Can we feel safe when we worship?
I’ve always loved going to church. As a little girl, I would explore all the nooks and crannies of the building and felt so at home in that peaceful space. But recently I have found myself asking, “Are we safe when we worship?” It certainly doesn’t seem that way given the kind of shooting that took place at a synagogue near my home in San Diego on Saturday. And I’m grateful to be part of an interfaith group that’s discussing how we can address the needs of those affected by the tragedy and support our local congregations of all backgrounds.
Yet in response to other attacks in places of worship – including in Pittsburgh; Christchurch, New Zealand; and Sri Lanka – in recent months, my prayers had already led me to a conviction that we can lean on God and enter our worship spaces without being overwhelmed by fear, even in the face of such awful events.
The Bible speaks of worshipping “in the beauty of holiness” (I Chronicles 16:29). The Hebrew word translated as “holy” can be defined as “set apart for a special purpose.” This kind of worship can occur anywhere, at any time, whenever our thought is given completely to loving God and others, without allowing ourselves to be distracted from that purpose. To me, this devotion is the safest place to be, where spiritual understanding and love can bring us protection.
My church has never faced anything like what our Jewish neighbors faced this weekend, but we recently had some challenges that made us feel less safe – including drug paraphernalia and extensive refuse left in front of the door, threatening messages, and vandalism. And the steps we took did not prove sufficient to address this situation.
Around this time I was reminded of a sentence someone shared with me from a biography of the Monitor’s founder, Mary Baker Eddy. At a time when Mrs. Eddy and her newly established Church of Christ, Scientist, faced daily attacks from the press and even from her friends and family, she expressed the conviction that “the power of Love going out to mankind was stronger than the tide of hate flowing in, and turned it back” (Julia Michael Johnston, “Mary Baker Eddy: Her Mission and Triumph,” p. 70).
The Love referred to here, with a capital L, is beyond human kindness and care, as vital as those things are. This Love is actually a name for God used in the Bible (see I John 4:8), which also speaks of living within the infinite God (see Acts 17:28), where there is no room for fear. In fact, this Love destroys fear when we understand that divine Love fills all space and embraces God’s entire creation.
In Mrs. Eddy’s case, she found peace, integrity, and safety even in the face of threats against her life. With divine Love surrounding us, we too can feel protected even when hate seems to be “flowing in.”
While praying about the situation at our church, I thought about how the power of Love could not be torn down by malice, and how no one can be deprived of feeling that power, which defuses and destroys hate. It has now been months since I have noticed any incidents of the aforementioned nature.
At Christian Science churches there’s an expectation that the congregation actively pray for those in attendance, at every service. And it is not uncommon for people to experience healing during worship. According to Mrs. Eddy, the influence of such prayers extends beyond the borders of one’s own church. Stating that God is neither distant nor unknown, her book “The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany” says, “The silent prayers of our churches, resounding through the dim corridors of time, go forth in waves of sound, a diapason of heart-beats, vibrating from one pulpit to another and from one heart to another, till truth and love, commingling in one righteous prayer, shall encircle and cement the human race” (p. 189).
Certainly, there’s a need for heightened awareness in regard to security in our worship spaces so that all can feel assured that they can worship in peace. But our prayers for our brothers and sisters across all religions can bear witness to the true nature of a loving Deity that unites us all and teaches us to love more fully and deeply. Our deepest safety originates in perceiving the divine Love that calls us together and lifts us above fear of one another to genuine glimpses of our oneness in God.