The moving words of young Malala Yousafzai, the teenage girl shot by the Taliban last fall for promoting education for girls in Pakistan, gave the world a beacon of hope when she told United Nations officials recently that the Taliban had “failed.” “They shot my friends, too. They thought the bullet would silence us, but they failed.... We realize the importance of light when we see darkness.”
The courage and bravery, resilience in the face of violence and terrorism, embodied in this young woman inspires me to pray with more fervency for all humanity. At times of fear and desperation, comforting words from the Bible tell us: “Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders;... the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory” (Isaiah 60:18, 19). Isn’t that “everlasting light” what Malala is seeing, and what she shared with the UN last week?
There is a great need for peacemaking today – schoolchildren endangered in Nigeria, the shockingly high number of shootings in Chicago over the Fourth of July weekend, violence erupting in Egypt, and youths at risk in quiet communities or schools. What can we do about violence that we see, hear about, or are inundated with mentally in the media?
When I’m confronted with this kind of news, I silently pray, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Jesus’ admonition to the crowds on a hillside centuries ago is still applicable today. Reading this beatitude in the Good News Bible translation recently made me smile: “Happy are the pure in heart; they will see God!”
How can we pray for families affected by violence, or speak to those who fear violence? Many people are afraid of becoming a victim, especially when they find themselves in busy city centers or surrounded by crowds.
I remember the joy I felt when I moved into my first apartment years ago with a girlfriend while we each had internships in Boston. The neighborhood was well located but just on the edge of the “safe neighborhoods,” according to city crime reports. The gunshots we heard our first night right outside our apartment did not, however, instill fear in my roommate and me, but rather alerted us to what we had to do for our neighborhood – embrace everyone in our prayers and see that “everlasting light” the Bible speaks of.
A few weeks later, when my roommate and I were walking home after dark, a man came silently out of the bushes near us and grabbed my arm. Quickly I shook him off, as if he were an irritant and not a potential mugger. My roommate and I quickly moved on, not running away but quietly praying about our innocency and protection in this neighborhood. We knew, as the Psalmist tells us, to “fear no evil: for thou [God] art with me” (Psalms 23:4). We were not pursued, and we were not bothered again. We remained in the neighborhood for the rest of our internship, with no incidents of violence directed at us or, as far as we knew, at our neighborhood. Many neighbors became friends of ours, and one older neighbor kept a kind, watchful eye on us.
Jesus’ life was not without attempts of violence, mob reactions, and the ultimate attempt to take away his life through crucifixion. But his example of calmness, forgiveness, and staying focused on God’s care kept him from being overwhelmed, even in the face of angry mobs.
Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of The Christian Science Monitor, was clear about Jesus’ example to us when he faced the chief priests and elders who delivered him to Pilate for crucifixion. She wrote, “[T]he Christ is not subject to material conditions, but is above the reach of human wrath, and is able, through Truth, Life, and Love, to triumph over sin, disease, death, and the grave” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 49).
We can see this Christ-effect against violence in our own lives. We can also embrace our brothers and sisters around the globe, that they may be kept safe. A hymn from the “Christian Science Hymnal” gives us a daily blessing we can feel anywhere:
Happy the man whose heart can rest,
Assured God’s goodness ne’er will cease;
Each day, complete, with joy is blessed,
God keepeth him in perfect peace.
(William P. McKenzie, No. 93)
This is my prayer – that God may keep us in His unchanging care, in perfect peace.