I COULDN'T understand why she pointed the knife at me. She was the only minority student in our formerly all-white country school, and during the brief weeks she had attended, she and I had played happily together. Now suddenly this threat had come between us. Since no one had ever done such a thing to me before (I was only eight), I was more puzzled than afraid. The girl never explained her action, and as I tried to reason about it in my childish way, the only difference I could see between us was the color of our skin. So somehow the incident became a kind of symbol of separation between her and me.
Such symbols are often behind racism -- whatever outward form it takes. They tend to become the focus of our thoughts and keep us from dealing with the deeper issues that would divide us. And the basis for these symbols is frequently fear and ignorance.
Probably all of us know enough about fear and ignorance to see that these tend to separate. The division may be between black and white, white and yellow, Hispanic and black, those with jobs and those without. To bridge the gap may take a substantial amount of effort, although the rewards -- as I learned from further experience -- are tremendous.
One of the best sources of strength and intelligence for dealing with the divisiveness of fear and ignorance is prayer. The kind of prayer I'm talking about speaks from the heart. It expresses the longing for genuine peace that actually changes our lives. I can't say that I prayed this prayer when I was only eight. But as I grew up and began to see the incident in a larger context, I started to understand our need to love one another as children of God. This message comes through clearly in the prayer Christ Jesus gave us, the Lord's Prayer. It begins, ``our Father.''
That one little word our is crucial. As we pray to overcome racism, whether in ourselves or in society, we need to keep uppermost in thought the fact that God isn't just your God or my God, your Father or mine. He is everybody's Father, and accepting this unites us as children of one Father. With our Father caring for all of us, we are already joined as members of one spiritual family that cannot be divided.
This unity with God was an essential element of Christ Jesus' healing ministry. He recognized that whatever would divide us is a form of sin, a rejection not just of God but of the pure spiritual nature He gave us.
As we pray to know God, our Father, better, we also learn more about man, who is made in His likeness. To know God from this standpoint, then, is to begin to know more of who we really are. The man God made is totally spiritual. He expresses love because God is Love. He expresses intelligence and wisdom because God is Mind. But it follows that if I express intelligence because God is Mind, then since you are also His perfect child, you express intelligence also. From a spiritual standpoint, I can't logically assume that anything less is true of you than what I can claim for myself, because God is your Father too.
Being willing to see ourselves and others in this way begins to develop in us a healthy concern for our fellowman and a desire to see all people prosper, no matter where or who they are. Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, gives the spiritual basis for this desire in this statement from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: ``It should be thoroughly understood that all men have one Mind, one God and Father, one Life, Truth, and Love. Mankind will become perfect in proportion as this fact becomes apparent, war will cease and the true brotherhood of man will be established.''1
To live this kind of brotherhood is not the world's easiest task. I myself have been involved in tense racial confrontations and know how easy it is to be angry, to feel falsely accused, to reject instead of trying to understand what people are saying. But finally to eliminate racism from human society requires us to love all.
This does not mean that we need to overlook wrongdoing by another person regardless of race. But we can pray to see more of man's true selfhood as spiritual and naturally obedient to God's law. This is our true nature, and as we look for it in ourselves and in others, we will begin to see more harmony. We will become more willing to give up the sinful behavior that divides us from others. We will also be protected from trouble. I have experienced such protection several times since I was a child and thus have learned the value of loving in the face of hate. This has not always been an automatic thing; I've spent my share of sleepless nights praying. But this goal of Christly love is one that Jesus set for us. And to strive for it is to learn who we really are and to feel that God is with us.
Paul describes this change of outlook in terms of putting off the old man -- the one who is full of sin, anger, hatred -- and putting on the new man. Paul makes clear that if we are thinking in a Christly way, divisive barriers will have to come down. Under this mode of living, he declared, ``There is neither Greek nor Jew,...Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.''2
As I have learned more of God, I have also felt more love for that young girl who stayed at our school all too briefly. I know now that both of us are children of God, and both of us have the benefit of His love for us. There is no way I can find her and tell her this. But as opportunity comes into my life for me to do good to others, I feel that in some small way I am helping to express that thought.
1Science and Health, p. 467. 2Colossians 3:11.