Can prayer protect us?
The current pandemic has not been without positive “side effects.” One of these is people rediscovering the benefits of prayer, according to a Wall Street Journal article entitled “The Science of Prayer” by Elizabeth Bernstein (May 17, 2020).
The article centers around empirical evidence of prayer’s positive impact, which is encouraging to read. But what brought home to me prayer’s present reemergence was a young New Yorker explaining how prayer brings her a feeling of being protected as she is out walking in a city “ravaged” by the coronavirus. She said, “When I bust out a quick prayer, especially out loud, I feel a shift inside myself from tension and distrust to a more trusting, hopeful feeling.”
As a Londoner regularly out walking in another great city that has felt the pandemic’s tragic impact, I identify with the thought-shifting impact that prayer has. During lockdown, I have regularly spent the permitted exercise time on “prayer walks” that bring a similar mental uplift from tension to trust, and beyond that, from caring about my own need to caring for the community. As I keep praying, my thought is inevitably uplifted still higher from what we need, to what Christian Science has helped me understand we truly have: God’s ever-present, all-powerful love, encircling and protecting everyone.
This recognition of God’s all-embracing love doesn’t just offer a higher hope in times of trouble, but tangible help. While words we think or say in prayer cannot, in and of themselves, protect us, if those words lift our thoughts to perceive God’s ever-presence and all-power, that can change our experience. It brings to light a harmonious, spiritual reality right where discordant, material conditions appear to be. Tens of thousands of Christian Science testimonies published over the past 137 years have attested to the value of such prayer in records of physical healing, full recovery from mental illness, and protection from danger.
In Bible language, this harmonious, spiritual reality is described as “the secret place of the most High” (Psalms 91:1), and the Scriptures record the safe-keeping experienced by those whose thoughts dwelt in this “secret place” when faced with the extremes of material existence—such as wars, shipwrecks, natural disasters, and plagues.
In the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, this “secret place” is explained not as a location but as “man’s spiritual state in God’s own image and likeness” (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 244). While unseen by the material senses, this God-reflecting spiritual state is safe from the ravages of material existence because it is above and beyond matter. Prayer enables us to perceive this spiritual state as our true being, and truly our only being, in which God’s supporting love is encircling and upholding us all. This spiritual state was decisively evidenced by Christ Jesus during his crucifixion. Even in the face of the most unjust punishment and this cruelest way of administering it, Jesus was able to sustain his consciousness of God’s ever-present protective power where there appeared to be nothing but danger.
Jesus was able to sustain his consciousness of God’s ever-present protective power where there appeared to be nothing but danger.
Clearly, he was experiencing a far more intense and immediate threat, with so much more at stake, than the circumstances we currently face when walking through our cities, towns, or rural communities. But to the extent that we feel threatened, we can turn in the same direction Jesus did and seek to become conscious of what he understood and proved by his resurrection—that our true state of being is our God-given spiritual identity, which is never truly subject to danger. In this, and in all his healings of others, Jesus proved that we can feel and experience God’s protection through Christ, divine Love’s healing message to our human consciousness that lifts us beyond what we see and hear materially. Time and again, when I’ve perceived and accepted Christ’s message that God’s all-embracing love sustains one and all in unwavering safety, health, and provision, it has brought me peace of mind and tangible protection when facing aggression, lack, or sickness.
In the face of relentless material evidence to the contrary, gaining a conviction of the truth of God’s ceaseless protection requires more than passive acceptance of Christly truths. It takes active engagement with the spiritual idea Jesus knew and proved. Christ comes to our consciousness as we seek and find fresh insights in the Christian Science textbooks—the Bible, along with Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy; take time out for quiet communion with Truth, God; and persevere in pondering ideas until we become conscious of their veracity.
It’s also crucial to hold to ideas we know are true in the face of opposing suggestions resistant to the idea of spiritual existence. Such Truth-resisting suggestions can take various forms. For instance, I’ve recently identified the need not to be drawn into taking sides during angry media and social media exchanges about whether we need to wear masks, respect social distancing demands, continue a lockdown, etc. Such emotions run counter to a consciousness that heals. They are a mental detour from the spiritual view of everyone’s divine reality that empowers us to help our neighbors find their God-supported safety.
As a Christian Scientist, I sincerely respect and comply with measures mandated to address the spread of contagion that can help calm a community’s fears. Yet I consider my most valuable contribution to be a higher compliance—complying with the great commandment Jesus identified to love divine Spirit, God, with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to obey the commandment he said was like it, to love all our neighbors as ourself. When we persist in our prayers this way, we shut the door on the mistaken sense of ourselves and others as angry, opinionated mortals. We come into the healing consciousness of the most High—identified by a sincere realization of everyone’s spiritual nature.
Such prayer is so needed today. As that young New Yorker is finding out, prayer has a profound power to reassure us in the face of chaos and crisis. And the most profound potential of prayer springing from the divine Science of Christ is to take us even higher, to perceive and prove the safety that forever belongs to one and all in that “secret place of the most High.”