Something has shifted. The public conversation - whether among friends or on national networks - seemed only recently filled with animated discussions about the latest developments in the Middle East and which course should be pursued. But that public debate has devolved from initial conviction of a solution, to frustration in finding a workable one, to despair in ever finding one.
A gnawing sense of hopelessness is creeping into the national and international psyche as well-intentioned plans go awry - politically, militarily, economically, diplomatically. People achingly wonder whether there will ever be an end to violence in the Middle East. Is it something we can even hope for?
Hopelessness is an emotional free fall without a net, taking one to the bottom of the well of fear, resignation, and, most dangerous of all, despair. This type of reaction would have us want to run as far away as possible from the problem.
Yet the world cannot watch this nexus of geopolitical and religious importance gradually implode.
The New Testament's parable of the good Samaritan holds up a higher standard. It demands that we not cross over to the other side of the road, but that we take steps to help our neighbor. When the Middle East is the neighbor, we naturally ask, How can I as one individual help?
Jesus' parable of compassion points to answers beyond the diplomatic or political, to a spiritual basis for both conviction and action. It is the solid ground the writer of Hebrews points to when recalling the extraordinary faith of Abraham - that religious giant for Jews, Christians, and Muslims: "He looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Heb. 11:10).
Global "good Samaritans" can examine their mental foundation and be sure their prayers are resting solidly on the spiritual intelligence from divine Mind, God, rather than on the ever-changing evidence of the physical senses.
Mary Baker Eddy described the difference in these two standpoints in this revealing statement from "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures": "The effect of this Science is to stir the human mind to a change of base, on which it may yield to the harmony of the divine Mind" (page 162).
That "change of base" is the starting point for information about what is true or not true about us as God's children and the ability to demonstrate brotherhood that crosses religious and ethnic boundaries. What legitimately provides hope in this situation is the best news of all: We're not trying to create something that doesn't exist but rather yield to what is already true.
It's the hope born of conviction that our cities - and countries - can truly be built on the spiritual foundation that God, divine Love, has laid.
The Bible is full of examples of hope fulfilled in the midst of dire circumstances. Isn't the same spiritual power of hope applicable in that caldron of emotions that churn today in the Middle East?
My prayers for this part of the world led to a surprising outcome: an opportunity to travel to Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon with a small group two months ago.
At first it seemed foolish. Why would I put myself in harm's way? But as I prayed, great peace came, and the thought that I could bear witness to the truth about God's children wherever I traveled, whatever faith or government they represented, became both motive and mission. Not only did I feel physically safe throughout the journey, but I felt a joy while interacting with children and adults unprecedented in prior travels.
Hope is an elevator that lifts us from the basement of darkness and despair. Whether we're in homes watching the news or developing local friendships with those of differing faiths, our hope based on the spiritual conviction of God's ever-presence and power is a practical way to pray for the Middle East.
Hope is a prayer, the very opposite of willpower born of "an eye for an eye" attitude. Hope is a way out of darkness into the light of universal brotherhood.
I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope.
Psalms 16:8, 9