The recent spate of school shootings—including the October 2 tragedy in an Amish community in Lancaster, Pennsylvania—can make us wonder: how can we pray for the victims, the perpetrators, and for the safety of children and families everywhere?
In this Q&A chat event, Sarah Hyatt, a practitioner and teacher of Christian Science, shares practical ideas for parents, teachers, students, and everyone interested in learning how to support safety in schools through prayer.
Using her own experiences as a mother for illustration, Sarah answers questions from site visitors and shares ideas about recovering from loss, moving past anger, the power of God's mothering love and the importance of listening to spiritual intuition.
spirituality.com host: Hello, everyone! Welcome to another spirituality.com live question and answer audio event. Many of us have heard about the tragedy that struck a small town near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in which school children were killed by a gunman. And our neighbors in Canada have also been praying about an attack on children in Montreal. There have been similar incidents in other areas, and our hearts go out to all the people affected by them. Really, we are all Pennsylvanians and we are all Quebecers in times like this, and our hearts are with you.
We wanted to gather today to pray about this subject and explore spiritual ideas that could be helpful to young people and their parents as we all pray through this difficult time.
Our topic for today is “Safety at school—and everywhere else,” and our guest is Sarah Hyatt, a practitioner and teacher of Christian Science from Charleston, South Carolina. Sarah has been a public school teacher, and she’s also spoken to groups in homeless shelters, facilities for abused women, and in juvenile detention centers. She spoke in Washington, DC, three days after 9/11, in response to President Bush’s call for churches to have healing events. So she’s got hands-on experience in schools and also has had to pray and to respond in public forums.
Sarah, I’m sure you’ve got some comments to get us started.
Sarah Hyatt: Well, I just want to thank everyone for joining in today, and to thank spirituality.com for being willing to address this topic on very quick notice, because when these things come up in public thought, it comes up, in my way of thinking, for healing.
One of the things that I think I’ve found most helpful as I’ve faced down these issues of safety was an idea in the book of Isaiah, in the Bible. It’s from chapter 33, verse 6, where it says that “Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation.” And I think of that as just strength of safety. And then working with the idea of what kind of wisdom and knowledge, how do I get it, how is it going to lead to the safety that we’re all seeking? So I’m really hoping that’s what this hour will explore.
spirituality.com host: Oh, that sounds like a great idea. And to get us started, we have a lot of questions. The first one is from Beth in Boston, and she’s asking, “Can those of us not directly involved in a school shooting be something other than bystanders? Can we contribute in some way to bring healing to all those involved?”
Sarah: Oh, I think, absolutely we have a job to do. I remember after the Columbine shootings that a group of ministers got together, and they put out a call and it was US-wide. The call was for each individual to agree to pray in their own way every time they passed a school. Instead of having drive-by shootings, they said we needed to have drive-by prayer. And I think that that’s an idea that’s still worthy today. It’s something that I still try to do. Each time I go past a school, I try to envelop it in my prayers for the safety of the children there, treasuring their innocence and their teachableness, and acknowledging that there is a universal God who is present there to establish safety, to keep them from harm. Just a little short prayer like that does so much to counteract the fear that we are tempted to feel when we think about these shootings being so random, and being in a place that would seem to be safe, even in our own communities. So this is a way to start helping find the spiritual solutions that everyone is looking for.
spirituality.com host: Oh, that’s very helpful. I’m going to do that. I never thought about doing it just that way. This is from Nancy in Florida, and she’s saying, “Friends are saying that the Lancaster episode proves that there isn’t any safe place, not even a bucolic, isolated community. How would you respond?”
Sarah: Well, I think, that they’re probably right, in the sense that there’s no perfect human location where we’re going to find safety. But I have found safety is not a physical location, rather, it’s a present recognition of actually walking with my divine Parent, my Father-Mother God, being alert to that divine presence and that wisdom and guidance that comes with it. If I try to find safety in a human place, then there is lack that’s able to come in, there’s fear that’s able to come in—“What if human circumstances change?” There’s always the feeling that we’re building on sand.
But building on a spiritual foundation of acknowledging the nature of God as being all good and ever-present, the nature of His creation as being perfect and good and under the control of the one Mind…I’ve found helpful a line in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy, in which she gives spiritual laws that we can all rely on. She says there simply, “All is under the control of the one Mind, even God.” Thinking about everything being under the control of God, the divine Mind, leads me to the questions of, “What is God?” and “Why can I trust that?” And the more I see God as infinite good, as a divine Principle, as having all-power, then the more the errors of human experience—all of the terror, all of the fear—begin to recede in the presence of this light. It’s like darkness being dispelled when you turn on a light switch. It just has to leave because it has no place in the allness of divine light.
spirituality.com host: That’s very helpful. Laurel in Springfield, Illinois, is asking a question that, since you’ve been a teacher, you may be able to help her with. She says, “Do you have suggestions for ways teachers can talk about these frightening incidents to students, but without being overly denominational?”
Sarah: You know, that’s a really good question, as you are going into the classroom and bringing children together who are obviously thinking about these things. And I think that what they respond to most of all is simply just a heart full of compassion. The fact that you want to talk with them is a divinely-impelled desire in my book. And because you’re feeling it and wanting to act on it, certainly God would give you the right words to say that are going to meet each individual need.
I think in some ways you can talk to them about the nature of safety, just as I did in the previous answer, and say that safety is not dependent on a location, it is not dependent on people. But safety is dependent on the recognition of the presence of good. You can put it just in simple terms to them like that.
And most of the time, you can talk about a Supreme Being. You can talk about God as being a divine Parent without having to use the word God, and keep it out of denominational things. But just speak of the nature of God, and of God’s love for them, and of their safety in God’s care. And if you can share an experience from your own life where you’ve proved that—that sometimes is the most convincing thing to them. If you had an experience as a child where you were frightened, and you found help, then that might be something that’s very appropriate to share. It’s finding the language that will communicate. Mary Baker Eddy said “When heart speaks, however simple the words, its language is always acceptable to those who have hearts” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896, p.262). And so it’s really just the heart speaking more than the exact words. But that heart will give you the language.
spirituality.com host: That’s certainly the truth, especially in talking to children, I think. However much intellectual information you might convey, it’s the heart that really provides the comfort.
Sarah: [Yes.] It absolutely is. And they also just do respond to your experiences as well.
spirituality.com host: Yamile in Mexico City is saying, “Why from time to time are there those manifestations of great violence? How can we—families—contribute to diminish this collective violence?”
Sarah: Well, it does seem sometimes that we are living in very turbulent times. And I think that we contribute to the peace or turbulence of the atmosphere by what we take into thought, and what we accept as true. What Mary Baker Eddy did when she established Christian Science—when she found these spiritual laws—was to turn human thinking upside-down. She started from a premise of good being the only reality, and then looked at how that changed our world, instead of looking at an upside down world with everything topsy-turvy and turbulent, and saying, “How can I use a spiritual law to fix it?” She insisted that we find a higher viewpoint.
The way that’s played out in my human experience is, for example, to ask myself how much violence and turbulence I want to take into my thought. This does not mean being ignorant of what’s going on in the world. There’s a right time to pick up on the news and to see what needs to be prayed about, what’s going on in our world. But how much do I take in, in the way of violence, through television, through movies, through video games, through whatever ways the media is reaching us? It’s easy to say, “Well, I can take that in because I’m not a violent person, and I can watch it, and I can just see it’s entertainment. It’s just fiction.” But if we are then, by doing those things, promoting the success of an industry that promotes violence, are we contributing to peace in the world, or are we contributing to the violence? And I’ve found that by taking a stand for my own self, and letting go of any tendency to want to see anything violent, my life has become much more peaceful; my sense of my own community has become much more peaceful. And I even found that the children were not as anxious to be caught up in these types of movies and things that we often think, “Well, of course they want to do it because all their friends are.”
I can remember at one point—it was when the Indiana Jones movies came out, and those were definitely cartoon violence—I thought it would be all right to take my little eight-year-old son along with his thirteen-year-old brother to see this PG-13 movie, because I was going to be there with them. And I remember my younger son’s reaction when he came out, after having seen what, to me, was a very cartoonish head that had been beheaded rolling down some steps, and he was just absolutely horrified at it. And he came out afterwards, and he looked at me, and he said, “Mom, they have those movies rated PG-13 for a reason, you know!” And here I had been taking him because I thought all of his friends will be seeing it and he’ll want to talk about it. And he did not. And I thought how quickly we fall into the belief of peer pressure and things that are just not true about our children, and we need to be affirming their innocence and their desire for innocence and their desire for good. When we do that, then we find that there’s no market for these violent things. So we have to start with ourselves, one person at a time—what are we contributing to, with our thoughts and with our money?
spirituality.com host: I’d like to just ask a follow-up question on this, in the sense of to some extent those exposures to violent games and so on seem to kind of have a deadening effect. It’s like if you see something—the surprise and the dismay and so forth go away after a while, and you start to just not have a feeling of caring. In other words, it’s no longer an individual—kind of like a cartoonish thing, like you were saying, that after a while, you see violence as a cartoon even when it’s “real” violence.
Dr. Martin Luther King called it the “thingification” of people, in a way—that you’ve stopped having that feeling of fellow humanhood, you might say.
Sarah: I think you’re quite right. It’s very easy for us to do that. We also, then, get tricked into the idea from the media—having seen this in movies and in cartoon violence and in video games—well, it’s not real, or if it was in a film, well, the actor got up and walked away when it was done. There’s no sense of the damage that is done from that violence, no sense of suffering that comes from it. And quite often, there’s no sense of remorse on the part of the individual who’s done it—no sense of their own suffering for what they have done. Without those things, without the moral qualities coming to the fore, just kind of pushing and insisting that mankind is better than this amoral, cold-blooded individual that we see who would perpetuate these ills on their fellow man, we lose the sense of our spiritual connectedness to God. We don’t lose our connectedness to God—we can’t. That’s God-ordained and God-maintained. But we lose our sense of it. And then when we’re unaware of it, we move in directions where there’s a pull towards animality. Mary Baker Eddy called it animal magnetism—the pull toward the animal in mankind. She insisted that the man of God’s creating was not an animal, and that we needed to fight back mentally and through prayer against these animal instincts of pull toward behaviors that are unlike God, and, therefore, unlike the man of God’s creating.
spirituality.com host: Just indulge me in one more follow up. What you were just saying sounds to me like a way we can also pray to stop shooters, in the sense that if we can all pray to know that there is no such pull toward animality, that no one can be tempted by it or led into it, or desperately anguished and pulled into it out of a sense of illness—mental or otherwise—couldn’t that help, too?
Sarah: Oh, absolutely. And I think that’s part of the way that I pray when I’m praying about issues like this, whether it is school shooters or terrorism or whatever seems to be in the human thought at that point that would say that man is being made to do something that is unlike the divine nature. My prayer is that man is innately spiritual, includes all right ideas and right inclinations, and cannot be pulled into behavior that is going to be destructive, not only to others, but inherently destructive to their own well-being.
Apparently, Sigmund Freud said at one point that homicide is simply suicide turned inside out. And if we think about these shooters in these terms, we see someone who is hurting, someone who needs help, and we want to be able to pray for them in a way that offers a solution rather than simply condemning them along with the rest of the world.
spirituality.com host: Right. That’s really helpful. And now we’ll move back to our question list with Fred up in New Hampshire: “Forty years ago,” he says, “it was not unusual to let a child walk to school or to walk to the corner store to do an errand for their parents, or to stay out and play with friends. Today there are so many things to protect your children from, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and to become overprotective. How do you maintain the confidence that your children will be cared for without being with them 24/7?”
Sarah: Well, Fred, there are a couple of things. And one of them that really occurred to me was when I was raising my children, and I was desperately afraid for them in certain situations, particularly one, in which a child was missing in a store. The answer that came to me as I was praying about this was that my child, and everyone else’s child is in a direct relationship with their divine Parent, their Father-Mother God. And one of the names that Mary Baker Eddy uses for God, as I mentioned earlier, is Mind. And I thought, Well, they would then hear and respond to that divine Mind. And I found that there’s a definition of angels in Science and Health as, “God’s thoughts passing to man.”
So in that situation in the store where I was so panicked because he was missing—after about 15 or 20 minutes of fruitless searching and panic, I just got absolutely still and said, “Okay, Father-Mother, what is it that I need to know?” And the thought came again to go up to the service desk where I’d already been and they’d already made an announcement. And there, standing at the edge of this little counter, was my son. He was so small that they could not see over the counter edge to see that he was there. And I went running up to him, because I had been very concerned for his well-being—and I was like, “Didn’t Mom tell you you’re not ever supposed to leave?” and all of this, and I was just going on and on. And he looked at me and he said, “But Mom, God told me if I would come and wait right here, He’d send you.”
spirituality.com host: Ah, excellent!
Sarah: So I realized that if I was acknowledging that God was speaking to them and that they could hear, then we would all be safe. And that was just such a relief for me. I used that instance and that lesson learned through years of raising my own children. And I think that it’s one that will help you. Again, there’s no human way that you can just assure safety for your kids, even if you’re with them 24/7. But the sense of safety that comes from knowing that they are being parented by a divine Parent who loves them and cherishes them and will keep them well—and along with that, knowing that they will hear what that divine Parent is saying to them and have a natural inclination to respond to it, will keep them safe.
spirituality.com host: That’s very helpful. Mae in Victoria, Canada, is asking, “What ideas do you feel are essential to include in a prayer of protection?”
Sarah: Well, I have to begin with what God is. When we are praying for protection, if we think that we are just seeking God’s protection, asking Him to protect us, and that maybe He will or maybe He won’t, then we are at God’s mercy, and that could be a changeable personality, so to speak.
So I’ve found that what helps me to begin with is to truly understand the nature of God. And this, I’ve found, is a lifelong learning experience, because God is infinite, So we’re always going to be reaching out for a deeper understanding of the nature of God. But if I start with the nature of God as being infinite Spirit, which, to me, means filling all space, and then being infinitely good, because otherwise, He has a kingdom that’s divided against itself, and it can’t stand. Either God is All or He’s not. And then if God is All, He’s either all good or all bad, because you can’t have a kingdom divided against itself.
Starting from that standpoint, and then going from there to the idea that this divine God, good, is governing His creation in perfect harmony, allows me to have a sense of being in the right place at the right time, even if it means changing directions when I’m going out and going a different way, not knowing why I’ve been told to go a different way than I normally would go. Or if it means being told to stop at a stoplight when it’s green, and you’re going, “Why?” and then you see somebody running a red light the other way. We just learn to listen to those spiritual intuitions. But, to me, it comes out of a knowledge of what the Divine Being really is, what God’s purpose is for each of us, and how He is protecting us. Once we work out from those things, then the specifics of whatever it is that we’re concerned about will come up very clearly to be dealt with.
spirituality.com host: You know, I’m thinking of a psalm, I think it might be Psalm 121, I’m not quite sure, but it’s, “The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore,” I think it goes. And I think that idea of the Lord preserving “thy going out and thy coming in”—that spiritual intuition is with you whether you’re going out or coming in, and can guide you, don’t you think?
Sarah: Oh, absolutely. And it is the last verse of Psalm 121, verse 8: “The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.” And to acknowledge that as you’re going around during the course of your day…. And one of the other things that I’ve loved working with is the promise of Christ Jesus: “I go [before] to prepare a place for you.” I love acknowledging that before I move from place to place, that the Christ has already gone before me to prepare a place. And certainly if the Christ has prepared it, it would be a place of safety and a place of blessing.
spirituality.com host: Speaking of the Christ, you know, I was thinking that maybe we ought to talk a little bit about that, because it sort of is a little special in the way that we think about things. It’s really the divine message from God to man. Could you elaborate a little bit on that?
Sarah: Right. [It’s] thinking about the Christ as being fully exemplified in the life of Jesus, but not confined there, but being the Christ that is “the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever.” One of the definitions that I use for the Christ, is in the Preface of Science and Health, and there, Mary Baker Eddy is talking about Emmanuel, which means “God with us”—it’s another name for Messiah. And there she says, the “divine influence ever present in human consciousness….” I love thinking about the Christ that way, because it’s a divine influence—it’s right here speaking to me, ever-present, always there. I just have to be tuned in to it. It’s the same thing, I think, that Elijah called the “still small voice”—that wasn’t God in the earthquake, the wind, or the fire—but He was in the “still small voice.” So, to me, to hear this Christ, is to quiet everything that the physical senses are saying, doing what Jesus said when he said when we pray, we go into the closet. And we know that’s not a physical location, but rather a closing off [of] all the human arguments and just listening with our whole heart to God. We can do that anywhere and anytime. The Christ messages that we receive there are the ones that are going to keep us safe.
We know from reading about events where people have talked about why they weren’t in a building at a certain time, that individuals have heard this Christ. They may not call it that, they may not recognize it by that name, but they’ve heard that spiritual intuition speaking to them, telling them, “Don’t go to work this morning.” I remember one of the stories, actually, out of 9/11 where a young man said the voice kept coming to him saying, “Don’t go to work. Don’t go to work.” And yet he knew he had to be there. And he turned around on the way there because the voice became so strong to him, so he was not in the Twin Towers on 9/11. And there were students at Columbine who said they just felt a strong intuition to go in a different direction, to go to a different classroom, maybe even leave for the day, not go to school for the day. And it was not a fearful thing to them, they just felt an assurance that they needed to be in this other place. And that, to me, is the Christ speaking to us. I think that it’s available to absolutely everyone. Everyone’s had an intuition like that. Again, I think maybe the terminology may throw some people, but, to us, that’s the Christ.
spirituality.com host: That divine influence.
spirituality.com host: Speaking of that, there are a number of questions now about the victimizer, both Nancy in Indianapolis and Ann in Maine are saying similar things, which are, “Shouldn’t we be praying for the victimizer and his family, as well as the victims? How can we do that in a way that will bless them?” And I know that the gunman’s wife said first to pray for the victims and then she said, “And please pray for my family.” And I wonder if we could address that a little bit more in detail.
Sarah: I think a number of us are already praying for that family, and for the victimizer, as well. I even remember after Columbine when individuals were setting up crosses or some other memorial things for the victims at Columbine—they included two for the shooters. There was quite a bit of controversy over that. But they were left there because they recognized that each of these individuals needed our prayers. Each one of them was still special and beloved in God’s eyes. And there was a desire to see and claim their innocence so that they could grow past these horrible feelings that they had inside that would lead them to do something like this.
When we have done something wrong, and when we wake up from it, there is a suffering inconceivable—you just can’t imagine what the suffering is when you have done something deliberately wrong and you wake up to see that it’s wrong. And so I think we need to cherish those individuals and their spiritual awakening to know that they can awaken to see what it is that they have done wrong. They can repent, they can reform, and they can move beyond it.
And our prayers for the victims, of course, go without saying, and for their families, and to pray for those individuals who are still in hospitals as a result of the events that happened in Lancaster—to really know their innocence and know that that protects them; to know that God is the source of their life.
But I was thinking this morning about this dear wife and these three young children. She said that this man who did the killing, she said, “That’s not my husband.” And I think that she was recognizing there, probably, a spiritual fact. She said that her husband played soccer with the boys, took the daughter shopping, had never said “no” when she asked him to change a diaper. She was focusing on all of the good qualities of the man that she had known and loved and been married to for ten years. She was doing what I would call looking for the spiritual qualities, the evidence of God’s perfect man in this individual. And by cherishing that—what’s real about him—we do enable that reformation to go on. It’s going on, on another plane of existence, he’s not right here with us. But we are supporting that reformation, not only in him, but all who are suffering the same way that he was.
When you are suicidal, and I’ve been that way—as a teen growing up in a home with an alcoholic dad, I was right on the verge of suicide. I know how dark that feels. And there seems to be no way out, no help. And to have the recognition that God is speaking to those individuals—for us who are praying about these, to pray that everyone who’s in that situation can know that they are loved by God, know that they have a purpose, know that they have a reason to live, know that they’re cherished—then we’re helping to break through that darkness that would lead to suicide, and would help to lead them to healing. It will help this woman and her young children if we know that what that dad seemed to do cannot limit their ability to see their life purpose, their goodness, their innocence. We really need to affirm that.
spirituality.com host: Thank you very much. That’s very helpful. Michael in New York is asking a very interesting question. He says, “Since we’re all free to make our own decisions, how can my prayer affect someone else’s obviously free decision?”
Sarah: Well, people are free to make their own decisions within the context of human existence. We all decide. We make choices all day long about what we’re going to eat, what we’re going to wear, how we’re going to behave and interact with others. But why I pray is because I know that God’s will is completely good. I’ve found a really good way of thinking about this in the Lord’s Prayer where there’s a line, “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” And my first question was, “Well, in heaven, what do we have? Do we have shootings, do we have terrorism, do we have wars, do we have disease?” Well, not in anybody’s concept of heaven that I’ve ever talked to. It’s a sense of harmony, and a sense of peace and joy, and a fullness of life. Well, then, did Jesus ask for us to do the impossible when he said pray for God’s will to be done in earth as it is heaven? Well, I don’t think he would have wasted his breath telling us to pray for the impossible.
When Mary Baker Eddy gave her spiritual definition of that, she said, “Enable us to know,–as in heaven, so on earth,–God is omnipotent, supreme.” So when I pray with that prayer of petition—“Just help me to know, God, that right here on earth, even as in heaven, Your will is supreme,” then we overcome the belief in a human will that would be opposed to the divine, a will that would seek to harm, a will that would harm even inadvertently, even by trying to do something good, and yet would not be the right thing to do. In turning our thought around that way, and acknowledging an omnipotent God governing us all through divine Love, then we create an atmosphere of thought for man to respond to.
And if you’re wondering about this atmosphere of thought, and how that can make a difference—I use just a small example to describe that. Suppose you were an accomplished pianist, and someone said, “I’ve got two audiences here for you. There’s one audience here who knows your reputation, they know how good you are, and they’re here to support you, they’re here to love you, and they’re here to hear your wonderful gift.
“And in the other auditorium is a roomful of people who don’t like the way you play the piano. They don’t think you’re accomplished, they don’t think you’ve mastered the music. Which audience would you prefer to play for?” I think the answer—and I have a pianist friend, and I asked him, and he said, “Oh, there’s no doubt, I want to play for the people who already like me.” He said, “Even though sometimes it’s tempting to think, ‘Well, I want to convince them I’m good,’ it’s hard when you’re in a mental atmosphere where people are expecting disaster to experience good.” And that validated for me what I was thinking, that the collective thought around us can influence us, particularly for good. And then if we’re not recognizing that divine influence of the Christ that we talked about, then we can be pulled into the negative influences. So we want to make sure we’re arguing on the side we want to win.
spirituality.com host: That’s very helpful, because then, what you’re saying, in a way, is that if you see, for example, a whole string of school shootings, it almost builds up a feeling like, “Well, these are things that are going to happen.” And if we can offset that through our prayers, it sort of helps to stop the violence from going forward.
Sarah: You’re quite right. When we enter our protest against something that’s going on like this, things can change. And it changes one heart at a time. If you’re wondering about the power of one, though, look at what happened out of the life of Nelson Mandela, out of Mahatma Gandhi, out of the life of Martin Luther King. And the examples just go on and on and on, once you start looking for it. It’s a matter of changing thought. Changing thought, to me, is what actually brought down the Berlin Wall. When people became convinced it just wasn’t right for it to be there, it came down without bloodshed.
So as the human collective consciousness changes to accept more of the reality of the divine, then we see more of the divine in our human experience. We’re redeeming the human to coincide with the divine, and we want to be fighting on that side of good.
spirituality.com host: Wendy in Littleton, Colorado, is asking, “How can we pray to stop the mesmerism of Columbine High School, to bring love and pride rather than hate and anger back into our classrooms, especially for our Sunday School students? Our church is located a few miles from Columbine and only 45 minutes from Bailey, Colorado.” And I think that was the place of the other incident.
Sarah: Yes, it was. I was reading, I think it was The Christian Science Monitor’s editorial about the school shootings, and someone was writing in from the area where you’re from. And she was talking about how columbine, I guess, is a flower, and it’s in the Colorado mountains. And I think maybe just turning around what we are thinking, to get back to that beautiful sense of being uplifted in thought by Spirit to accept what columbine really represents. And whether it’s the wildflower or the good things that you knew about that school before the shooting—to really focus on that. This was a school with community, a school of love, a school of compassion, a place where people cared. That hasn’t changed. In fact, I would suspect it’s probably increased since then. A sense of looking out for each other’s welfare. And I think you ought to take great pleasure in recognizing that this is what has come out of it. No matter what evil does, its only power is to destroy itself.
When Joseph was asked at the end of his experiences, where his brothers had done all of these horrible things to him, and they asked for forgiveness, he said it really wasn’t his to give, that had to come from God. But he said, “Ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good.” And I didn’t think that he meant there that God did the bad thing so that good would come out of it. Just that wherever it looks like evil has triumphed, if we start looking deeper, we find the good that has come out of it. Even after 9/11, the day after all the headlines had been so horrible with “terror in the skies” and whatever, in four-inch headlines all over the US in every newspaper, the Richmond newspaper the next day had a headline in just as big letters, and it said, “Good will win!”
spirituality.com host: All right!
Sarah: Isn’t that wonderful! I thought it was a change in thought, because they were focusing from “This is the terror, this is the horror, let’s look at this,” to “Wait a minute. There has to be another way to bring this into focus.” And if good is going to win, then we change things around again, one thought at a time, by looking at Columbine now and recognizing the good that’s there, treasuring it, appreciating it, correcting your thought about it every time it comes up in conversation coupled with an event—“No, that’s not what went on. That’s not what God was doing. It’s not what God is knowing about this town, these people, these students.” And support that faculty and the students and everybody associated with that school, and enveloping [them] in the love that Columbine represents.
spirituality.com host: Oh, that’s very helpful. Tom in Seattle is saying, “On the media broadcasts, I heard the Amish community in Pennsylvania asking for support of prayers. Could a Christian Scientist pray for them?”
Sarah: That question, I think—and I don’t mean to laugh at Tom—but I just think it comes up so often. “Can we pray?” I can just imagine myself taking that to God and saying, “God, can I pray about this?” Well, I just did, didn’t I, because I just asked God about it. I think if we go back to what prayer is, and Mary Baker Eddy says, “Desire is prayer,” then our desire to support this community in their finding healing, finding a sense of forgiveness, finding peace, finding, again, a sense of safety and security, of course we can pray about it. We can affirm that God is right there with them. We can affirm that divine Love is working in each heart to provide the comfort that Jesus promised in that wonderful Beatitude, “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” We can know that that comfort is right there for each and every one of them.
We can know that their sense of life and their sense of peace and security have never been in just a human way of life. It has never been in a physical location, but it has always resided in the presence of the Almighty, and the acknowledgment that God is right there with them.
So there are all kinds of ways that we can pray about this, Tom, and not interfere with their right to have their own concept of God and their own prayers. But certainly, we can be supportive and caring and compassionate. I don’t think there’s ever been a time when somebody says, “Can I pray about this?” that I’ve ever said no. I can’t think of what an instance like that would be.
spirituality.com host: Well, I think even people who don’t normally pray, if they feel moved by this or some other event, just lifting up their hearts to God in the best way they know, whether they know fancy words or not, that desire, like you said, the desire for there to be peace or love or health or harmony—that is a prayer.
Sarah: It is a prayer. And part of that prayer, for me, is to have people really know the nature of God. One of the things that this man who was the shooter in Lancaster said, to his wife apparently, was that he was very, very angry with God. And having grown up angry with God, I know what that feels like. And you don’t bother praying when you’re mad, or you pray and say, “Well, I know you’re not going to listen to me, and I don’t expect to get an answer.” It really makes a difference in your communication and your ability to hear what God is saying to you if you have such a misconception of the divine nature.
For me, my move out of suicide and out of this anger with God came in finding throughScience and Health a spiritual sense of the nature of Deity, as presented in the Bible—going from that God of wrath of the Old Testament to the God of love that Jesus revealed in the New Testament, all the way to Revelation where we get to the point where John is writing in Revelation that “God shall wipe all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” And that only comes about through understanding the nature of God and His ability to uplift us from any discordant human situation and show us a sense of peace and a new view of God and man that’s going to increase the sense of peace in the world.
spirituality.com host: That’s wonderful. Diane in Boston is asking, “What role do you feel God’s motherhood plays in our prayers for our young people?” That’s a nice question.
Sarah: It really is. And I think it’s one of the most wonderful ones to contemplate in thinking about aspects of God’s nature when we’re doing this. There’s a verse in the Old Testament that says, “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you.” And that just points to the tender qualities of God’s mothering here. We know that any mother in that community and the mother in all of us is just reaching out with a heart full of love, and compassion, and care, and support for each one of those touched by these tragedies. How much more so would an infinite Mother, God, be able to reach, touch, and comfort Her children?
So to think of what it means to be a mother, what qualities of mothering we would think would be of most value in an experience like this, and then to know that they’re coming forth from an infinite, divine source that’s unlimited, and is able to reach each one of Her children right where they are. They don’t have to reach a certain level of spiritual understanding before they can be comforted by their divine Mother. God touches our hearts and our thoughts right where we are, even when we’re angry at Him. God didn’t quit speaking to me when I was an angry teen just because I was mad at Him. The messages were still there. I didn’t understand they were still from God, but they were still there. Looking back on it, I can see how God was guiding me. So now I’m convinced that no matter where we are in our understanding of God, God is still mothering, still caring, the same way any mother does for her child.
spirituality.com host: Karen in London—this is sort of a strong follow-up, but it’s a hard question. She says, “You said some people hear the Christ saying, ‘Don’t go to school,’ or somewhere where they would be in danger. Does that mean they are more protected by God than the innocents who have been murdered? Why didn’t these innocents hear the Christ and thus acquire protection?”
Sarah: Well, you know, I faced that question after 9/11, when I was hearing how many thousands of people weren’t there. And I actually had a friend of mine say to me that while those people who were in there weren’t listening to God, obviously they were not connected to God. And he meant it in a very derogatory way. And it just brought tears to my eyes, because I know that God’s protection was there for everyone who was on the plane as well as for everyone who was off the plane, everyone who was in the building as well as those who were out of the building. God’s protection and love is impartial and universal.
I wish I had an easy answer to say why some people were still in that schoolroom, others were let go; why some may not have come to school that day. I don’t have the human information or the spiritual insight to be able to know why each one was there. But I know that these individuals that we are seeing as the victims were just as loved and just as cared for by God as the ones who were not there. And I suspect that they’ve already awakened to that spiritual fact that they are still loved and cherished by God, and that their life is still ongoing.
I thought about this deeply when I thought about people who were saying, “I was supposed to be on that plane, and I missed it,” or “Something held me back and I didn’t go;” “I was supposed to be in that meeting in the Pentagon, and I just couldn’t get myself to get in the car,”—all of those things. And I wondered, “Where was God?” And then I thought back to what we had heard about the people who had been on the plane, and how many of them were reciting one of the psalms or the Lord’s Prayer; how many were talking to operators or loved ones and leaving messages of peace, saying, “It’s all going to be all right. I’m not going to be coming home, but everything’s going to be okay.” And I was wondering, putting myself in that situation, would I have been sitting there calmly on the plane? Would I have been up screaming, running, just going absolutely berserk as a result of the physical impetus? And I thought, “What would have kept them in their seats being calm? What would have kept them praying? What would have kept them reassuring their loved ones?” And to me that had to be that they understood the presence of God right there with them—in whatever terms that came to them. It just came to me as a result of my prayers that that was what was going on and I needed to reaffirm that, and in no way say that they were, for some reason, more to blame for not having heard God’s message not to go to be in that place. But to know that they were where they needed to be, and still are—because this is what the divine Mind does. Divine Mind does not allow violence, does not allow terror, does not allow murder. And if God’s not allowing it, then these individuals are awakening to it. We can support them through our prayers in the absolute, while still being compassionate and caring to those who are here behind.
spirituality.com host: Thanks, Sarah. Lisa in Washington is following up with the protection of children when she asks this question. She says, “‘What about Jesus’ teaching in Matthew, Mark, and Luke regarding someone offending the little ones: It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones,’”–that’s from the Bible. “It seems to offer a sharp rebuke for causing harm to young ones.”
Sarah: Well, I think it certainly does, and it lets us know that we are to value the innocence and childlikeness not just of those who are young of age, but to value the childlikeness and innocence and perfection of every individual. And even to see it about the shooter. To see that even though he may be suffering now for having inflicted harm on these individuals, he, also has, in his own way, experienced harm expressed to him as a child of God—had his own innocence lost by these dark thoughts that led him in a direction that led to self-destruction and the destruction of others.
So I think the Bible verse is applicable all along the way. And to rise above it is for us to say, “Okay, where in my own experience am I destroying the innocence and the purity of individuals around me by not accepting their Christlike nature? Is there something I can do in my own thought, in my interactions with others that allows their natural childlikeness, their goodness, to come forth? How am I expressing my own childlikeness? Am I even willing to become as a little child?”
And as we work with those thoughts and really pray about them deeply, I think that we will see a reestablishment of the value of innocence in our world, in our culture, in our families. And not only in our children, but in ourselves as children of God.
spirituality.com host: I wanted to ask a little follow-up here. You know, sometimes if you don’t have contact with children, they do sort of become a separate entity, something, well, I don’t want to call them “a thing,” but sort of a separate species in a way—and it’s really important to cherish that childlikeness and to honor it, in a way, that it is something precious that needs to be preserved and valued and looked at as a very rich part of our experience, even if we don’t have children of our own. Do you know what I mean?
Sarah: Oh, I sure do. And I think that…I just have a new granddaughter, she’s about nine months old now. And I think in that period between the time that my children grew up and my nieces and nephews kind of got beyond the “little kids” stage, that I really missed seeing that innocence and purity and delight that’s there in a baby. So actually, I recommend being around children—if you can pray about opportunities.
Not only just children of a certain age, saying that, Oh, child means under ten, but to truly recognize the childlikeness in our friends and in ourselves…really sit down for a few minutes sometime and identify the qualities that you have always admired or enjoyed about children. And then start looking for them, and you’ll find they’re all around you. They really are not truly just in an age bracket. But certainly exposure to those children in that age can bring a sharp reminder to us of the preciousness of innocence and goodness and joy.
spirituality.com host: Thank you. Now John in Florida is asking, “How do you address the feeling that a loss has occurred, and there’s no getting back what was lost?”
Sarah: Well, there is always that feeling, I think, after the loss of a loved one that things just aren’t ever going to be the same, we can’t get that individual back. But the way I’ve prayed about that is something that Jesus said when he said, “The kingdom of God is within you.” The kingdom of God, to me, is the knowledge of God and His creation. So the knowledge of that individual that I seemed to have lost cannot, in fact, be lost to me. And I know that having experienced grief over the loss of parents and other close relatives that I have had to deal with the issue of, “I can’t talk to them anymore. They’re not right here.” But I’ve come to find that as I’ve trusted that they’re still in their Father-Mother’s care, and they’re going on in a life that’s full and rich of spiritual meaning, that I can sometimes get this sense that I still have them with me. I don’t mean that in any spiritualism sense. It’s not a spirit that’s speaking to me, but just a sense that I include the right idea of their identity.
And sometimes that comes back in terms of remembering things that they said to me, lessons that they taught me, times that we spent together—it’s more in the form of memories than anything else. But it’s the good memories that come back that reassure me that our completeness is in Spirit. It’s not in the physical presence of one another, but in the idea that God’s kingdom is complete, and because it is and it’s within me, that I can never lack for any good thing. Any good quality that these individuals ever expressed came from God. And those qualities are still being expressed around these individuals who seem to be experiencing the loss. And we need to treasure that and value their connectedness with God and their ability to see that the love and joy and intelligence and wisdom and creativity and individuality that these young girls expressed is still being expressed, both by those girls and all around them, because they had their source in God. So they can still feel a sense of completeness, the sense that when God said that nothing could be added to nor taken away from that which He had made, that that’s a divine promise, and that God “is faithful that promised.” And at some point, our sense of this will be restored to a sense of wholeness and completeness.
But it’s something that it’s okay to wrestle with. We don’t always get these spiritual ideas and then have them make an immediate difference in our life. Sometimes the loss seems so great, we do have to struggle and wrestle with it. But the point that I try to remember as I’m doing it—that there’s a goal at hand, and that is the peace that Christ Jesus promised when he left. He said, “My peace I give unto you.” And then he said, “Not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” And I thought about what that meant. And, to me, “Not as the world giveth, give I unto you,” is the kind of peace that just gives somebody a hug and says, “Well, it’s all right. You’ll get over it. You’ll feel better down the road.”
But the peace that Christ Jesus felt was the peace of knowing who his divine Parent was, knowing the allness of God, knowing that another one of the names for God is Life, and if God is Life, then life is eternal. And we will eventually see that in all of its completeness.
spirituality.com host: That’s a very helpful answer. This is a question from Colby here in Boston, who’s asking, “What can we do if we see someone bullying someone in school?”
Sarah: What a great question! You know, the specific human actions I can’t outline for you, because sometimes it would be right to speak up, and other times it might be right to get an adult, and other times it might be right to actually physically intervene, or there might be other options well beyond that. It’s one of the things I’ve loved about praying to an infinite Mind, as He always has more ideas than I do, and is willing to share them with me.
But I think the starting point is reaching out right there and knowing that there is an infinite God who is Love, who is right there loving both the bully and the one who’s being victimized. And knowing that God will allow you to see the divine nature in both of them. Sometimes just looking for those divine qualities right there, refusing to see one as a victim and one as a bully, but seeing them both as equal in God’s eyes—equally loved, equally capable of hearing God’s direction, and equally capable of being obedient to it, will dissolve the situation right there.
But as you continue to pray along those lines, if it doesn’t resolve that quickly, it’s not wrong to ask for right ideas—“God, what would you have me to do here?” And know that God will send those angel messages that will let you say the right things.
I’ve seen some wonderful instances of bullying that have been healed, and it’s worked out so that the person who was being bullied and the bully have become the best of friends. And usually, it was because the one who was being victimized refused to be a victim, and refused to keep holding to the idea that somebody else could be a bully. If he was God’s child, then so was the other. And seeing both of them in that divine light brought unity and harmony and an end to the bullying.
But you’re definitely right to want to address that issue—if you’re just a bystander, not to just walk away thinking, “Well, I’m glad it’s not me.” You really can be a help to the whole world by what you’re thinking and praying right at that one time. The things that we can fix are the things that are in our experience and in our thought. And as you do that, you add to the collective consciousness that says, “Bullying is unacceptable, it’s unnecessary, and actually, in God’s kingdom, it’s impossible.”
spirituality.com host: Thanks, Sarah. I’d just like to tell our listeners that we’re coming to the end of our time, but we’re going to run over a few minutes to answer the last few questions we’ve got. So if your question has not been answered and you have to leave the webcast, come back later when the audio is on and you’ll be able to get the answer to your question.
So let’s move on to Interested in Wisconsin, who is asking, “How do we prevent this violence from happening again?”
Sarah: Well, I think our standpoint, if we’re ever going to stop it from happening again is the metaphysical one, and it’s an absolute one that’s really kind of hard to get your hands around when you’re looking at physical evidence, but that it’s never happened in the first place. What God has created, and what God knows, is perfection. And if we operate out from that, then we find a correction within human experience. But that is a strong, as I said, absolute metaphysical standpoint to work out from. It’s not the standpoint that you would go into these families and talk with them and say, “Oh, that never happened,” because they know all too well what they have just lost and what they’ve experienced.
But by taking that absolute standpoint, it gives us an absolute law, then. If God doesn’t allow evil, if evil is not the reality that it claims to be, our weighing in on the side of the omnipresence and omni-action of good is, again, weighing in on the side that we want to win. And it’s weighing in on the side of reality as opposed to the unreality of the claim of evil’s existence.
I have had a battle with the idea about the reality of evil ever since I started studying Christian Science. My tendency, of course, at the beginning, was to want to know where it came from and why it seemed to be, if it isn’t. But I’ve come to the recognition that evil is suggestion, and it hopes we’ll buy into the belief that it’s an evil world, that it’s a dangerous world, that it’s a scary place to live and nobody can be safe. Because once we do, then we start looking over our shoulder, and we’ve created an expectancy of violence, an expectancy of discord.
But if we turn our thought in the other direction, what happens? I think what I loved most about the idea of Christian Science was that the author said that it was a science, that there were spiritual laws that anybody could understand and put into practice. And I thought, “Well, I’m not real sure that I believe you, but I’m going to try. I’m going to start with these absolutes, and work out from that.” And from there I could see that evil wasn’t real.
And it really struck me about the powerlessness of evil when I thought about the three temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. In one of those temptations, he’s up on the pinnacle of a temple—he’s up very high. And the devil is pictured as suggesting to him, “Why don’t you jump off? The angels will catch you. You won’t even dash your foot against a stone.”
And I thought at that point as I was reading that, You know, if evil did have real power, if it was a real entity and he had Jesus in that dangerous a position, he wouldn’t have just suggested he jump off, he would have pushed him. And as I realized that, then I saw that I really could argue on the side of the powerlessness of evil. Evil only becomes real to us if we take it into our thought and agree with it. Then it becomes the truth of our experience. So if we turn that around and find a spiritual basis for reasoning out from the allness and goodness of God, then we not only overcome the evil that seems to be now, we are fighting on the side of ending that violence forever, because we won’t accept it into our thought.
spirituality.com host: Well, thank you. And I have two things—one, I’m going to ask one more question from the list, and then I have a follow-up for it. This one is from Ken in Santa Barbara, and he’s asking, “How do you pray for those who were killed?”
Sarah: I think that I pray for those who were killed the same way I do for anyone who has passed on. I try to understand that they are walking…to me, it’s kind of a funny visual—it was something that I saw after my dad died. And I was so concerned about him because I felt like he had left this world in a less than spiritual state, given the way he had lived his life. And I had this prayer when I was just praying to know that he was okay, and it was kind of a word picture more than a visual picture, but a sense of him walking hand-in-hand with his divine Parent, on his spiritual journey, being loved and cared for, comforted and uplifted, inspired and just going on in the fullness of life, having lost nothing. Because everything that he ever had and needed had always been there from God available to him, and it was right now—God speaking to him, directing him, guiding him.
So I take that same thought into praying about the victims of these shootings, to know that each one of them is still being parented, loved, cared for by their divine Parent. And every sense of good that they had on this earth remains with them, because good is permanent. So the sense of family that they had, the sense of love and community, the sense of joy and anticipation, the sense of purpose—that’s all right there, still with them.
I also pray to know that this experience cannot take away from them any of their innocence, any of their faith in the nature of man’s goodness, and of God’s ever-presence. So those are the basic points that I’ve been praying with. And I’m sure as you pray, there will be more that come to you.
spirituality.com host: My follow up is for the children who were not killed and their families and the children, for example, in Montreal, the same, “How can we pray to lift the burden of trauma off their lives?”
Sarah: I think that, again, is kind of the same answer, and that it’s starting with the parenthood of God, embracing them, loving them, caring for them. I have often thought about the spiritual nature of man as being so perfect. God has created us in His image and likeness. And then, if you take that perfection—if you took yourself, for example, and wrapped yourself in Saran Wrap, and then the whole world threw mud at you and said, “Here is trauma, here is victimization, here is sickness, here is loss,” that mud never gets through the Saran Wrap. And I’ve often thought of the Saran Wrap—referring to a line inScience and Health where she’s talking about “Hold perpetually this thought…” and it goes on to say that, God is “underlying, overlying, and encompassing all true being.” So my prayer is that this trauma, this sense of being victimized, or even the sense of, “Why was I saved?” which I heard from a number of people in Washington, DC, after 9/11—the idea of everyone’s innocence and perfection, and that God can keep them safe from these…they’re bullying thoughts, that’s what they are. They’re trying to bully these individuals right now into accepting a limited view of themselves and an idea that their life has been changed—maybe they won’t have the same kind of opportunities, that they’ve been scarred, their innocence has been lost. Those are the types of things that I want to handle in my prayers, to know that no matter how much mud has been thrown at them, it has never gotten through the Saran Wrap of God’s ever-presence and their pure perfection and innocence is intact. I hope that helps a little bit.
spirituality.com host: Well, thank you very much, Sarah. You have just been wonderful to join us this way, and especially on short notice. Do you have any summary thoughts that you’d like to say before we part?
Sarah: I just want to say to each one of you how grateful I am that you were concerned enough about this to tune in, that you were concerned enough about it to want to pray. Mrs. Eddy talked in Science and Health about the world being “lulled by stupefying illusions” and being “asleep in the cradle of infancy” to what needed to be handled. And your desire to be pray-ers about this, to really be participants in the metaphysics that are going to lift this up so that it does never happen again—this is a divine impetus. This desire has come forth because God is working in you. And we know that God is working in us, “both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” And that good pleasure is to see an end of these things.
So we are moving forward with a divine impetus, and nothing can hold us back.
Citations used in this chat
Science and Health
King James Bible