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United by Spirit, guided by Love

From the September 12, 2016 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

I once half-jokingly said that if I were to run for President of the United States, one of my parents would not vote for me! My parents have two vastly different political perspectives and often vote for opposite parties in elections. Despite these differences, however, they share common values that bind them together as a team. 

As an adult, I feel especially grateful to have had a balanced upbringing through which I discovered how to listen to and learn from people whose views differ from mine. There are moments when we as a family decide to abandon the political discussion and “agree to disagree,” but it is with mutual respect and not raised voices, and sometimes even some healthy humor.

I remember that my mother shared with me, at a young age, a passage from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy, that helped me pray about conflicts: “The relations of God and man, divine Principle and idea, are indestructible in Science; and Science knows no lapse from nor return to harmony, but holds the divine order or spiritual law, in which God and all that He creates are perfect and eternal, to have remained unchanged in its eternal history” (pp. 470–471). Over the years my family has experienced greater harmony in our discussions. And even election seasons are more peaceful.

The lessons I’ve learned about the true, spiritual basis of unity have been a great support to me in all types of relationships, not only in friendships and dating experiences, but also in the context of church, where our demonstration of this unity is often tested. A verse in Psalms proclaims, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (133:1). But how do we “dwell together in unity” when we are working closely with those who have different perspectives that could appear to clash and cause conflict? 

For me, prayer is indispensable in those situations. Prayer takes us to a deeper sense of what unity is—as being more than just trying to get along with people. Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, describes the spiritual basis of unity beautifully when she writes, “With one Father, even God, the whole family of man would be brethren; and with one Mind and that God, or good, the brotherhood of man would consist of Love and Truth, and have unity of Principle and spiritual power which constitute divine Science” (Science and Health, pp. 469–470).

When we view ourselves and others not as mortals with different views, but as spiritual ideas of God, divine Spirit, each coexisting harmoniously with our creator and therefore with one another, barriers that had seemed impassable naturally fall away. The substance of our unity is not our ability to bear our differences but rather our shared identity as children of the same Father-Mother. 

While human opinions may differ, we all have the same divine source of being in divine Love, God. And our common creator maintains our oneness with God and with one another, without interruption.

When there seems to be friction in our human experience, we can rely on the constancy of divine Love and find release from unrest through an understanding of this spiritual unity. The conviction that we all reflect one Mind brings tremendous strength to our ability to find peace in the midst of differing opinions. 

Prayer takes us to a deeper sense of what unity is.

Church can be an especially fruitful proving ground for this spiritual conviction. While I’ve made progress in resisting the temptation to react to an opinion or perspective that differs greatly from my own during church business meetings, I’ve also had my moments of falling short in this area. One time, intense feelings got the better of me for a moment. After blurting out my honest feelings, I was so mortified by my behavior that I quickly walked out of the room and escaped into the nursery. On the verge of tears, I felt like a chastised toddler.

As I sat there, terrified to return to the meeting, my feelings of shock and shame suddenly gave way to a deep appreciation for the dedication of the members in the other room. I thought about how much I enjoyed hearing tidbits of the classes happening at other tables when I was teaching in Sunday School, how beautifully the maintenance committee kept up the church building, how grateful I was for the many hours the church’s Reading Room was open because of members faithfully serving there, and how touched I was by the testimonies of healing shared on Wednesday evenings. All of these things were indications to me of the one Mind, or God, that governed our church, and of the love that bound us together as brothers and sisters. 

This renewed love for others and recognition of the one Mind’s government of all of us compelled me to go back into the meeting with gratitude. After the meeting, a few members kindly came up and hugged me, making it clear that we were a family that would support each other despite our differences.

In this experience I felt the purifying love expressed by Christ Jesus, who washed his disciples’ feet as an act of genuine love and humility and instructed his followers to do the same (see John 13:2–17). The Christ, the healing and saving power behind Jesus’ great works, awakened me at that moment to the inherent goodness of God’s children, to all of the good in my fellow church members—and to the need to love more unselfishly. Thank goodness that same Christ is here today, enabling each of us to love on a level deeper than what limited mortal thinking would allow, when we are receptive to Truth.

I heard a pastor tell a story about a time when he served a church and there was a lot of division among the members. He preached the same message, from Ephesians 4:3, for four Sundays in a row: “Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace” (New Living Translation). When the members of his congregation questioned why, he said he would keep preaching it until they got it! He would sometimes stop them in the middle of church meetings and ask, “Are we making every effort, at this moment, to keep ourselves united in the Spirit?” If it seemed as if the answer was no, he would ask them to stop for a moment and pray.

In our discussions with friends and family about politics during election season, as well as in our churches and in other contexts where division can arise, we will find the unity we desire on the basis of our common, uninterrupted relation to God. As we do this, our prayers to understand this spiritual unity do bear fruit beyond our individual lives, even in the larger society. 

This hymn is a prayer that we can pray and apply to those at any dinner table, church meeting, or government chamber:

Let all that now divides us
   Remove and pass away,
Like shadows of the morning
   Before the blaze of day.
Let all that now unites us
   More sweet and lasting prove,
A closer bond of union,
   In a blest land of love.
(Jane Borthwick, Christian Science Hymnal, No. 196)

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