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In the News–A Spiritual Perspective

Peace in the Middle East: What your prayers can do

From the July 4, 2011 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

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Given the long-lasting stalemate in the Middle East, it may be difficult to engage with the debate going on between the United States and Israel over their differing views on how to restart the peace process. But the reality “on the ground” is that the ground underneath existing agreements is shifting—rapidly. 

For example Egypt, which is no longer under Hosni Mubarak’s rule, has reopened a border crossing into the Palestinian territories. Under Mubarak, the crossing was opened only at fairly limited times. Israel fears that terrorists will use this increased access to bring weapons and militants into the territories. Establishing new contacts and ultimately new agreements with Egypt is essential to maintaining stability in the region. And even though the quest for human rights in North Africa and other Arab countries may not directly touch Israel, the changes in the region are leading to a different political configuration. It could even be one that is more accepting of Israel’s existence and progress.

For these reasons alone, prayer for peace in the region and within Israel’s borders is essential. This is a time when spiritual thinkers can support God’s guidance of events, thwart the efforts of those who cherish instability and war, and open the way for a much more stable environment for everyone.

To let go of the past

So much of the debate about peace is framed in material terms: historic claims by all parties on the same parcels of land, the habitable part of which is relatively small. There’s also a history of fear and distrust. So long as the discussion is framed in these material terms only, finding a solution may be virtually impossible. Feelings of apathy, cynicism, or hopelessness about the situation will also delay progress because they, too, are the result of material reference points that claim God is absent or powerless.

What can lift our prayers for peace is the conviction that materiality can’t define the man and woman God created, and certainly can’t deprive God of His universe. 

In Science and Health, Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “The true theory of the universe, including man, is not in material history but in spiritual development” (p. 547). And in the Bible, Jews, Christians, and Muslims can perceive many examples of genuine spiritual development. The laws in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy are advanced—for their time—in their treatment of those who are outside the religious tradition of the Jewish people. The trust in God’s power and goodness exhibited by various Hebrew leaders such as Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, and many others was not in vain. These set an example for all of us and help us remember that God’s power is just as present today. 

Nehemiah, in particular, had to deal with ticklish issues in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. His enemies argued that it was hopeless. They meant to do him and his people serious harm. Yet Nehemiah refused to let fear make him lose heart in the face of material threats and dangers. His conviction that God truly was the only power, and was supporting his efforts, made all the difference.

Overcoming apocalyptic prophecies

While most Christians, Jews, and Muslims eschew violence and long for peace, there are others whose belief in a coming apocalypse drives them to violent measures. This form of fundamentalism has long been an underlying thread in the tangled web of the Middle East peace process. 

Radical Christians expect that Israel will be the scene of the last battle between good and evil (Armageddon), and they are willing to actively support Israel financially and politically. Jewish fundamentalists range from those who await the Messiah—and expect him soon—to those who are willing to engage in violence against Muslims. Islamic fundamentalists, as illustrated by the 9/11 attacks, seek to establish a worldwide Islamic state. For them, there can never be peace until Israel is gone. 

Each of these modes of thought embraces violence as a solution or necessity on the road to heaven and harmony. Prayer that relies on Christian Science—the lawful, good, intelligent, and true reign of God—can forestall the influence of such thoughts. Speaking of the final battle between materialism versus spirituality, Mrs. Eddy noted in Science and Health: “During this final conflict, wicked minds will endeavor to find means by which to accomplish more evil; but those who discern Christian Science will hold crime in check. They will aid in the ejection of error. They will maintain law and order, and cheerfully await the certainty of ultimate perfection” (pp. 96–97).

For wholeness and unity

One of the remarkable facets of Mary Baker Eddy’s discovery is that God is the only Mind and man is the expression of this Mind. In situations of war, disputed territories, tangled history, and so forth, the spiritual fact of Mind’s oneness has a powerful effect. In essence it means that by yielding to the leading of Mind, whatever separates us from one another begins to drop away. Only that which is good and true can persist, because only perfection is possible within Mind. 

As we understand this spiritual fact, conditions that have seemed puzzling or frightening either become clarified and find their right place in the scheme of things or are seen to be irrelevant and are discarded. 

Love makes space for all

Anyone who has known a large, loving family also knows that however crowded the house may be, the love among the individuals living there makes it possible for people to dwell together happily. This may seem naive if applied to the “big family” that needs to live together peacefully in the small house known as the state of Israel and the Palestinian territories. And if we were relying solely on the human sense of love, it probably would be.

By yielding to the leading of Mind, whatever separates us from one another begins to drop away. Only that which is good and true can persist.

Divine Love, however, is more powerful than human love; first, because by its very nature, it is omnipotent. Second, it is pure—free of human drives, motives, mixed emotions, ego, politics, and history. Love’s perception of the spiritual man and woman of its creating doesn’t include hatred, fear, material history, and all its destructive elements. 

What that means in practical terms is that our commitment to looking for evidence of divine Love at work in the Middle East, and our insistence that it cannot be delayed, denied, or resisted, can open the way for people to live together in harmony. This may take form as two separate states, but under Love’s influence, a “single state” or other option may appear. 

God’s purpose is always harmony, peace, and justice. A desire for these conditions is what is genuinely normal, even in the human realm. As the children of divine Life, none of us—including those living in the Middle East—truly has a longing for destruction and death. None of us can truly believe that hatred satisfies or solves anything. 

Separation, isolation, desolation, are no part of the divine kingdom or purpose—and this is fully supported in the Bible. As one psalm puts it: “I called upon the Lord in distress: the Lord answered me, and set me in a large place. . . . I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord” (118:5, 17). This large place is the land of infinite Love—what Christ Jesus called the kingdom of heaven. In this kingdom only Love reigns, and all are satisfied. The works of the Lord include works of peace, not war; of good, not evil; of love, not hate, of joy, not sorrow. Each individual has the right to live in peace, to love and be loved. 

To perceive this kingdom requires a willingness to leave the past behind, to embrace the reality of Love in one’s own life and in others’ as well. This isn’t always easy, and it doesn’t mean people should be naive or reckless. As Nehemiah showed, divine intelligence will prevail, but it takes form as strength, peace, and wisdom, not as fear and war.

This is where each of us can contribute by committing ourselves to resist discouragement, frustration, and anger, when news reports from the Middle East suggest hopelessness, violence, hatred, intransigence. As we argue on the side of Truth and on the side of intelligence and Love, we’ll be declaring that God is present, along with all His power, for good and for healing. We’ll be lifting hearts and opening doors of understanding, so God’s true gospel of peace can at last reign supreme.

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