It was 1968 and I was a college student studying in Paris. I took a study trip with other students to visit East and West Berlin, where we ended up marching in a quiet protest that suddenly turned violent.
When I found myself trapped between two large statues, shocked at what was happening, I began praying to God, infinite divine Love. I affirmed that this Love protects and guides all of us. As I was praying, one of the mounted police spotted me. Though the police had clubs and had begun charging at protesters, this officer helped me get to a place of safety.
I was so grateful, but it wasn’t until later that I realized that such student protests were beginning to break out all over the world, and I felt impelled to prayerfully embrace everyone in the healing, protecting power of divine Love.
I soon had occasion to pray that way in a situation of great duress. Upon my return to Paris (still 1968), violent riots broke out that brought the city to a standstill for weeks. One day as a friend and I were walking home, we passed by an area with indications of violent activity and decided to get closer to see what was happening.
This was not helpful! We were arrested and taken to a prison outside town. It was very frightening – others in my cell were bleeding and crying, we heard screams throughout the prison, and people who were taken away to be questioned often returned in bad shape.
I tried to pray, “Shepherd, show me how to go,” which is the opening of a poem by Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, that uses the biblical reference to God as our Shepherd (“Poems,” p. 14). But I was so afraid. I realized I had a choice to make. Either I could believe that evil, hatred, and injustice were more powerful than divine Love, or I could recognize divine Love as the only power and presence. And that was what I did!
I remembered a passage in the Bible that says, “The Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us” (Isaiah 33:22). I realized this represented the three branches of government. God, divine Love, is the only legitimate power, and fills all space and governs all creation with wisdom, justice, and mercy. Therefore all of us are cared for and protected by this Love.
God is also the infinite, divine intelligence, or Mind, guiding each one of us. This Mind is the one legitimate Mind communicating to everyone, including police, guards, protesters, and innocent bystanders. This Mind, God, is the source of good alone and so naturally expresses goodness in all of creation. The Bible tells us we are all God’s beloved children.
This is a powerful basis for overcoming prejudice or confusion, anger or hatred. As God’s spiritual offspring, we are governed by God’s pure love. We’re all capable of expressing this love through compassion and patience.
I had been praying this way for a little while when I suddenly realized that the crying had stopped in my cell and there seemed to be silence all over the prison. The guards stopped coming and taking people away. The peace continued into the night.
In the middle of the night, the guards came for me, but I was confident I was safe. And so it proved. They gave me my belongings and released me. Soon my friend was released, unharmed, as well.
When I returned home to Chicago after my studies abroad were over, there were violent protests there, too. But my experience in Europe had been an important lesson for me about the value of praying to affirm the supremacy of God, good, and including everyone in those prayers, rather than giving in to anger or fear.
These experiences also equipped me later, when I became an attorney, to address injustices in the criminal justice system. My prayers kept me from getting bogged down by frustration and inspired me to develop a program to keep women out of prison and with their children, a program that is still going after more than 30 years. But that is a story for another day!
Wherever we are in the world, each of us can turn to God, Love, in heartfelt prayer. And step by step, we’ll begin to realize the effectiveness of prayer in overcoming injustice and bringing healing.