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Healing answers to violence

From the June 2017 issue of The Christian Science Journal

The following is adapted from “Record of Truth,” a Journal podcast. Sharing their insights are Janet Horton, a retired Army chaplain; Diane Marrapodi, a Christian Science practitioner and teacher, and currently also the Second Reader for The Mother Church in Boston; and Mark Sappenfield, who was the National News Editor for The Christian Science Monitor at the time of this interview, but has since been appointed as the Monitor’s new Editor.

It sometimes appears like there’s no end in sight to the violence happening around the world. What has come to each of you in your prayers about how we can stop the violence and find real solutions to the problems that cause it? Janet, do you want to go first?

Janet Horton: Yes, I think we all have to understand that we don’t have to be afraid about any situation that we could possibly be in, because God is omnipresent—He’s always with us. And you want to feel that assurance in order to address these types of situations. So, in preparing for this program, I went right to the Bible and looked up the phrases “Fear not,” and “Be not afraid.” There are many, many times that the Bible assures us we don’t have to be afraid, we don’t have to fear in any type of situation. It’s so inspiring to look at those assurances.

Diane Marrapodi: The different perspective that Christian Science offers is that we start with a spiritual concept of God and man, and recognize that God, as divine Love, is supreme, infinite in scope and capacity, omnipresent. That is, everywhere present and infinitely expressed—not just in our hearts or in our prayers, but all around the world. God is a ready and reliable source or recourse in times of trouble.

God is a ready and reliable source or recourse in times of trouble.

As Janet did, I went to the Bible, and found Psalm 46, which reminds us: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear” (verses 1, 2). The psalm ends with these words: “Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge” (verses 10, 11). I think another practical thing we need to realize is that stopping violence isn’t just a lofty goal. It is doable. Prayer rooted in divine law can deal effectively with each report of violence, and the effect of violence, so that’s something to pursue today.

Mark Sappenfield: It’s important to recognize that when we turn on the TV or read news online, we’re letting something into consciousness. We are sometimes letting ourselves be a blank slate, saying, “OK, come and inform me.” I think the first thing you have to do when you tune in to the TV and say, “Oh my gosh, look at all this stuff,” is to realize you’re just focusing on one thing, something happening in a certain country at a certain time—like Japan, for example—and you’re saying, “Look at what’s going on there!” Yet the overall story of the world is inexorably positive.

For instance, we are safer than we have ever been in human history, by far. Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker says we might be living in the most peaceful period in the history of our species. Simply acknowledging this, and daily holding to the spiritual reality revealed in Christian Science, has a practical effect on our lives and how we view the world. It changes it.

When something happens, something frightening, and it seems so random and out of the blue, and it can happen just anywhere, that’s one of the things that can make us so afraid. How have you each prayed about that?

Diane Marrapodi: I’ve learned to recognize the importance of obeying the First Commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). There’s one supreme, infinite God, and as a line from Hymn No. 66 in the Christian Science Hymnal says of God’s ever-presence, “None can beyond Thy omnipresence stray” (Violet Hay).

My husband used to travel extensively overseas for business, and on one trip, it included stops in three different countries, and on each stop on the day of his arrival, there were bombings and terrorist attacks in that city. The attacks grew in intensity, and as reports came in my prayers dealt with the fear that was projected in them. I had to pray for myself first in order to be able to help my two young sons deal with this situation, and then to deal with calls that came from friends aware of my husband’s itinerary. 

I prayed along the lines that I was not, under any circumstances, going to break that First Commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” and I continued on with the understanding of the spiritual identity of man as the idea of God—loving, gentle, perfect, faultless, flawless, blameless, lacking no essential element. Once I was able to pray for myself, my sons, and my husband, I found myself able to pray for the countries and their citizens, too.

In the third city my husband was visiting, the devastation affected all forms of communication from outside the country, including cell phone service, and I wasn’t able to talk with him for a number of days. It was tempting to stay at the point of fear, to concede to the concern, “I don’t know where he is, I don’t know what happened, I don’t know if he’s all right.” That would have been humanly reasonable, but I knew it wasn’t divinely natural. What was divinely natural was the fact that God lovingly governs all, and upholds every aspect of His creation. No one can ever stray beyond God’s influence and care.

So, in Christian Science, our prayers may start with hope and faith, but because Christian Science is divine Science, those prayers can quickly move, with scientific certainty, to the point of comfort and healing.

It was days before we received word of my husband’s safety, but those days were filled with prayer and peace for all the family.

Mark Sappenfield: Coming at this the way I do from the Monitor, I see what seems to be this kind of persistent, corrosive fear that seems to be settling in. We see it playing out in elections, and wars, and all these sorts of things. What I feel is important is to recognize, again, what the true narrative is. If you go to the Bible and read the book of Revelation, you can see that the true story is about God’s omnipotence and about how mortal mind—the supposed opposite of the divine Mind, God—deceives.

I think the way we step forward and address these things is through moral courage.

So, what exactly is mortal mind? Mary Baker Eddy defines it in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures on page 114 where she writes, “Usage classes both evil and good together as mind; therefore, to be understood, the author calls sick and sinful humanity mortal mind,—meaning by this term the flesh opposed to Spirit, the human mind and evil in contradistinction to the divine Mind, or Truth and good.” She goes on to say that mortal mind isn’t real. It’s a lie, and the only seeming power mortal mind has is to deceive, and the Bible shows us the different deceptive guises it takes. In Genesis it is symbolized by a serpent. Then in the book of Revelation it says it’s the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. It seems to change forms every time it’s discovered to be a lie.

The remedy for this is not to be tricked into believing it, but to stick with the true narrative—that God is good, spiritual, loving, and the only power, and that we are God’s spiritual expression.

Some forms of violence in society are actually declining compared to hundreds of years ago. It’s interesting that as humanity makes progress we become scared of the very thing the progress has wrought—less-common violence.

So, should we become more scared of violence because it’s become less common and feels more random? No, we can push forward and unmask new forms of violence which seem to be showing themselves.

In Science and Health, Mary Baker Eddy says, “There is too much animal courage in society and not sufficient moral courage,” and she adds, “Christians must take up arms against error at home and abroad” (pp. 28–29). I think the way we step forward and address these things is through moral courage.

Janet Horton: When I was the Executive Director of the Armed Forces Chaplains Board in the Pentagon, I received an urgent call from the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff because a Bosnian contingency visiting the Pentagon had declined the standard set of military briefings set up for them. Bosnia had been consumed for centuries by animosity and anger, and the visitors said, “The only people we want to talk to is your chaplain.” So I joined the Bosnian group in a conference room. It was made up of Muslim, Orthodox Christian, and other Christian representatives from various regions.

Their question was simple, and profound, and sincere. They wanted to know how Americans of so many different religions live and work together without killing each other. I sensed they were instinctively rejecting the inevitability of religious power struggles, and wanted a more satisfying solution.

Realizing we all had a desire to love God united us, rather than dividing us.

When I explained that in America nothing was more sacred and more personal than an individual’s relationship with God, they began to take notes. I told them that we considered our military stronger and more effective when everyone was able to worship and practice their prayer disciplines in the manner they treasured. I shared that in our Albania mission, soldiers who had worked an inordinate number of hours in the initial phases of the mission still volunteered to put in additional hours just to assemble our chapel.

I also gave them an example from our Kosovo mission of a general who approved a special chapel structure for Muslims in our operations from the United Arab Emirates after I was able to correct a misunderstanding he had about their needs. That responsiveness to those religious requirements made such an impression on all the Muslims in our allied forces. These Muslim men wanted to shake my hand, which wasn’t something they would normally do in this context, since I am a woman. But the sense of gratitude they had about this caused them to want to embrace and love someone who they could see understood their desire to love God. Realizing we all had a desire to love God united us, rather than dividing us.

Janet, that really shows what unites us. So then, what happens when we are confronted with violence?

Mark Sappenfield: One thing that strikes me is that we’re confronted every day with the temptation to believe the wrong thing about our fellow man. Violence is a very aggressive attempt to get us to leave that standard of understanding perfect God and perfect man, whether it’s someone we see on the subway, or someone saying they’re going to harm us. Or whether we’re traveling to some far-off country and feeling scared that all these people might be out to kidnap and kill you. It’s all a species of the same lie that there’s not some divine spark inside of all of us, which is really the core of our spiritual identity. It’s just so important to recognize our divine origin, and really hold to it.

Janet Horton: I’m reminded of an experience I had with a Marine gunnery sergeant. I was helping women he’d harassed process the paperwork to make a complaint, and he stomped into the chapel one day, and pushed his way into my office. He started punching me in the chest so hard I was falling backwards.

I had two chaplain assistants, and they were trying to come over their desks and help me, but I knew that physical power wasn’t what was needed. I knew God’s power is moral and spiritual. And the thought occurred to me, “He’s a Marine. Bring him to a position of attention.” 

What I prayed to know was that we could all be at a position of spiritual attention. In very physically threatening situations, you really have to be at a position of attention to God, who is Love, listening for direction from the divine Mind. The minute mortal mind says we are in a situation that is confrontational and physically aggressive, we have to snap to a position of attention and say, “No, it’s God that governs.” 

The moment I said to the Marine, “Come to a position of attention,” he stopped everything and obediently snapped to a position of attention. When he did, I told him to report to his commanding officer. He did that, and they processed the harassment charges against him. 

In addition, I had to submit a statement about his attack on me, and when I did that, he came back a second time. As I was returning from a trip, my chaplain assistants said, “Don’t go in there—he’s threatening to kill you now.” 

I think the standard of Christian Science can be accomplished as we learn to entertain angels.

I prayerfully challenged that. And I countered the erroneous suggestion that he couldn’t be reasonable. I knew that in reality intelligence and love were included in his spiritual identity, and I told the chaplain assistants to bring this Marine’s best friend, because I knew a sense of love and support would help calm him down.

When I went in, the Marine was red with anger. He was shaking because he was so worked up. And he murmured in a low voice, “I’m going to kill you, I’m going to kill you.” 

In my prayer I refused to believe this was God’s man talking. The military police were keeping us in view, but not coming too close so we could talk, and I asked him if he would come with his friend into my office.

He calmed down at that request, and at the sight of his friend, and he said, “You have to withdraw the statement you made.” I said, “I don’t submit a statement if it isn’t truthful, but if you can tell me anything in the statement that misrepresented what happened, or which you think could be represented more clearly, I will immediately change it.” 

And he said, “Oh no, the statement’s fine,” and his friend kind of laughed at that, which broke the tension even more. The recognition of God’s presence was even bringing a sense of joy into the situation to temper it. 

Then I took him line by line through the statement I’d submitted, and as I did so I was prayerfully knowing he could be reasonable, truthful, and have a higher sense of honor. So when we had read through the statement, I challenged him, as a Marine, to honor the uniform by taking responsibility for his actions. He said, “Yes, I need to do that.” 

I told him to report to his officer, and he walked out completely calm. So we should never believe there’s a situation in which a person we’re having an exchange with isn’t the child of God. We can bear witness to the good in each person and know they will listen to God’s ideas as you share with them.

Diane Marrapodi: Yes, there’s always some spark to be redeemed. And that’s what our prayers are directed to. We expect to see a redemption in thought. 

I think the standard of Christian Science can be accomplished as we learn to entertain angels, and I’ve found, for myself, that I don’t get out of bed each morning unless I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God has given me everything I need to meet the demands of that day. One of the ways we do that is to entertain angels, and we’re free to do that morning, noon, and night, praying 24/7 if need be. Mrs. Eddy defines angels as, “God’s thoughts passing to man; spiritual intuitions, pure and perfect; the inspiration of goodness, purity, and immortality, counteracting all evil, sensuality, and mortality” (Science and Health, p. 581). 

I find in every situation that might seem threatening or discouraging, or violent, that being able in an instant to entertain angels is a sure solution.

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