Years ago, a friend of mine, a young black woman, was walking up the stairs to exit a subway station. As she reached the top of the stairs, she walked by a man who was asking passersby for coins. The man was of a different race than she was. As she walked by him, without any provocation, he started yelling at her and called her a name that is hateful and denigrating. Stunned, she went on her way, wondering why he was taking out his rage on her.
Afterward, each time the incident came to thought, the young woman pushed it aside as best she could, but memories of it were jarring. She recalled the idiom “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Well, that certainly wasn’t true in this case.
After a while the woman was introduced to spiritual ideas articulated by Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy, through which she glimpsed that it was possible not only to maintain poise in the face of aggression or hatred, but also to totally forgive – and find healing and peace. In particular, Mrs. Eddy included in her book “Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896” this arresting statement: “The mental arrow shot from another’s bow is practically harmless, unless our own thought barbs it” (pp. 223-224). The idea that she wasn’t destined to suffer from this incident inspired the young woman.
As she prayed to better understand why this was the case, the woman’s concept of God and of her own identity was transformed. She came to understand that God, divine Spirit, created us in the spiritual image and likeness of the Divine – our loving Father-Mother God. So all true thoughts come directly to us from God, divine Love. Thoughts unlike the Divine are deceptive, counterfeit, and not characteristic of what we truly are.
So the woman refused to accept that jarring thoughts could ever agitate her true, spiritual consciousness. She saw that they were baseless because they were not from God. She also thought about the man who had shouted the unkind word and recognized that he, too, was truly spiritual and in doing what he did, he had not been acting consistently with his true, spiritual nature. Even though it seemed otherwise, the spiritual reality was that neither of them could ever be victims or agents of hatred.
Christ Jesus’ counsel for peaceful living became her guide: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44, 45).
She was also inspired by the story Jesus told of the good Samaritan, who committed himself to ensuring that a Jewish man who was badly beaten by thieves was cared for (Luke 10:30-37). He did this despite the fact that Jews and Samaritans had a history of perpetual conflict. What a poignant example this is that individuals are free moral agents and can refuse to have their behavior directed by “group think” or the bias of a particular cultural group.
The demand to love our enemies can feel like a tall order; however, acknowledging that the true identity of each of us is spiritual and created by divine Love enables us to find freedom from the memory of unkind or hateful words. That’s what the young woman experienced. She was able to completely forgive that man, finding that genuine forgiveness is not only possible but also desirable, because it brings lasting healing and peace.