In October of 2017, I was awakened one night at 2:30 a.m. to the sound of neighbors outside talking, and to the smell of smoke both inside and outside of our house. Wildfires were raging in Northern California, and our town was only a few miles from the epicenter of the blazes. Strong winds were blowing, and the fire was spreading, seemingly in every direction just outside our small town.
Due to the rapid spread of the fire and shifting winds, the media were unable to report accurate news of what was going on, who was affected, and what the authorities were doing. The fast-moving destruction caused many of the firefighters and law enforcement personnel to abandon efforts to save homes in favor of saving people, even to the point of driving through the flames to bring people out who otherwise might have perished.
All this sure seemed very real and powerful, and my neighbors were full of fear. I wondered how I was to think about this, what I could do about it, and how I could help others. During my years of experience as a Christian Scientist, I had learned to trust God in all situations, including while serving as an infantry soldier in combat. So, despite the dire circumstances I had a deep conviction that I could trust God in this case too—that He is the only power, He didn’t cause this, and therefore these fires had no real power.
As I turned to God in prayer, the comforting thought came to me that I wasn’t in some way personally responsible for solving this. God was in complete control of His kingdom and His universe, and my prayer was to see this revealed. Since He is the supreme power and is all good, He couldn’t be responsible for any disaster. In fact, He is the deliverer from all disasters.
So there, under our streetlights, I shared some encouraging thoughts with my neighbors. I knew God would guide and protect us, and conveyed as much to them. They became more calm and went back to their homes. I went back into my house to be alone with God and to continue praying for a few hours. Several comforting Bible passages came to me, including “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalms 46:10) and “The battle is not yours, but God’s” (II Chronicles 20:15).
I began to feel fully secure in God’s care. But I still felt there was something more for me to do—to dig deeper for greater understanding and not merely be content to be personally free from the threat of harm.
The Bible relates numerous examples of healing and deliverance that illustrate that our material senses are not reliable indicators of what is permanent or real. These senses must yield to a more spiritual or divine sense—a “God’s eye view,” if you will. Jesus and his disciples proved this again and again by healing what the material senses indicated was disease, deformity, or death. Their prayers awakened people to what was spiritually true about them, which included only good.
What we experience is often collective as well as individual, and we can find ourselves participating in the collective dream called mortal existence.
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, makes an important comparison between the dream we experience in sleep and our human experience. She says in her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, “Mortal existence is a dream of pain and pleasure in matter, a dream of sin, sickness, and death; and it is like the dream we have in sleep, in which every one recognizes his condition to be wholly a state of mind” (p. 188).
And she says further: “A mortal may be weary or pained, enjoy or suffer, according to the dream he entertains in sleep. When that dream vanishes, the mortal finds himself experiencing none of these dream-sensations. . . .
“Now I ask, Is there any more reality in the waking dream of mortal existence than in the sleeping dream? There cannot be, since whatever appears to be a mortal man is a mortal dream” (p. 250).
I began to consider what the distinction is between the sleeping dream and the “waking dream.” If, in my sleeping dream, my wife and I were walking and saw a beautiful vista, it would seem quite real. However, in the morning when we awoke, if I said to her, “Wasn’t that a beautiful vista we saw last night?” she would be bewildered, since it was my dream and not hers. In our awake hours, however, what we experience is often collective as well as individual, and we can find ourselves participating in the collective dream called mortal existence. As I was pondering this, the thought came distinctly to my consciousness, Don’t participate (in the dream)!
To help us distinguish between the dream of mortal existence and the reality of spiritual Truth that awakens us from the dream and brings healing, the Bible presents two distinctly different accounts of creation. In the first chapter of Genesis, we learn that God, the creator of all, is good, and all that He creates is good. His children are spiritual, made in His likeness. In contrast, chapter 2 depicts man as material, made of the dust of the ground. Then this man, named Adam, yields to temptation, is shown to be fallible and sinful—very unlike the man of chapter 1.
If this were the nature of man, what could be said of a god that would create such a man? Wouldn’t this god also be fallible, limited, evil? In this second creation story, a “deep sleep” falls upon Adam, and there’s no record of him as having awakened! Science and Health explains, “The parent of all human discord was the Adam-dream, the deep sleep, in which originated the delusion that life and intelligence proceeded from and passed into matter” (pp. 306–307).
Since God is the supreme power and is all good, He couldn’t be responsible for any disaster. In fact, He is the deliverer from all disasters.
If this is what we believe about man and creation—if we believe man to be material, and creation to be operating in random fashion without any Principle of goodness behind it, what is there to resist the pull of evil? What is the basis for any hope of deliverance? However, if this is not the actual creation but is instead a mistaken view of it, we can refuse to participate in that dream. Instead, we can let the Christ—the Truth that Jesus embodied—correct the mistaken view and awaken us to what we understand to be the real creation as described in the first chapter of Genesis, created by the one omnipotent God, good.
Jesus was once asked to come to a Jewish ruler’s house to raise the man’s daughter, who had just died. Upon arriving and finding a noisy crowd, “he said unto them, Give place: for the maid is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn” (Matthew 9:24). But once the daughter was healed, the scorners were silenced.
What happened there? The people were all participating in the collective material dream that she was dead, whereas Jesus refused to participate in that dream and saw the underlying spiritual reality—that she was not dead but participating in the same dream of life and death in matter as the people around her. But Jesus’ prayers, based on the understanding of eternal Life, awoke her out of the dream. Mrs. Eddy writes, “Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals” (Science and Health, pp. 476–477).
Once I saw that, I realized there was something I could do regarding the fire. I didn’t have to make something change to deal with this fire any more than Jesus had to make death go away. But I could refuse to participate in the collective dream that the fire had power and could harm my home or my town.
Turning to God in prayer, I did so. Of course, it wasn’t my personal power, but the divine power I was trusting in, that revealed to me a clearer sense of God and His universe and awakened me somewhat from the dream in a power apart from Him. When I prayed and got my answer to not participate in the material dream others were participating in, I glimpsed that right where this catastrophe seemed to be occurring, only God’s perfect universe and divinely directed activity were going on. This realization, along with the decision not to participate, spared us from experiencing the ordeal the material senses presented as inevitable.
According to newspaper reports, the winds, which had gusted up to 80 miles per hour, subsided dramatically just before dawn and averaged 0 to 15 miles per hour the rest of that day. The fire still burned but halted its spread, except in a few small, unpopulated areas, and it never touched our town. I am certain that many people were praying about this and that our prayers were effective.
But what of those who suffered loss of property or loved ones? The Bible recounts many instances that illustrate God’s power, not only to deliver us from harm but to comfort and restore those who suffer loss, demonstrating God’s tender care for all of His children. This awakening—to see and experience the harmony of God’s kingdom, delivering us from evil in a very substantive and practical way, as the Lord’s Prayer promises us—is available to anyone and everyone.
In a broader sense, can’t we say that under any condition that is unlike God’s perfect, spiritual creation, whether we appear to be experiencing it as an individual challenge or a collective one, we only need to turn to God to see what is actually going on, what He is doing? Then, we are no longer deceived by the dream but are delivered from it, awake to God’s perfect, good creation. And our prayers are answered.