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Interfaith interactions that counter fear and hate

Inspired by a meaningful experience at a local temple shortly after the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue this fall, today’s contributor considers how God’s limitless, universal love breaks down barriers of hostility.

The recent shooting at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh during a baby-naming ceremony once again put a spotlight on hatred and prejudice that beg for healing in our world. Following this atrocity, the American Jewish Committee issued an invitation to people of all faiths across the United States to #ShowUpForShabbat.

My city in the suburbs of Boston, which has a large Jewish population, hosted an interfaith Shabbat at our local temple. It was full to capacity for the evening service, and I was among those gathered with my neighbors to pray and sing in support of our common goal to promote peace and goodwill in the fight against extremism. Though there were several others from my local Christian Science church attending, we each chose to sit with new friends.

There was something incredibly powerful about worshiping with strangers. The man next to me spoke Hebrew as we went through the evening’s readings. At one point we were all asked to hold hands and look into one another’s eyes, acknowledging our common humanity. At the end, we lifted our voices in the well-known song “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” What a beautiful reminder of God’s care and love for all regardless of faith or ethnicity. I drove home with a lighter heart.

I’ve learned in Christian Science that God is Love and that our true relation to Him is as the spiritual sons and daughters of a common divine Father-Mother. That isn’t just a beautiful but abstract idea. To know God as Love, and to understand that we are Love’s spiritual offspring, awakens us to the need to express love to others and to see it expressed in others. You could say our capacity to love our neighbor is limitless, because we are the limitless reflection of limitless divine Love. As the offspring of the one universal divine Parent, we each naturally express divine qualities – including the kind of love that is pure, tender, impartial, and expressed in a right desire to promote peace and harmony in our homes and communities.

This is a powerful basis for supporting our neighbors of all backgrounds. I’ve seen time and again that striving to see others as divine Love sees us all – not as mortals prone to hate but as the spiritual expressions of God’s unending love – counters the kind of fear and animosity that can result in harmful actions.

I had the opportunity to share some thoughts about that the afternoon before I attended the Shabbat service. I ran into a friend at the dog park where I take daily walks. He told me he had grown up in the same Pittsburgh neighborhood, and he even knew one of the women tragically murdered that day. Our city has a large and supportive Jewish population, and yet he confided he didn’t feel safe even stepping into a temple. As we lingered at our cars, he asked how I would address this issue. He knows I am a Christian Scientist, so I shared with him that I believed prayer was a key solution. He wasn’t convinced of prayer but said he wanted to do what he could to fight for peace and against fear. I told him that I felt that was a form of prayer – to insist on love, not hatred, based on the Scriptural wisdom “Perfect love casteth out fear” (I John 4:18). He said he’d never thought about prayer like that and appreciated that perspective.

The perfect love that casts out fear is divine Love, God, and as we grow in our understanding of Love’s ever-presence, we gain a deeper sense of safety and refuge in His care. This passage from the biblical Psalmist speaks to that and has been an inspiration to me as I pray for the safety of my global neighbors today: “Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalms 124:7, 8).

As we work to break down barriers of hostility, divine Love will move us to find common understanding and peace with our brothers and sisters of all faiths.

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