At the end of World War II, I was six years old and had spent the previous year in the Nazi concentration camp Bergen-Belsen in Germany, where my father died. My mother and I, along with a trainload of others, were liberated by American soldiers shortly before the end of the war in Europe.
Although my mother was willing to talk with me about our wartime experiences, I didn't want to know anything about them until many years later. By that time, my mother had passed on and I couldn't ask her anymore. I made some attempts to learn more at different times and did gain additional information, but never felt satisfied.
If we are to learn from past mistakes in order to create a better future, it is important to share the lessons we have learned.
My mother had been baptized in the Lutheran church, and as a child I would sometimes attend Protestant religion classes and church services. I continued with this when, after living in Holland, we moved to El Salvador, and finally settled in California in the early 1950s. After high school I went in search of a new church home, and eventually was introduced to Christian Science by my husband-to-be. I liked how practical Christian Science was right there and then, and have been a Christian Scientist ever since.
When I became more interested in learning about my family's history, I also prayed, as Christian Science taught me, to understand more about my real history that is always spiritual. I understood that since God was my true Parent, I could never be deprived of good.
Sometimes I prayed with Psalm 139, which begins: "O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways" (verses 1–3). This psalm held many assurances for me, letting me know that no matter where I was or what the circumstances of my life might be, God was always there, leading me and holding me in His care. It also gave me the certainty that under the worst circumstances in my human history, Love's presence was there for all of us. I saw that nothing of the human past in my life could affect my true being.
Science and Health explained to me what human history was about: "Mortals must gravitate Godward, their affections and aims grow spiritual,—they must near the broader interpretations of being, and gain some proper sense of the infinite,—in order that sin and mortality may be put off" (p. 265). Understanding this to a degree, I could let go of feelings of anger and animosity toward those who had perpetrated the atrocities that occurred during the war.
Yet for some time the desire to know more about my past continued.
Then one day, I had the opportunity to talk with a couple who had been in the same sections of the concentration camp where my parents and I had been, and at the same time we were there. Although after our conversations the picture of those days was still incomplete, it was as if suddenly a burden had been lifted from me. I felt free of the need to know more. With the understanding I had gained from my prayers over the years, I felt a sense of spiritual completeness and contentment. I no longer had to seek out my past human history. Mary Baker Eddy said, "The history of error or matter, if veritable, would set aside the omnipotence of Spirit; but it is the false history in contradistinction to the true" (Science and Health, pp. 521–522).
Since then, I've been able to focus on putting my spiritual progress into action in aiding others. In the past, when I was asked about my personal history, I was reluctant to speak of those early years of my life. Now that I understand that my life has always been an expression of divine Life, it is easier to share discussion about that time. I feel that if we are to learn from past mistakes in order to create a better future, it is important to share the lessons we have learned. On a few occasions during the past two years, I've met some of the veterans who were among those American soldiers who liberated us, and those were joyous reunions for all of us.
As I'm a Holocaust survivor, some people might think I'd be justified in hating Germans and all things German. However, I've learned that there is a big difference between the Nazis who masterminded those World War II atrocities, as well as those who willingly followed in their footsteps, and the thousands of Germans who had nothing to do with it and whose lives were imperiled if they opposed the Nazi regime.
I feel that the same is true for individuals who belong to any such group. We must not let a determined minority that behaves hatefully and dangerously poison our minds against the majority. Old Testament theology taught "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth"—in common terms, tit-for-tat. However Jesus, as recorded in the New Testament, taught people to love their enemies, to do good to those who hate us and to pray for those who "despitefully" use us (see Luke, chap. 6). He did not say to love their actions but to see all people as children of God and as such, good in every way, as he did. We need to see each other as our Mother-Father sees us, and understand that others are able to see themselves and each other in this way, too.
Now, when I share accounts of my family's war experiences, I am also able to share something of my own thoughts based on the effects that Christian Science has had on my life. Focusing on my spiritual progress, I can better record my advancing footsteps through improved health and relationships, and expressing qualities of grace. Regular study of the Christian Science Bible Lessons, as well as the inspiration I gain from the Christian Science periodicals, help me to demonstrate that "the spiritual reality is the scientific fact in all things. The spiritual fact, repeated in the action of man and the whole universe, is harmonious and is the ideal of Truth" (Science and Health, p. 207).
For many years now, I've been working in mediation, and I attribute the success of my work to the fact that I have learned to see individuals as capable, caring, intelligent, and genuine—the way God made each of us—which makes it possible for them to see each other that way, too, and therefore they are able to work out their differences with each other and come to resolution.
Mrs. Eddy explained that "one infinite God, good, unifies men and nations ..." (Science and Health, p. 340). Peace often seems elusive, especially on the world scene. The well-known song "Peace on Earth" gives me an indication of the possible and where to start when it says in part:
Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me;
Let there be peace on earth,
The peace that was meant to be.
With God as our Father,
Brothers all are we.
Elisabeth Seaman lives in Palo Alto, California. She is a mediator, facilitator, trainer, and founding partner of Learn2Resolve. She loves to help people discover and create peaceful resolutions to their conflicts.
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