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Peace like a river

From the January 11, 2016 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

It was a powerful image for an arid land. To the prophet, peace wasn’t simply the absence of conflict—a quiet or stillness. Peace was an irresistible, cool, and steady force that nourished all life. It revived the depleted and dispirited. Unaffected by human boundaries, it coursed through the nations, connecting them and sustaining them with the same living waters. Most important, it came from God.

Peace like a river (see Isaiah 66:12) doesn’t evaporate with the end of the Christmas season after we’ve packed away holiday decorations and gotten back to the business of the new year. “On earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14) continues to flow through our thoughts and lives and communities. But because it is a spiritual power, it requires spiritual discernment to recognize it and draw from it healing and restoration. 

Can such power really be present when the headlines blare both international confrontation and local conflict? Is there a peace that is a positive, enduring presence, and not just a lull between violent outbreaks? How do we access it when we’re afraid or discouraged?

The simplest and most profound answer is by following the example of Jesus, who continuously turned in prayer to God, Spirit. Spirit imparts a spiritual view, a true view, of everyone as children of one Parent, one eternal Father-Mother. Then how would an infinitely good God see these children and know them? What spiritual qualities define their true identity? Could anger belong to the child of God? Could hatred? Fear? Hopelessness?

No. None of these could be the outcome of an infinite, loving source. So our Master could dismiss them with spiritual authority as having no legitimacy, power, or presence. And this had tangible effect. Where the locals had long known a mentally unstable and violent man who ran naked among their tombs, they were astonished to discover this same man clothed and sitting calmly at Jesus’ feet, fully restored to mental health (see Mark 5:1–20). Spiritual peace once again flowed through the man’s life and, by extension, through the community.

It can be tempting to consent to a view of reality as filled with unpredictable people and events, or to be mesmerized by the endless news loops describing the scenes of tragedies. But God never leaves us without what we need individually or collectively to break free.

In the desolation of human understanding, divine Love hears and answers the human call for help; and the voice of Truth utters the divine verities of being which deliver mortals out of the depths of ignorance and vice. This is the Father’s benediction. It gives lessons to human life, guides the understanding, peoples the mind with spiritual ideas, reconstructs the Judean religion, and reveals God and man as the Principle and idea of all good.  (Mary Baker Eddy, Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, pp. 81–82)

The whole premise of evil is exposed as a lie. Christian Science takes a radical stand for the reality of good alone, and the inseparability of God and man. God’s infinite nature as Love and Truth cannot be separated from each of us, as the sun cannot be divided from sunlight. Love is not separated from unlimited expressions of love and kindness. Truth is not separated from the steadfast honesty and integrity that comprise our true selfhood.

This oneness with our divine source is the spiritual fact we hold to when we’re confronted by the opposite picture. Through conscientious and consistent prayer, we hold it and hold it until it rings true in our hearts, and we feel its healing power—“… and this peace floweth as a river into a shoreless eternity” (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 82).   

True peace requires an understanding of its divine source in God.

Most of us have seen a difficult situation yield to this power of good. Some years ago I attended a planning meeting of an organization comprised of diverse religious groups with equally diverse ideologies. They had worked together for decades to respond to community needs. But this meeting occurred just after a court decision on a contentious issue. Those sitting at the table had strongly held views on whether this was a positive or negative development. When a provocative statement was made, the room became tense. Long-standing working relationships suddenly seemed all too fragile. 

The whole group turned to the woman chairing the meeting for the go-ahead on a full debate of the subject. She was a quiet, thoughtful individual, and she paused for a long time. Many of us realized she wasn’t hesitating. She was praying. And we added our silent prayers to hers. When she finally spoke, her words gracefully put the divisive issue aside and turned us entirely to the purpose we were there for: coordinating our collective efforts to help a group of women and children in need. 

And there it was. Peace like a river to cool the hostility in the room and reestablish the sense of God’s presence and love carrying us forward. It was so powerful, so palpable, that we all remarked on it afterward. 

True peace goes beyond human efforts. It requires an understanding of its divine source in God. Each of us has our individual part acknowledging and yielding to what God is and does as the source of this peace. As we recognize the impartial and inclusive nature of Spirit, we will join the prophet in seeing what is actually and continuously flowing to us and through us and around us all.

Robin Hoagland

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