When facing the uprising of the Nazis during World War II, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer prayed to calm the fears of his congregation. It’s written of him during this time: “[F]or him prayer was the display of the strongest possible activity.” And Bonhoeffer warned, “[W]e ... speak as though God and his Word were no longer as clearly present with us as they used to be” (Eric Metaxas, “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy,” pp. 317-318).
In moments of great fear it may feel as if peace and calm are not only elusive, but gone forever, as if God and His Word are “no longer as clearly present with us as they used to be.” We may wonder if our lives will ever return to the previous state of comfort and whether our routine will ever feel ... well, routine again. We seek not only peace of mind, but peace of living, peace of being, the peace of doing. While heroic efforts saved numerous lives last week in both the Boston Marathon bombings and the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, the need to calm one another’s fears and society’s fears remains. I agree with Bonhoeffer that prayer is the “display of the strongest possible activity.”
For many people, prayer is the first on the scene because it lives in the hearts and minds of those experiencing shocking moments of fear. And it continues on the scene to calm the fearful, relax the anxious, and settle the agitated. Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, quotes Jesus when she writes: “To the burdened and weary, Jesus saith: ‘Come unto me.’ O glorious hope! there remaineth a rest for the righteous, a rest in Christ, a peace in Love. The thought of it stills complaint; the heaving surf of life’s troubled sea foams itself away, and underneath is a deep-settled calm” (“Message to The Mother Church for 1902,” p. 19).
That deep-settled calm is experienced as we spiritually and prayerfully seek a rest in Christ. It is experienced as we find our rest in Christ, Truth. It is experienced as we feel God as Love and know His peace. The very thought of God, His presence, His power, His love, calms fears, stills complaint, and settles life’s throes.
This calm is rightfully yours and mine, as God’s children. It belongs to each of us, and we have a divine right to experience it, feel it, see it, and understand it. It isn’t something that we suddenly have to muster. It’s not something that is blind or willful. Rather, it is a leaning on God, a turning to Him, a deepened sense of His presence and power, an at-oneness with Him, divine Love. It often begins by simply asking God to take care of us and everyone around us.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus’ consistent calm is evident. He never got riled up or fearful – not when the mobs were surrounding him, not when he was walking on water during a storm, not when he was in the midst of a mob ready to stone an adulterous woman. His example is our example in learning to calm our own fears first, then our neighbor’s, then society’s.
But Jesus wasn’t simply calm and fearless because he was Jesus. He was so because he understood his relationship to God, and, knowing this, he understood everyone’s relationship to God. This relationship is based upon God as Creator and you and me as His beloved creation. It’s based upon being in the presence of God and never in the presence of evil, accident, harm, or hazard. It’s based upon a spiritual sense of God’s power and almighty will.
Mass fear or even hysteria that tends to emerge as horrific scenes play themselves out is conquered only by spiritually gaining control of our own thinking first, and then we’re able to pray for our fellow citizens, cities, states, countries. Mrs. Eddy gives us an example of how we may pray for society. She writes: “May our Father-Mother God, who in times past hath spread for us a table in the wilderness and ‘in the midst of our enemies,’ establish us in the most holy faith, plant our feet firmly on Truth, the rock of Christ, the ‘substance of things hoped for’ – and fill us with the life and understanding of God, and good will towards men” (“Christian Science versus Pantheism,” p. 15).
Praying that society be established in “the most holy faith” and have its feet planted “firmly on Truth, the rock of Christ” brings life and understanding, fearlessness and calm. It calms all fears and finds – right where the fear was – God and His great love for us all.