anything I could find out might be helpful. But I didn't know anyone in Northern Ireland. How could I, a stranger, get people to talk to me about something so sensitive? As the weeks of my research time rolled by, I knew I had to do something about this man's request. I turned to prayer and asked God to help me.
Instead of having some unexpected ``opportunity,'' however, I had a sudden spiritual insight. It was that all this time I had been thinking of Northern Ireland as remote, dangerous, and definitely outside the kingdom of heaven. This was not the answer I'd expected!
Often press reports of cities and countries where violence is found give us a picture of a place that is Godforsaken and unloved. Any sense of normal life in those places seems to vanish. When the newscaster says the word Beirut, we think of war and hostages; when Northern Ireland is mentioned, we think of sectarian violence and anger. We don't think of the beauties and people that make these places lovely and good.
This is not to deny the suffering that is going on in these and other places. Yet just a short time ago, when the troubles in Beirut were quite severe, The New York Times had a front-page photograph of a couple who had just been married there. So love is possible, life does go on, even under these conditions.
As I prayed for further understanding, I recalled Christ Jesus' statement ``The kingdom of God is within you.''1 I began to see that so much of our experience is determined by what is in us. If we are accepting evil, violence, separation from God, then it is likely that this will shape our expectations. But if we make the kingdom of heaven -- the kingdom of God -- primary within us, then we will be far more likely to perceive beauty, peace, joy, and love in our lives.
What is this kingdom? It is the inner certainty that God does reign even if events around us seem to be arguing vigorously against this. It is a knowledge that when Jesus told us that man is actually spiritual and inseparable from God, he was speaking about a provable fact. And it is the confidence that ultimately this spiritual kingdom will be seen as the only reality.
Sometimes proving these spiritual facts is difficult. We may face material circumstances that would seem to challenge the very presence of God. Yet to give in to these conditions and deny both our own spirituality and the love of God for His creation is to give up whatever hope we have that peace and harmony are possible. Only under the unifying government of God, Mind, can we have any hope of resolving such troubles.
In the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy2 writes, ``The evidence of the physical senses often reverses the real Science of being, and so creates a reign of discord, -- assigning seeming power to sin, sickness, and death; but the great facts of Life, rightly understood, defeat this triad of errors, contradict their false witnesses, and reveal the kingdom of heaven, -- the actual reign of harmony on earth.''3
The human mind is limited in its outlook. But when we turn to divine Mind, God, for guidance, we open our scope to infinity. Instead of being prey to old hurts, suspicions, and agendas, our prayers are open to new inspiration, new insights, and new hope. And such prayer, which recognizes the presence of God, good, not just in one's own life but in the world, does have effect.
Not long after I began praying to discern spiritual qualities of love and peace in Northern Ireland, I met some people with whom I could discuss this insight. They, in turn, had friends in the North to whom they were glad to give me an introduction. The result was that I have been able to visit Northern Ireland on more than one occasion, each time seeing more of that lovely country and its good people. Many individuals I spoke to were so grateful that I had come, and they went to great pains to emphasize that much of life really was normal and stable -- not at all as the media were depicting it at that time.
This is not to say that there are not troubled areas. But the distorted picture being presented by the media really isn't all we need to know of the situation. We need to look for and find evidence of God's kingdom.
The deeper implications of what I had learned didn't really hit me until after I had returned to the United States. I began to see how important it is to reject the thought that anyone anywhere can be outside the kingdom of heaven. Certainly such thoughts are not in accord with Jesus' teachings and universal mission. He did not refuse to aid a Roman centurion who was concerned about his servant or a woman who was not a Jew but came to him for help for her daughter. And the healings he performed brought the kingdom of heaven into their lives.
It is not always easy to see how to pray about world troubles, particularly when the situation is complex. Yet if we are willing to accept the ever-presence of the kingdom of heaven, then we can see that all people everywhere have access to that kingdom. When we pray in this way, we will bring more peace to our own lives. And we will also be doing our part toward helping our world.
1Luke 17:21. 2The Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science. 3Science and Health, p. 122.