Getting our history straight
I began to pray about the history of slavery and racism in the United States.
When a student of Christian Science was unable to heal a man of a serious wound he had received during the American Civil War, a radical spiritual insight was shared with him. He was advised by Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science, that both he and his patient needed to be released from the belief that a war had occurred and was part of the patient’s history.
Although this might sound like a denial-of-facts approach to viewing history, it is consistent with the account of creation outlined in the first chapter of Genesis in the Bible, in which our true “history”—our eternal reality—is actually spiritual and good because we’re made in the likeness of God, Spirit, and are therefore spiritual.
An article relating this experience goes on to elaborate on the importance of eliminating from our own thought and self-concept any notion of a material history (Ira W. Packard, “Justification,” Sentinel, May 10, 1913). For some time, I had been rereading this Sentinel article and pondering its lesson in reference to some personal challenges in my life, endeavoring to understand that because God, divine Spirit, created us, we have a history that is spiritual not material. In other words, we each have a history in common with everyone else based on what God knows about us all as His precious children. In reality, we have no other history—no material back story or record of occurrences that can dictate our health, progress, or potential. It had been helpful to explore this on an individual level, but I hadn’t yet expanded my application of this spiritual truth on a broader scale. That is, until the fall of 2019.
We each have a history in common with everyone else, based on what God knows about us as His precious children.
One evening, as I was exiting up the escalator at my subway stop, I encountered an altercation between two other riders. I hadn’t seen what precipitated it, but one rider was yelling aggressively, and the other was responding defensively. The shouting included some rather vicious insults from one participant about the other’s gender and race. I wanted to help defuse the situation, but I felt that a direct intervention could exacerbate things, because it might appear that I was taking a side, as I shared the race and gender of the person on the defensive. So I chose to simply stand by and pray. After a minute or two, someone else stepped in and pulled one of the riders away from the confrontation, and together they left the station. I approached the other rider and asked if everything was OK, and we walked out together.
We parted outside the station, but as I walked home, I still felt unsettled, so I prayed to quiet my thoughts and listen for God’s guidance. What came to me was the story of the Civil War veteran, and Mrs. Eddy’s comment about the need to expunge the belief in a mortal history from his thought. So I began to pray about the history of slavery and racism in the United States, and to reject any notion that either of the people I had just seen was bound by a material history—starting with enslavement of Africans and continuing all the way to present-day manifestations of prejudice.
The right kind of revisionist history heals human ills by bringing to light the spiritual reality that forever belongs to each one of us.
I prayed that way for the rest of my walk home, and that night felt at peace about the earlier events that day.
This way of praying does not amount to ignoring history, or going about life thinking that stains such as racism and inequality are relics of the past that get washed away simply through the passage of time. Rather it tackles the issue head on by elevating our concept of ourselves and others above a material sense of history bound by differences such as gender or race. It affirms and embraces the reality that every one of us is a precious child of God, and that no history of human woes can deprive us of the fullness of that divine heritage. Each one of us, irrespective of human identifiers, has ready access and a right to all of God’s goodness.
This type of prayer also means seeing that the evils in human history are powerless to take away what God has given to us, because divine Love alone has power. A short autobiographical reminiscence by Mrs. Eddy states, “The human history needs to be revised, and the material record expunged” (Retrospection and Introspection, p. 22). This is the right kind of revisionist history. It helps heal humanity’s ills by bringing to light the spiritual reality that forever belongs to each of us.
This reality that each of God’s children has an identity that is spiritual rather than material had come into clearer focus for me when, three months later, the week before Christmas, the apparent aggressor from the subway altercation passed by me as I was entering the locker room at my gym. Although we’d never interacted, we’d seen each other enough times at the gym that I had recognized him in the subway that day.
Unprompted, and for the first time, he stopped and spoke to me, saying, “Hey! I hope you have a great holiday!” A little while later, I went over and introduced myself and asked him his name. We had a friendly chat and exchanged warm wishes for the holidays as we parted. After that, until our gym closed because of the pandemic, I continued to see him there periodically, and we always greeted one another with a friendly hello or wave.
I am grateful for every opportunity, including this modest experience, to challenge the notion that I, or anyone, has a life apart from God tainted by hurts, regrets, prejudices, and injustices. The fact is, we have one common spiritual history of being God’s creation, at one with our Father-Mother—of living in harmony and love with every one of God’s children. To the degree that we understand this history, we are contributing to the healing of prejudice and injustice for the benefit of all mankind.