During the past holiday season, when the idea of “On earth peace, goodwill to men!” was in the hearts and minds of many of us, terrorist acts left many fearful of a future where violence and evil might actually compete against and even defeat that very goodwill and peace.
But what if the struggle between good and evil leads up to a bigger discovery, that good actually is power, while evil is impotent. If you were to buy into this, then the next step might be to take a radical stand for good as an active – even victorious – response to evil.
Many of us can agree that taking a stand for goodness, whether it is selflessness, compassion, love, etc., at least has a pretty powerful effect. But to take the next step and recognize the powerlessness of evil seems counterintuitive, especially when you see tragedy and violence in the world. But maybe this shouldn’t just be about a blanket generalization that there is bad going on in the world so goodness doesn’t work; maybe instead it’s about one’s own personal experience in the moment.
I was moved by the stand made by Antoine Leiris who lost his wife in the Paris attacks. Challenging these evil acts he said, “You want me to be frightened, that I should look into the eyes of my fellow citizens with distrust, that I sacrifice my freedom for security. You lost. I will carry on as before.” (His full response to the terrorist attack can be found on his Facebook page.)
In the wake of the Paris attacks as well as the attack in Colorado Springs, many people, politicians included, spoke not only of the need to resist evil but also to turn to prayer. The Dalai Lama reacted publicly to the notion that a Divine presence might intervene, saying, “We cannot solve this problem only through prayer. I am a Buddhist and I believe in praying. But humans have created this problem, and now we are asking God to solve it. It is illogical. God would say, solve it yourself because you created it in the first place”. This idea that God isn’t going to help was echoed in some major media publications as well, perhaps reflecting the sentiments of many people today.
Having spent a number of years not being the prayerful type I remember keenly my own reluctance. It’s kind of like calling on a friend you haven’t spoken with in a decade for help. There gets to be a point where, even if you think you are worthy and in need, and help is at hand, too much time has gone by to reach out again. But now being the prayerful type I can assure you that time or circumstance just isn’t a barrier. Says the Psalmist speaking about the presence of the Divine: “If I flew…to the far western horizon, You’d find me in a minute – You’re already there.” (Psalms 139)
And what’s interesting is that choosing to pray in the midst of tragedy/fear and taking a stand for good are actually more similar than they appear on the surface of things. After all, what is it that rises up in us and urges us to take a stand for good? What is it that compels us to turn to the Divine in prayer? It seems to me that both of these are natural responses to an innate understanding we have that we are all tied to one, all-encompassing Divine source of goodness, infinitely more powerful than action that stems from evil.
A friend of mine had an experience that illustrates how this understanding can protect us and resolve even imminent threats of violence and serious bodily harm. After emptying a cash register at gunpoint, he was told to lay face down with his hands behind his head. A news story of a clerk who had recently been executed face down in a similar situation ran through his mind. So my friend refused the gunman’s demand and instead told him he’d have to look him in the eye if he wanted to shoot him. The man with the gun was taken aback, he stuttered, and asked if he would just kneel down so he could leave. When my friend did kneel, the gunman left.
Looking back on the experience, my friend says his refusal to lay down was not something he would have normally done. For him it was divinely impelled. It wasn’t an arrogance or pride, simply a stand for goodness and what was right and would protect both him and the perpetrator. He was reminded later by someone speaking on the topic of prayer, that “evil is vulnerable.” And that’s what he says he felt at the time of the incident, that the evil being done did not have ultimate authority, and so it was vulnerable. He felt secure in relying on God, good, to tell him what to do and bring about a peaceful resolution.
So back to Antoine Leiris and his stance. What if fearlessness and trust is actual prayer. What if this particular type of goodness, challenging evil action, is actually what prayer is all about. I am reminded of a woman, Mary Baker Eddy, who dedicated her life to teaching people how to pray effectively, who said: “The habitual struggle to be always good is unceasing prayer. Its motives are made manifest in the blessings they bring, — blessings which, even if not acknowledged in audible words, attest our worthiness to be partakers of Love.” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy – 4:12)
Praying to see harmony, the struggle to continually do and be good, are practical steps, even if oftentimes difficult. And, these steps, in my experience, lead to both a sense of peace and to safety in difficult circumstances. A good way to start is to acknowledge God’s continual care and follow that Divine impetus. When you see results, that helps lead to reliance on a Divine source for those bigger challenges like robberies or even terrorist attacks.
What’s interesting about this prayerful stance is that it is active. What is also heartening about this perspective is that one doesn’t have to be good all the time to be worthy; the struggle for this goodness counts. With this motive each of us is a worthy partaker of the blessings of Love, which can include Divine presence and protection.
Originally Published on The Pueblo Chieftain.