Conquering evil with gentleness
An artist friend gave me a book I “had to read”—a Russian novel by Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita, which was having a revival in artistic circles. It’s a story about the devil and his gang running amok in Moscow, creating death and chaos. After about the third chapter, I got rid of the book because I was discovering that circumstances surrounding my life seemed to mimic events in the story. Fears about “the devil,” which I thought I had overcome since becoming a Christian Scientist, resurfaced and took hold of me.
I was not without comfort or help, though, as I instinctively turned to the Bible, along with Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, to get me back to my mental “holy ground,” my absolute faith and trust in God, good.
Of the many verses and passages in my studies, two stood out to me. One was Jesus’ promise “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32 ), and the other is from Science and Health: “Because Truth is infinite, error should be known as nothing. Because Truth is omnipotent in goodness, error, Truth’s opposite, has no might. Evil is but the counterpoise of nothingness. The greatest wrong is but a supposititious opposite of the highest right. The confidence inspired by Science lies in the fact that Truth is real and error is unreal. Error is a coward before Truth. Divine Science insists that time will prove all this. Both truth and error have come nearer than ever before to the apprehension of mortals, and truth will become still clearer as error is self-destroyed” (pp. 367–368 ).
These statements assured me that we can and will know divine Truth, and that this Truth is present and does, in fact, make us free right now, in this moment.
Fast forward several months. I was going with a friend to see a play at a small experimental theater. I hadn’t heard anything about the production, but had been told it was one of the big hits in the city. However, to my horror, it was obvious from the very opening of the play that it shared some devilish similarities with The Master and Margarita—except the villain seemed, if possible, even more evil and cruel, which made me squirm for almost the entire production.
But all was not lost! At the climax of the play, during a duel between the villain and the hero, the tip of the villain’s sword broke off and flew into the crowd, striking someone in the audience. The audience gasped, and everybody on the stage froze—except the actor playing the villain. He jumped off the stage, went and comforted the injured woman, and asked if there was a doctor in the audience. Someone piped up. Although we were at the far side of the theater and couldn’t see what was happening, we learned within a few minutes that everything was fine.
As the actor playing the villain leaped back on stage with a new sword in hand, he turned to the audience and said something to the effect of, “I guess this really ruins my characterization!” The audience burst out in laughter, and a chorus of clapping and cheering followed him right to the end of the play. It was a reversal of perception from drama to comedy, as well as a reminder that things are not always what they seem.
I began seeing gentleness as a means of unmasking the error that was never part of man.
This experience made me think of a chapter in Science and Health entitled “Animal Magnetism Unmasked.” This chapter goes beyond the humorous incident at the theater, challenging the evidence of the physical senses and affirming the omnipresent reality of spiritual truth. It reveals the delusion, illusion, hypnotic effect, and deception of evil—which the author calls animal magnetism, or mortal mind—making it clear that divine law, the allness of God, Truth, reduces evil to nothing.
These teachings of Christian Science pointed me in the right direction as I continued my prayers to see the nothingness of evil. And in the coming months I discovered a number of opportunities, one after another, to “unmask” evil and prove it to be powerless and false. One brief experience stands out.
I had gotten off the subway at my stop and was headed up a long and steep escalator to the street level when I thought I saw someone I knew walking down the stairs. I then realized I was mistaken. He resembled my friend, except he was bigger and there was a frenzied look about him. Still, the resemblance was enough to remind me of my friend, and as I traveled up the escalator, I started daydreaming, wondering how my friend was doing and what he might be up to these days.
When I finally reached the top of the escalator, I found that the man had charged up the stairs to confront me. He grabbed me with one hand and looked like he was ready to slug me with the other. He demanded to know what I had been staring at. I told him the truth, that he looked a lot like a very good friend of mine, whom I hadn’t seen for a long time. His expression changed immediately; his hands opened up, and he let me go. Instead of anger, there was now a faint expression of concern for me, and he said, “Well, next time you should be more careful. Staring at people will get you into trouble.” I apologized for staring, and in a “New York minute”—or in this case, a “Toronto minute”—we went our separate ways.
Looking back, I now recognize that this was a moment of grace for both of us, and what I find precious about this experience is that I was spiritually prepared to face it with openness and honesty. In my prayers to unmask evil, I had memorized this hymn from the Christian Science Hymnal:
Speak gently, it is better far
To rule by love than fear;
Speak gently, let no harsh word mar
The good we may do here.
Speak gently to the erring ones,
They must have toiled in vain;
Perchance unkindness made them so;
O win them back again.
Speak gently, ’tis a little thing,
Dropped in the heart’s deep well;
The good, the joy that it may bring,
Eternity shall tell.
(David Bates, No. 315 )
Originally, I just liked the hymn. Then slowly, over the months, it became my personal anthem, a way of conducting myself, an ode to courtesy, kindness, and understanding. I began seeing gentleness as a means of unmasking the error that was never part of man—including me. In fact, without these insights, my former, more combative self might not have spoken gently, but now such a response is natural for me.
Mrs. Eddy writes, “If Truth is overcoming error in your daily walk and conversation, you can finally say, ‘I have fought a good fight … I have kept the faith,’ because you are a better man” (Science and Health, p. 21 ). In praying to conquer my fear of “the devil,” I gained my freedom from seeing any reality in evil, and I learned that circumstances do not shape or control our lives—only infinite Love does.