It’s becoming more common in cities across the United States: first responders strapping on their gear for intense training sessions known as “Urban Shield” events.
My city conducted its third “Urban Shield: Boston” event in May, in which roughly 2,000 emergency personnel over the course of 24 hours practiced their skills in mock emergencies, such as terrorist attacks, hostage situations, and bombings. Through these dramatic simulations, first responders hope to become better prepared and more effective in protecting the public.
While cities are to be commended for taking such measures, there is also a tremendous need for a more spiritual approach – the “shield” of prayer. Praying daily for our communities is something each citizen can undertake. It helps quell fear that runs rampant at times, helps guide action in times of danger, and also helps prevent harmful scenarios from developing in the first place.
Daily consecrated, silent prayer helps us understand that our neighbors both near and far are embraced in the love of God, which is ever present and infinite in nature. In Christian Science, prayer is not a mere verbal petition but a strong, silent affirmation of truth based on the understanding of God’s sovereign power and of His universal law of divine Love. God’s power and love, understood, can deflect and even defeat anxiety, alarm, hate, and violence.
In ancient Roman warfare, a key weapon for each legionnaire was his shield – a rectangular, curved piece of wood edged with iron. It could protect a soldier’s entire body as he advanced, deflecting javelins, arrows, and blows of swords.
By way of contrast, another kind of ancient “warrior” existed in the early Christian world. Chief among them was the traveling preacher Paul, who was a Roman citizen and was surely aware of the brutal effectiveness of Roman military weaponry. Yet Paul spoke of the need for spiritual or mental weaponry when he wrote, “[T]hough we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;” (II Corinthians 10:3-5).
It’s fair to say that the prayers of the early Christians were rooted in their deep convictions of the protective power and presence of divine Spirit, God. Their prayer fostered a fervent, brotherly love, and enabled them to heal the sick. They were committed to spreading the teachings of Christ Jesus – their great Master – who, on the night of his arrest by armed authorities, told one of his disciples to “put your sword back into its sheath” (John 18:11, J.B. Phillips), and who, on another occasion, escaped the clutches of a violent mob who intended to throw him off a cliff (see Luke 4:29, 30).
Prayer brings us into a conscious awareness that God, good, alone is real and powerful – that evil in all its forms is a negation of this divine, ever-present good, and therefore has no real cause or foundation. The clear realization of God’s nearness and absolute control unifies, harmonizes, and redeems human experience.
Prayer-based living is always “on the alert” – ever bearing witness to God’s presence and to man’s true nature as the image and likeness of God. It rules out the temptation to give in to fear, to feelings of helplessness, and especially to the godless notion that what is truly meaningful and good can be upended at any moment. God never loses hold of His children, never leaves them at risk. In Christian Science, man is seen to be the completely spiritual reflection of God Himself and thus maintained by this Father-Mother God at all times. This spiritual fact, however, needs to be lifted up in prayer and understood as an actual scientific, fixed law that governs at all times.
In the 1880s, the Founder and Discoverer of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, received anonymous letters containing threats to blow up the hall where she was preaching. She recalls, “I never lost my faith in God,... I leaned on God, and was safe” (“Message to The Mother Church for 1902,” p. 15). On another occasion, a man entered her room with a revolver, intending to kill her, but she at once stated, “ ‘You cannot shoot,’ ” and “his arm became as if paralyzed” and the gun dropped to the floor. Then he left (see “Mary Baker Eddy: Christian Healer,” von Fettweis and Warneck, p. 301).
This modern Christian warrior wrote in her seminal work, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”: “At all times and under all circumstances, overcome evil with good. Know thyself, and God will supply the wisdom and the occasion for a victory over evil. Clad in the panoply of Love, human hatred cannot reach you” (Science and Health, p. 571).
As a proactive measure, prayer brings to light the spiritual sense of God’s loving embrace, despite the circumstances we’re facing. It helps us become conscious of our unity with God, and the results are safety and wisdom in human action. And like the “situational awareness” that first responders strive to develop, the spiritual shield of prayer can keep all citizens aware of God’s ever-active protection and power.