In a newsreel of President Richard Nixon's first inauguration - a time of deep national division over the Vietnam war - a girl of about 12 years stood alone holding high a hand-lettered placard: "Please unite us."
That girl would be about 40 today, but the way things appear she could be holding an identical sign next month at President Bush's second inauguration. Yet by now she might reword the sign to say, "I'm looking to God to unite us."
A recent cartoon in this newspaper shows two painters angrily arguing over whether to paint the word UNITY in blue or red, or with a roller or a brush. The times have inspired some humor, and a little levity can take the sting out of this serious situation concerning a much talked-about divided nation.
But most will agree that the desire for national unity is not frivolous. When nations quarrel within themselves, the wisdom and charity so necessary to realize the most beneficial policies for their citizens and the world are obscured. Jesus said plainly that a house divided against itself shall not stand. A recent Bible translation puts it this way: "A constantly squabbling family disintegrates" (Mark 3:25, Eugene Peterson, "The Message"). And even if it doesn't disintegrate right away, it falls increasingly short of its highest destiny.
Achieving national unity isn't easy. Could that be because it requires qualities that run counter to the historical nature of humans? Regardless of how anyone feels about the outcome of an election, true unity asks us all to embrace qualities of thought and character such as nobility, forgiveness, compromise, restraint, and respect for others - and to let go of destructive qualities such as pride, stubborn self-will, egotism, resentment.
Maybe we could say the roots of unity are sown in the fertile soil of the Golden Rule: Do unto others, and think of them, as you would have them do unto you, and think of you. This is a practical step worth taking, though most of us know that judgmental thoughts are not always easy to correct, even in mundane affairs.
Recently my wife and I were dining in a lovely restaurant. Candles flickered, conversations were subdued, and service was thoughtful. Suddenly, the loud ring of a man's cellphone shattered the ambiance. A quiet groan echoed in the room. As I finished my meal, which had suddenly become tasteless, I mulled over comments I might mutter on our way out past that table. But they all felt sour. So I prayed for better thoughts from God about this man and to embrace whatever God told me. It occurred to me that I could easily excuse what had happened. I once had been guilty of allowing my cellphone to interrupt an important governmental hearing. That realization gave me peace. And I think it contributed to the overall peace in the room.
But is there something more than humility and grace that we can contribute to national unity? I think so. As important as these are, they are mainly moral foothills of the mountains of spiritual insight into God's power to transform human character.
It seems to me that disunity is a fog, a veil - something like a theatrical scrim that displays an elaborate illusion. The real truth is that God's creation is eternally good. And that as God's men and women, we are the perpetual expression of that good. The children of one God, therefore, live in unity and harmony because they are made to express that one Mind or Love, which is God. Consequently, harmony - not conflict - is the only reality of creation.
The founder of the Monitor, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote trenchantly, "One infinite God, good, unifies men and nations..." ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," page 340). To let ourselves activate this prayer, the natural action of love, will do more than anything else to bring people together and to silence subtle intents to interrupt human progress.
Behold, how good
and how pleasant it is
for brethren to dwell together