Can one prayer help end a war?
The disturbing viral photo from Syria—of a little five-year-old boy, bewildered, bloodied, and muddied, rescued from the rubble caused by air strikes—was heartbreaking and compelling to all who saw it in the news. “Can one photo end a war?” read the caption of an NPR report acknowledging humanity’s yearning to help, seen in an immediate uptick in humanitarian aid for Syria. Many want to do much more. But “there isn’t an obvious mechanism through which we can turn our anger and compassion into change,” ends the report.
Mechanism, no. But there is a powerful tool each and every one of us can employ that will help the people in war-torn regions and hasten the end of war: prayer that affirms God’s love and care for His entire creation.
Many can attest to the fact that prayer helped bring down the Berlin Wall—prayers on both sides of that wall. Throughout history, the prayerful efforts of people all over the world, whose thought was on the side of the omnipotence of God, good—all-inclusive, universal divine Love—have had profound effects on humanity, righting men’s wrongs and lifting mankind higher. And they always will. How?
Prayer ratifies man’s connection, his oneness, with God—first in thought, and then in action. The Christ—the truth of man’s likeness to God, which Christ Jesus exemplified in healing—is the all-power of Love, God, tangibly seen and felt, destroying fear and hate, overcoming evil with good. “No power can withstand divine Love,” wrote Mary Baker Eddy in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (p. 224). God is everywhere, and so is His activity, the Christ. No one is excluded from God’s infinite love. Prayer that is based on these spiritual truths encourages us, sustains us, inspires right solutions—it brings increased freedom and harmony.
The photo of that little boy was a wake-up call to me—an urgent message to pray more assiduously and daily for that war-torn area. The Bible’s admonition, “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21), speaks to each of us. It did to me; yet I was so appalled by the tragic image that this demand seemed almost impossible.
So right then and there I set about to turn to God. What first came and spoke to me with authority, clarity, and certainty was “The Christ is here!” The first verse from Hymn 412 in the Christian Science Hymnal goes:
O dreamer, leave thy dreams for joyful waking,
O captive, rise and sing, for thou art free;
The Christ is here, all dreams of error breaking,
Unloosing bonds of all captivity.
(Rosa M. Turner, No. 412, © CSBD)
I said to myself that Christ was right there. Coming to every receptive heart, right there in the midst of that war-torn city, is God’s Christ—the unstoppable activity of His great love for all His children, the palpitating power of His presence, the presence of His power. It is seen and felt in practical healing ways.
What helped me really feel this realization was an illustration of God’s power from a children’s book published by The Christian Science Publishing Society called Elizabeth and Andy by Julia M. Johnston. One of the chapters told of a father who wanted to help his daughter understand what God’s power is, and said to her as they were watching the sun come up over the horizon: “Daughter, the sunrise is like God’s power. There is no noise, no pushing, no fighting, no destruction with it. It is so gentle that a blade of the orchard grass cannot be hurt by its touch and yet so mighty that nothing can stop it. The light as it unfolds touches everything, everything that you can see, and much that you cannot see. Wherever it comes, the darkness goes. The dawning is so still, so beautiful, so sure, so near, as is the power of God” (“The power of God,” chapter 1).
Remembering that, I knew with every fiber of my being that the irresistible activity of God’s great love is right at that point of need, and it’s not possible that it go unheard or unheeded.
To further help me, two examples of the Christ, or Truth, overcoming evil with good at a time of horrific evil came to mind: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, whose son had been injured in the Civil War, wrote the poem “Christmas bells” several months after the bloody battle of Gettysburg. (This poem became the carol, “I heard the bells on Christmas Day.”) Thinking of how all the church bells would be pealing “Peace on earth, good will to men” at Christmas, he penned:
And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
I could see how he felt that way. That’s certainly how things often appear outwardly. But the Christ, that divine influence speaking to human consciousness, was right there, speaking to him. And he heard it. Science and Health states: “The inaudible voice of Truth is, to the human mind, ‘as when a lion roareth.’ It is heard in the desert and in dark places of fear. It arouses the ‘seven thunders’ of evil, and stirs their latent forces to utter the full diapason of secret tones. Then is the power of Truth demonstrated,—made manifest in the destruction of error” (p. 559). Truth is that commanding! So pure, so sure was it, that Longfellow must have palpably felt it. His next stanza reads:
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”
Think of those thousands of people (Union and Confederate) whose prayers—not just on President Lincoln’s proclaimed National Day of Prayer, but every single day—encouraged them not to be overcome of evil, but to persevere and overcome evil with good. Love heals hatred. That senseless war ended a little more than a year after Longfellow’s poem.
The other example that came to me was what I’d learned when our family visited the former concentration camp at Dachau, Germany. Even among horrible conditions, what inspired me was hearing about the unity of spirit of those prisoners (many of whom were political prisoners from several countries)—human rights activists who’d stood for freedom, including ministers; some of the prisoners may have even been Christian Science practitioners since some practitioners were placed in concentration camps in World War II.
Together, despite the atrocities and inhumanity they’d witnessed, their love of God, good, and their dedication to overcoming evil with good were apparent. Expecting freedom, and to be ready for it, they’d kept tiny found scraps of fabric in the colors of their nations’ flags and had secretly pieced together handmade flags. Imagine their joy when American soldiers told them they were free. Though emaciated and frail, with spiritual strength and through tears, they hoisted their flags and shouted for joy.
Recalling all of those instances strengthened me in seeing the invincible power and presence of God and His activity, the Christ. And the efficacy of solid prayer that didn’t waver until peace was won.
I’m thankful to be reminded that it is a great privilege, joy, and duty to pray daily for all mankind. Let’s all stay aware and awake, and fulfill our part, by confidently knowing and trusting the irresistibility of the Christ to right wrongs in human affairs. Can one prayer help end a war? Yes. Because every prayer based in an understanding of God as infinitely loving and caring for each of us has healing power and can hasten peace.