After the shattering acts of terrorism that took place on Sept. 11, 2001, I wanted to pray – but where could I start? The pictures of the New York City scene were horrific. Then there was the plane crash just a short way east of where I lived in Pittsburgh. How could I get beyond the screams and carnage?
Yet, there was a simple fact that I had experienced all my life: God, goodness itself, is present and acting. I had confidence in the power and presence of that goodness. I could begin simply by acknowledging that comforting presence. It was speaking to me, and to all of God’s creation. That had to be my starting point.
My first test by fire, literally, had been more than 30 years before, during the race riots and the burning of Pittsburgh. There I had learned, in the midst of hatred, revenge, and violence, to turn away from judging and blaming. I saw the flames, and condemned all. But I soon realized that I really needed to break out of just reacting. I realized my need to learn to forgive and to love.
Over the next several months, at the university where I taught, I created a living arrangement that brought together black and white students interested in learning how to overcome racism. God was showing me that instead of reacting to all that hostility, I could act, confident in God’s underlying goodness. “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy speaks of God as “divine Principle, Love, underlying, overlying, and encompassing all true being” (p. 496).
In this Pittsburgh experience I saw that God had never stopped loving His creation. By becoming conscious of the ongoing action of divine Love, I was being equipped to help my community in a very practical way. I was being awakened from a kind of hypnotic trance, fascinated by pictures of a world where there are oppressors and victims, a world where skin color defines your place in society. That unjust world had seemed so real.
This awakening showed me something of what Jesus called “the kingdom of heaven.” As he said, it’s not distant, but “at hand” (Matthew 4:17). I saw that I could hold that spiritual vision in consciousness. This broke the hypnotic trance. It freed me. And on Sept. 11, 2001, that again became my starting point: a fuller sense of God, good, present and acting.
Now that another anniversary of 9/11 is upon us, we need a new day. A new sense of the day we are living. Science and Health speaks of “day” as “the irradiance of Life” (p. 584). Irradiance means sending forth radiant light. Light is often the symbol for truth, integrity, clarity, freshness. Today is the Lord’s day, full of light. Terrorism, fear, hatred, prejudice all depend on the absence of light.
We are setting forth in this freshness of a new day. In this day, this irradiance of divine Life, good things happen. Divine Love is present, guiding. The Berlin Wall crumbles. Arab youth reaches, sometimes successfully, for freedom and integrity.
How can we live this new day? We need to lose the “we” versus “they.” Instead it’s just “us,” every one of us created by the same loving, divine source. With God, Love, as our guide, we begin to overcome prejudiced ways of seeing others. Learning to love our neighbor will keep our day radiant with light. To do that, we have to see not with the physical senses, but with our spiritual sense. (This is the sense that can tell good from evil.)
And what do we see, using this sense? We see the true, spiritual nature of our neighbors. And guess what! It is so beautiful, it becomes natural to love.
This is not a call for complacency. Jesus himself warned his disciples, “Ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled” (Matthew 24:6). The good news is that Jesus’ teachings enable us to deal with these challenges. He alerted us to not absorb the world’s prejudices and materialistic approach, and to not be shocked by its sometimes ugly appearance. Jesus gave us the means of dealing with this by teaching us to love.
We can do that. We can go forth into the world, as Mrs. Eddy writes, “with a charity broad enough to cover the whole world’s evil, and sweet enough to neutralize what is bitter in it” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 224). In this way we will prove right the 9/11 commentators who predicted that the world would never be the same. We can be a part of that change. We can enter this arena, this new day, irradiant with Life, God, and joyous to see, greet, and love each other as individual parts of God’s creation.
Adapted from an article published in the Sept. 5, 2011, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.