Can our prayers reduce racial tension?

It can sometimes feel as if there’s little we can do to make a difference in healing the world’s problems. But as a woman experienced firsthand while witnessing a racial conflict, the desire to see others as God does has healing effect.

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Here in South Africa, as in much of the world, people of all kinds are still experiencing hatred and divisiveness arising from the ugly specter of racism and racial tension. Daily I pray for healing. Yet I’ve sometimes wondered, “How can prayer contribute to healing this seemingly intractable ill that continues to plague society?”

As I’ve pondered this, it has occurred to me that starting with ourselves and healing our own misconceptions, prejudices, and fears can’t help but uplift and heal the atmosphere of thought in the world. I’ve found from my study of Christian Science that this means asking myself if I am truly willing to love my neighbor and see him not as the world does, but as God does. In other words, am I willing to give up a limiting, material sense of who my neighbors are – defining them solely from the basis of black or white, rich or poor – and see them as God’s sinless, lovable, spiritual children?

This spiritual view of us all as God’s offspring is rooted in the first account of creation in the Bible, which explains, “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). While human circumstances all too often paint a different picture, the likeness of God, divine Spirit, is incapable of being sick or sinful, as this identity is inseparable from God, good. Christ Jesus’ deep awareness of this spiritual individuality lifted from others the limiting labels of the physical senses and restored health and peace.

When I see conflicts flare during people’s day-to-day interactions, as I do on occasion, I am endeavoring to stick more resolutely to the truth of being. In my prayers I acknowledge that there is one God, who is Mind, and that we – all of us – reflect this Mind, which was also in Christ Jesus. In this Mind there can be no prejudice, hatred, ignorance, disunity, or fear – only love.

I’ve found that when I persistently uphold in consciousness what is spiritually true, the human situation adjusts to the spiritual reality.

A few years ago, my husband and I had gone to the local police station one Sunday after church to report a theft in our community. As we waited for attention, several black workers entered the station shouting vociferously about a white young man who had wronged them. The young man in question then walked in, and the conversation became heated very quickly. The more one side shouted, the more the other responded in kind, and it seemed the police officers were powerless to stop the altercation, which was escalating into a full-blown racial confrontation.

My first instinct was to pray silently, and I know my husband was praying as well. In my prayers I endeavored to acknowledge that God’s man is full of truth and goodness, without hatred, prejudice, or fear. In those moments of silent communion, that was the only man I saw. I felt only the presence of Christ, Truth, the divine message to all that restores harmony, and I was convinced that the clamoring of anger cannot drown out the voice of God, divine Truth and Love.

Soon the noise stopped. There were even smiles and handshakes between the men who had only minutes earlier wanted to assault one another. One of the men turned to me and smiled, waved goodbye, and left.

The officer in charge was clearly struck by what had happened. He turned to me and my husband and asked us for any Christian literature we might have to give away. He must have noticed the two books we had with us: the Bible and the Christian Science textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy. We returned to the station the next day with a copy of both books to give to the officer. The next week, I heard from him that his daughters had taken his copy of Science and Health and were reading it themselves! I gave him two more.

It can sometimes feel as though there’s little we can do to make a difference in the world. But this experience has been a powerful reminder to me that seeing the world through the lens of God, divine Spirit, dissolves the heat of hatred and conflict. Whether in small ways or large, this helps humanity in ways we can’t begin to imagine.

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About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

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The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

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