In my home city of Toronto there's been a great deal of concern about the outbreak of SARS [sudden acute respiratory syndrome]. As I write, two hospitals have been quarantined, and a children's hospital is no longer accepting visitors. The quarantine on the building where my in-laws live was lifted only yesterday. When I spoke with my mother-in-law, I was struck by how calm she was.
A recent news report on the spread of the disease suggested that while great headway had been made in dealing with it, fear of it is still spreading rapidly. It made me think of something the Sentinel' s founder, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote over a century ago: "The press unwittingly sends forth many sorrows and diseases among the human family. It does this by giving names to diseases and by printing long descriptions which mirror images of disease distinctly in thought." She concluded: "We should master fear, instead of cultivating it" (Science and Health, pp. 196-197).
For me, there's been so much to deal with in our world—the war in Iraq, economic troubles including recession and unemployment, and now SARS. My husband has family in Hong Kong who live close to the areas where the worst outbreak has occurred. How, I've asked, do we get our arms around all of this? How can we feel safe? How do we master fear?
The human condition can seem so fragile. And yet I know from experience, time and again, that a message in the 91st Psalm holds great hope and promise for everyone: "There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling."
I'd been thinking about how the presence of God, who can be called divine Love, is engulfing, embracing, and shielding humanity. Then one afternoon in the midst of a recent business trip, I began to feel the symptoms of a cold coming on. It was right when I was taking some time to pray about the SARS outbreak.
As I prayed I thought about this passage from Science and Health: "You must understand your way out of human theories relating to health, or you will never believe that you are quite free from some ailment. The harmony and immortality of man will never be reached without the understanding that Mind [God] is not in matter. Let us banish sickness as an outlaw, and abide by the rule of perpetual harmony,—God's law. It is man's moral right to annul an unjust sentence, a sentence never inflicted by divine authority" (p. 381).
These are tough times, but we are not fragile beings. Right in this moment, each of us lives in the presence of Love.
We can spiritually confront the threat of inevitable disease—including this SARS outbreak—by "understanding our way out of human theories." And by gaining the authority that comes with understanding our relationship to God.
I noticed that behind every single cold symptom I felt coming on were thoughts full of fear—fear that I wouldn't be able to give a presentation the next day, fear that I would be in pain, fear that this might even have some connection to SARS. I realized that what I needed to do was not to give attention to the symptoms and not to be afraid. Instead I needed to turn my thoughts completely to God.
Moment by moment, I consciously turned to God. I yielded my whole consciousness to the power and presence and substance of Love. I acknowledged my unity with God. This included recognizing that God, who is completely good, does not create disease, and that therefore I had no liability to it. No one did. Not my brother-in-law's family, not me, not anyone.
The cold symptoms immediately began to fade. I slept peacefully that night. The next day there was no trace of a cold.
While I was walking my dog this morning, I passed two mothers with their kids in tow. I could hear that the mothers were talking about SARS. While understandable, their concern made me ask myself, how often I talk up problems—create my own drama, cultivate fear.
Think about it. We live in a world full of expectations and fear of disease. Disease is advertised as well as reported to us. We then talk about it. And this talk generates more fear. But, in the midst of this cycle, it's important to remember that fear gives disease the only power it can have.
These are tough times, but we are not fragile beings. Right in this moment, each of us lives in the presence of Love. This aligns us with unmatchable power. Nothing can hinder the breath and life and flow of our being. Under God's protecting power, nothing can poison us, undermine us—and nothing about any one of us can harm another. These facts hold true as we deal with our own fears of disease. And they can be applied, through prayer, to neutralizing hateful, warlike thoughts that rob humanity of the unity that belongs to all of us as children of the same creator.
Jesus said, "Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth" (Matt. 15:11). I think of that as a call to watch the thoughts we're sending out. We can stop the spread of fear in its tracks. Right where fear and pain paralyze people and make them its inadvertent promoters, we can each be still, calm, quiet. In this spiritual space we'll begin to feel the confidence, assurance, trust of that promise in the 91st Psalm: No evil, no plague, shall come near.
Joni Overton-Jung is a Christian Science practitioner and speaker on spiritual healing.