This week, the deadly bombings in Sri Lankan churches make us cry out in sorrow for those facing a far more pronounced and personal sense of loss, and we invite you to join us in addressing this, too, through prayer.
This latest news comes after the fire last week at Notre Dame. Thankfully there was no loss of life in Paris, and no evidence at this point of any hostile motive behind the fire. Our prayers during and after the fire were in response to the tragic sense of loss, and this is even more pronounced with the loss of life in Sri Lanka. But God who is Love and Life comforts hearts and teaches us to love, even in the face of hatred and destruction. Easter Monday is a day for celebrating the resurrection of Jesus—the ultimate proof that, even where evil seems to be in the ascendency, God’s power is the one, true power.
Like many people, I walked along the banks of the Seine to see how Notre-Dame was doing the day after her all-night fight against the fire.
The crowd was truly impressive—not only a lot of Parisians and people from the banlieues around the capital, but also a lot of tourists. There was a sweetness and reverence in the air, a palpable sense of affection, a sense of talking to strangers as neighbors, of belonging, of caring.
The togetherness expressed among believers and non-believers showed that something deep inside humanity had been touched. Art lovers were mourning, the religious were touched in the heart of their faith, and citizens and visitors were perhaps realizing that some things would never be the same again. Humanly irreplaceable historical and cultural masterpieces are forever gone. The fragility of what we once thought would be there forever is suddenly capturing our attention.
As I was thinking about this following my walk, signs that there would be renewal started to appear. Expressions of financial support were beginning to flow in from many in France and around the world, and the French President also announced, “We will rebuild.”
Maybe the reason why a wide diversity of individuals spontaneously gathered in a shared sense of reverence is that a similar feeling of irreparable, large-scale loss has been experienced one way or another in the lives of so many. So many have felt at some point that they were hitting rock bottom and that it would be hard to recover.
In my own experience, I have appreciated a phrase in a poem by Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science, that simply says, “… loss is gain” (Poems, p. 4). Clearly that’s not literally true in regard to what we will never touch or see again. But dire circumstances can impel us to value what we once had in a new way—to consider it beyond appearance, or merely what the eye sees, and cherish the feelings of majesty, beauty, and permanence that remain in our hearts as we look more deeply at the true substance of what the “lost” thing stood for.
Mrs. Eddy asks this straightforward question in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: “What is substance?” She then goes on to provide the following answer: “Substance is that which is eternal and incapable of discord and decay. Truth, Life, and Love are substance, as the Scriptures use this word in Hebrews: ‘The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ Spirit, the synonym of Mind, Soul, or God, is the only real substance. The spiritual universe, including individual man, is a compound idea, reflecting the divine substance of Spirit” (p. 468).
Since “Truth, Life, and Love”—which Christian Science explains are synonyms for God—“are substance,” we have them forever with us, no matter how it may seem to the material senses. We can think of “the evidence of things not seen,” for instance, as the inspiration of divine Spirit that animates us with the courage to start over, the energy of infinite Life that gives us the strength to carry on, and the universal embrace of limitless Love that comforts and encourages us.
Just as someone reaching the bottom of a swimming pool can push up with impulsion to reach the surface, so we can turn to the Divine—permanent, unbreakable substance—for newfound inspiration that impels and guides us forward. God’s love calls all of us to contemplate with renewed eagerness the treasures of our hearts. And as we look to Spirit, God, as the only true substance, we find that the true treasure lies in God-given qualities, such as joy, strength, majesty, and intelligence. Timber can be destroyed, but the qualities it represents can never be lost, because God is expressing them in His spiritual creation at every moment. So we can not only remember and appreciate past manifestations of these qualities, but also actively live these qualities and see evidence of them in new ways every day.
I find the story of Nehemiah in the Bible such an inspiration in this regard. Nehemiah is greatly saddened to learn that parts of his ancestral home city remain in ruins. But his trust in God enables him to move past mourning and actively forward the rebuilding process: “The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build” (Nehemiah 2:20). And they do.
A sweet Parisian woman was full of hope as she looked at what remained of the Notre-Dame Cathedral. She told me, “They have all the designs of the lost roof saved on computers.... It will take time, but if they want to, they can rebuild.”
Time will tell whether that is what takes place. But whatever happens to a physical structure, when we’re dealing with large-scale loss, whether personal or collective, we can take the demand to “rebuild” as an opportunity for spiritual renewal that brings out the best in us. This is a promising and invigorating possibility that lies in the heart of each of us, wherever in the world we are, because true substance—the eternal expression of divine Life and Love—can never be extinguished.
O Life that maketh all things new,
The blooming earth, the thoughts of men;
. . . . .
The freer step, the fuller breath,
The wide horizon’s grander view;
The sense of Life that knows no death,—
The Life that maketh all things new.
(Samuel Longfellow, Christian Science Hymnal, No. 218)