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Environmental tragedy is not inevitable

Praying for the world sometimes means healing the environmental disaster right next door.

From the February 21, 1994 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel


It's one thing to pray in general for the world, but quite another to find an environment disaster has struck not far from home. When the daily news reports of conditions at the disaster site are aggressive, even unremitting, what are we to do? This British author's own effort to wrestle with the events surrounding the breakup of an oil tanker off the Shetland Islands gives us some valuable insights.

A friend of mine, whom I had introduced to Christian Science three years ago, telephoned one evening in distress. The main item on BBC1 Television News had been the foundering of a tanker, carrying thousands of tons of crude oil, onto the rocky, storm-swept coast of the Shetland Islands. One by one each container of the oil in its hold was ripped open by the enormous pounding waves of the North Sea, relentlessly grinding the tanker into the rocks. The crude-oil cargo discharged into the sea to form an oil slick many miles in length after every container finally burst and drained. It was item number one on the news—first, because of the threat to the livelihood of the Shetland Islanders from pollution of their main product, fresh Scottish salmon caught offshore; and second, because of the possible threat to their health from the pungent crude oil, and to the well-being of the local wildlife. Many birds were already dead, and it was feared hundreds more soon would be. There was also concern about the seal population.

Coverage of this item persisted in each news report for the next three days. The sea had now torn the tanker into parts shown moving independently of one another in the monstrous waves. All salvage operations were postponed pending smoother seas.

My friend was very upset and could not detach her thought from the picture of the cruel suffering and loss of wildlife. I tried to comfort her with a few helpful ideas about God's love, which I was earnestly seeking to grasp, and which came to mind as we talked. But I felt she was not satisfied. I also felt the situation was beyond me. Foreboding fear was clouding my thought as fully as the oil was covering the sea. I felt mentally numb, especially after the next day's telecast.

Eventually I decided not to watch anymore, as I loved those creatures and didn't like to see them suffering. It was not to be, however. Unexpectedly, news of the disaster kept coming up on all channels no matter where I turned or at what time. This forced me to face at last what I had been thinking of as a doomed incident, to concede that it actually was not beyond God's control, and I reached out in prayer for the spiritual ideas that help and heal.

The first thought came as I recalled some recent correspondence with a friend in the United States. One of the enclosures this individual sent greatly impressed me as describing the love of God that I had been earnestly seeking to understand better. Gradually I gained a dawning awareness of the profoundly tender nature of God's love and saw that it is a deeply responsive love.

I telephoned the friend who shared my concern about the oil spill and comforted her with this idea. Then I quietly returned to prayer. I sincerely desired to understand God, the ever-present Mind, sufficiently to have no doubt of His power. It took three days to attain this standpoint, but I did not let up. Each day, reading and praying, I gained a clearer understanding of God and a stronger reliance on Him alone as the all-knowing, all-loving Mind, the creator of all.

Part of an interview in an issue of the Christian Science Sentinel pointed out that the Bible gives us a true understanding of the spiritual laws governing the universe. The interview included the testimony of a woman in a disastrous situation—this time an extremely severe drought. She had gained a perception of God's nature and law, and of His provision and profound care for His spiritual creation—regardless of what the material condition seemed to be. This woman had stopped praying for a change in the outward, material situation and started instead to gain a spiritual view of God's love and care for His entire creation. This turning from a belief in material law to God's law had brought healing and harmony to the whole situation.

At that point a wonderful sense of God's love, wisdom, and power in the spiritual realm of Mind—the only true dwelling place of each one of us, bird and animal likewise—flooded my consciousness. Tears came—and they were tears of joy! I felt the warmth and comfort of God's presence—His totally reliable support of my ability to be a witness for spiritual reality. I rested in this joy all the next day too. I even forgot about the dreaded pollution, because I knew God's work was already done. Love had provided for all of its creation. "Life," Mrs. Eddy writes in Science and Health, "is divine Principle, Mind, Soul, Spirit" (p. 468). I had previously come to learn that Principle, a synonym Mrs. Eddy gives for God, means origin or cause, and to me it was the power that moves everything in proper order.

The next day I phoned my friend again, speaking to her from a basis of spiritual strength. This time she was able to rejoice with me. Two days later I felt impelled to watch the main news. As usual, the first item was the oil disaster. Television cameras were trained on the coast, but there was no oil slick to be seen! Instead, there was just the normal blue sea.

One environmental specialist at length said that the oil must have been pounded to the bottom of the sea and was now endangering life there. The next day the cameras were duly filming the seabed. No trace of oil was to be seen. I jotted down in shorthand the commentator's actual words: "No sign of any oil sinking to the seabed; the oil has virtually disappeared." The seabed was covered with white sand and shellfish, clearly visible. Further shots showed the sea birds treated in the cleaning-up operations, and now in perfect condition, being released back into their normal environment. Other sea birds such as gulls and other scavengers were flying above. Although some observers had concerns about possible long-term effects of the oil spill, a year after the accident the population, of nesting birds and local marine life remains healthy and not a single sea mammal death has been attributed to the spill.

I felt the warmth and comfort of God's presence—His totally reliable support of my ability to be a witness for spiritual reality.

As I continued praying during the days following those early reports, the Biblical words of Habakkuk were brought home to me. Speaking of God, the prophet declared, "Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil" (1:13). I kept on thanking God for the wonderful revelation of His unfailing law and of His Christ, the true idea of God, speaking to the human consciousness. The Christ had certainly illumined my thought during that period of special prayer, and I'm sure the many other people who were praying about this situation in our country were also grateful.

As Christ Jesus' life so clearly showed, God is always speaking to His spiritual offspring. When we listen and turn wholeheartedly to the purity of Mind and are motivated by love, we will walk happy and secure—and our whole environment will be blessed.

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