Emergency preparedness is under way. This time it's not about getting ready for another hurricane, but for the threat of an influenza pandemic.
A broad range of voices are urging officials to take this threat seriously. "Time is running out to prepare," says Michael Osterholm, author of "Preparing for the Next Pandemic" in a recent issue of Foreign Affairs magazine.
Government agencies and laboratories are hard at work gathering data, looking at intervention scenarios, and issuing advisories. Important questions remain about risk and immunity, experts say, as well as what direction this virus might take over the long run. But they agree that as a society, we must not let down our guard. We should do everything we can to understand more now, and build better defenses against such a threat.
That's not only a good direction to go; it's the right attitude to have. This is not a time to let ignorance or a feeling of helplessness hold us down. Thorough research is called for.
Yet why limit research efforts to what can be observed under a microscope or mapped out from stacks of statistics? With the threat of an epidemic, fear is something we all confront. Do we have a deep enough understanding of the role fear plays? To what extent are fear and disease correlated? What happens to the symptoms of disease if fear decreases? If symptoms are alleviated in this way, what would happen if the fear was completely gone? Can fear be eliminated? If so, is it then possible to prevent the spread of disease?
This isn't taking us into unexplored territory by any means. There's a classic textbook that thoroughly covers this subject, based on years of research and first-hand experience in healing people who suffered from a wide range of ailments. The book is "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" written by the founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy.
Fear - the expectation of danger - is a mental state that involves weakness and vulnerability, the author makes clear. Dealing with fear, however, isn't simply learning to cope with an irresistible human condition. Fear can actually be uprooted, and as a result normal health can be restored or disease prevented.
But this requires the help of something beyond the view of life we typically entertain and that fosters fear - that we're mere mortals sometimes subject to severe and dangerous conditions. We get a very different sense of ourselves and of the actual state of things when we're still and turn to the source of thought, which is God, the divine Mind.
Through prayer to God, those reasons we had for being afraid, which seemed so real and irresistible, start to lose their grip. We sense, spiritually, the governance of the Divine in operation, which develops in us as a greater hope, a stronger faith, a rock-solid conviction that not only are our own lives safe, but the whole universe is in the loving care of God.
In this light we also realize - and are changed by the idea - that we are, as the Bible puts it, the image and likeness of this all- loving and infinite God. We're not weak and helpless, as we might have thought, but powerful and spiritual. Life has its source in Spirit, and the fear that we're limited to or threatened by matter amounts to a mistaken sense of things that disappears.
Instead of feeling threatened and helpless by the predictions of widespread disease, we can build a strong defense. We can increase our spiritual understanding of the fact that God is with us, that we are His creation, and that this concreteness of spiritual reality overcomes fear. The call for all of us is to see the potential for destroying fear and bringing a halt to the spread of disease. That's preparation that can begin now.