On the Saturday after Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast, my wife Joanne and our oldest son Jarrod helped collect food and water being brought to a local TV station here in Corpus Christi, Texas. These items were being donated in response to the station’s appeal on behalf of people affected by the hurricane.
At 1 PM, as they were finishing their shift, Joanne learned from a Salvation Army worker that evacuees from New Orleans were at that moment arriving at the city coliseum. While there had been reports that some evacuees might come to our city by Monday, they arrived early without any advance notice to the public.
Joanne called me immediately. She had experienced three catastrophic hurricanes here on the Texas coast and knew what items would be needed. We shopped for towels, toothpaste and brushes, shampoo and other hygienic items, and headed to the coliseum.
Twelve airplanes and two buses had brought 1,200 hungry, tired and displaced residents to be our guests. Many—if not all—had been pulled by helicopter out of the waters that flooded New Orleans.
As the evacuees arrived at the coliseum, we tried not only to supply their human needs—they had had been wearing the same clothes for the last four or five days, under less than ideal conditions—but also to welcome them spiritually by cherishing the individuality they each have as God’s children. We wanted to see these people not as bedraggled humans, dependent on our community for help, but as sons and daughters of God, safe in His care.
Through our study of Christian Science, Joanne and I are discovering that what brought healing throughout Jesus' ministry was his understanding of everyone’s spiritual relation to God. Jesus cherished the spiritual nature of everyone he met. He refused to believe God's spiritual child could be subject to disease, or to degrading, harmful, material conditions.
He knew that God never abandons His children to be alone, discouraged and beaten down. To think that way would be like accepting a counterfeit bill as the real thing. Each individual, as God's child, is fully able to express dignity, holiness and health. What God is never changes or is compromised, and so it follows that God's reflection is as untouched by evil as God is.
This spiritual self that God creates, and knows, is who you and I—and everyone—really are. And the Bible’s accounts of lives that were saved and healed through Jesus’ ministry make this very clear.
The God Jesus knew as Love never lets anyone suffer. But sometimes, any one of us can face conditions that seem beyond our control. At those times, it may be easy to believe that Love is absent or powerless to help us.
Yet Jesus showed time and again that a spiritual view of life—a willingness to trust God's power and guidance—will lead us past pain and misery.
When Joanne and I have faced storms, violence and suffering, what we've learned is not how real pain and death and evil seem to be, or how God saves us in the end. No, every deliverance from these evils shows us, instead, how unruffled and untouchable each individual is—and has always been—as Love's reflection.
From 4 in the afternoon until 2 in the morning, we helped welcome people. As we met over a thousand kind and grateful citizens of New Orleans, we rejoiced that our commitment to a more spiritual view of them and of their city would help to reduce the shock, fear and fatigue that was burdening them.
During the evening, I held a baby in my arms while her mother collected clothes for herself and the child. As the baby and I stared into each other’s eyes, I told her, "God loves you. You are where and how God is showing off Her perfection and grace. You will always be safe." I rejoiced that God's reflection is always secure in the harbor of God's allness and goodness.
Many of the volunteers' acts were practical and simple, but they helped give our visitors the feeling that order was beginning to prevail. In the midst of these hundreds of people, I helped a blind couple find each other and gave them a plate of spaghetti.
But sometimes the need for spiritual comfort was very great, such as for the woman who had lain in an attic for three days, next to the body of a man who had passed away during the storm. She was now very concerned about her son, who was still missing. I put my arms around her and told her, "Your son is safe in God's pocket." She smiled and said assuredly, "Yes, he is."
Joanne and I prayed while we welcomed each individual. We felt blessed to be engaged in how Love's open arms were touching so many. One woman came to Joanne wearing only a stained, bloody t-shirt and a knee brace—no shoes, socks or pants. Joanne found her a complete set of clean clothes from a table of donations. Several hours later, the woman walked up to Joanne and said, "Hi!" At first, Joanne didn't recognize her. Her hair was clean and fixed beautifully. Joanne hugged her and told her, "You look wonderful!"
We continue to witness to the health, safety and goodness that alone constitutes God's reflection. A foundational idea that gives us confidence is what Mary Baker Eddy writes in Science and Health, "In the scientific relation of God to man, we find that whatever blesses one blesses all, as Jesus showed with the loaves and fishes,—Spirit, not matter, being the source of supply."
It was not just giving clothes and other useful things to those in need that brought us a feeling of satisfaction. It was the ability to give a spiritual welcome that proved in a small way what Love and Life really are—God, the infinite Love that always has open arms for its children, and the Life that always has a beautiful countenance.