IN my city, the arrest of a black man by three white police officers has touched off a lot of public controversy lately. Allegations and denials fly back and forth. With people taking sides, the city is divided over how much racism exists and what to do about it. What's needed is a just, caring way to end the divisiveness.
It occurred to me as I prayed about my own city's turmoil, how much this kind of scenario is played out in today's society. People become locked in a pattern of divisiveness and end up taking sides against each other. In each case, there are important concerns involved that need to be resolved. So the question is, How can we move from outbursts and divisiveness to resolution? The best way I know to find genuine answers that bring us together, rather than tear us apart, is through prayer.
Prayer gives us fresh ideas from a broader, more spiritual, perspective. In order to be receptive to these God-inspired ideas, we need to let go of our preconceived notions of what should happen. This is an important first step. Then, through prayer, we're empowered to identify and overcome, in our own thinking, obstacles to a just resolution. These obstacles are often such things as willfulness, egotism, anger, and other carnal tendencies that lead to division.
Since God is Love, as the Bible assures us, by opening our thought to God, we naturally respond more lovingly to the needs of others. That's what happened when I traveled overseas a few years ago. In one country, I was struck by the vast difference in culture between that country and mine. Living standards in certain places made me uncomfortable. Dishonesty seemed rampant. Even customs workers at the airport were trying to steal my money or take bribes.
I also met many fine individuals during my stay. And I found a lot to appreciate about the nation. However, the differences in overall culture, and the dishonesty, continued to gain my attention. So, I must admit, I was relieved when it was time to leave.
As two business partners and I waited to board the airplane, something very distressing happened. Fights broke out, not far from where we were standing, in our line at the airport terminal. I began praying, and my friends were praying too.
Right away, the first two words of the Lord's Prayer came to thought: ``our Father." It reminded me that everyone has the same Father: God. We are all His children, governed in accord with His purpose. As God's likeness, we all possess the God-derived qualities of peacefulness, intelligence, integrity, and worth, despite outward appearances.
Praying along these lines made me feel less overwhelmed. By focusing more on the God-derived qualities of these people, I began feeling more at one with them. Almost as quickly as the fights started, they ended. We made friends with some of the people in line. And I felt much more peaceful in that country. It was a good thing, too, because our flight was canceled just as we were about to board. We slept on benches in the airport that night. A new flight was arranged the next morning.
This experience taught me something about the kind of thinking that cuts through feelings of divisiveness and isolation. What prayer opened in my thought was a just identification and understanding of these people in the light of their genuine identity as children of God. That's when I began to feel a greater sense of caring for them.
Our prime example of caring for others is Christ Jesus. He urged us not to judge people, but rather to forgive, even repeatedly if needed. Our focus should be on correcting our own faults first, before taking issue with what someone else is doing wrong.
When Jesus attended a dinner at the home of Martha, Mary, and their brother Lazarus, Luke's Gospel tells us, Martha was apparently troubled and burdened in preparing for that social occasion. On the other hand, Mary was sitting down, listening to Jesus. Martha felt Mary should help her. So, she tried to get Jesus to take her side and make Mary work. But he said, ``One thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her."
Jesus wasn't taking sides, for Mary and against Martha. He wasn't condoning injustice, suggesting that Martha should be the only one to work. Rather, he was helping Martha to see the worth of the message that Mary was hearing. Jesus' message, and his actions, point to the power and presence of God in everyday life. Understanding that message would assist Martha in her task, would give her the sustaining strength and ability that God supplies.
What a difference it makes when we respond to God's direction and power, rather than angrily react to others! Instead of fear and anger, we find more avenues for reconciliation, regeneration, and healing. We have a greater healing impact in our communities and the world.
The founder of this newspaper and the Discoverer of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, felt this transforming influence in her own life. She writes in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, ``Mortals must gravitate Godward, their affections and aims grow spiritual, --they must near the broader interpretations of being, and gain some proper sense of the infinite,--in order that sin and mortality may be put off."
As we spiritualize our affections and aims, we open our lives to a bigger agenda of helping our families, our communities, and the world. The world needs all of us, working together with a broader perspective: a perspective that sees ourselves and others as God's children. Then, we find just solutions to the difficult problems of today. And these bring genuine peace.