Responding, not reacting
Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life
It had been "one of those days." I'd been deeply affected by the attacks on New York and Washington, for one thing, and had just finished what should have been a triumph - an event at the largest mosque in the country, in which national and international news media had picked up on our message that the impending struggle would be against terrorism, and never against Islam or Arabs in general.
I had been the liaison with the mosque, and although I'd been received with utmost courtesy, I had to admit that I'd been uncomfortable with the nationalities of some of the men I'd worked with - Libyans, Sudanese, Palestinians, and a couple whose national origin was never specified. I had felt, perhaps incorrectly, a sense of latent hostility, although we had parted as brothers. "Ya siddiqi," the Palestinians said to me, a "brother" who was always welcome. But I was still pretty stressed out.
After work, my wife asked me to take her and a colleague to a shop to pick up an item on the way home. There was no parking place in front of the shop, but there was one next door. Since it was only 10 minutes until closing time, I let my wife and our friend out.
I stayed in the car with the motor running and the emergency lights flashing to show that I wasn't going to take the other merchant's space for long. Within seconds, however, the woman from that shop rushed out, screaming angrily at me. I'm ashamed to say that I responded in kind. An ugly scene - and I left it unresolved, as my wife and our friend finished their business in a hurry. And we left on a rather hysterical note.
I slept little that night, tossing and turning, continually condemning myself for my angry reaction. Then I would replay the events and feel justified. Then I would begin all over again condemning myself. I couldn't seem to stop this obsession.
I did start to pray, though. At one point, I remembered something Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper and the author of "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," wrote: "Matter and its effects - sin, sickness, and death - are states of mortal mind which act, react, and then come to a stop" (pg. 283). This broke the cycle, because I realized that the act/react/stop sequence ended, ultimately, in death. I certainly didn't want that. I needed to be freed from this obsessive self-victimization.
I remembered the story of Jacob from the book of Genesis in the Bible. Jacob was left alone and wrestled with a man. As dawn came, the man asked Jacob to let him go, but Jacob responded, according to the New English Bible, "I will not let you go unless you bless me" (Gen. 32:26).
I felt the same way. My day was about to begin, and I really needed the blessing. Immediately a thought came to me that I am not a creature caught in the compulsion of reacting. Instead, I am God's loved child - His image and likeness - and express divine Love. I was surrounded by divine Love, motivated by it, and protected by it. There was nothing evil in my consciousness to react to. Instead, my whole being responded to Love.
The alarm went off seconds later, but instead of feeling cheated of my rest, I felt full of joy and refreshed. I felt comforted in a way I hadn't felt for days. My lesson in learning to respond to divine Love, instead of reacting to hate, began to heal my sorrow and anger over the terrorist attacks. I also gained a conviction that all who died - the innocents and the perpetrators alike - have learned something of God's presence.
All of us - Muslims, Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, believers and non-believers - are God's loved children. We all walk in Love; we all do respond to Love, and we can learn to say "No" to hateful reaction. This is my prayer for us all.
I walk with Love along the way,
And O, it is a holy day;
No more I suffer cruel fear,
I feel God's presence with me here;
The joy that none can take away
Is mine; I walk with Love today.
Christian Science Hymnal