I was changing planes when I saw the first television images on the airport monitor. Even without sound it was clear that something dramatic and unfortunate was unfolding somewhere in the world. Every few minutes the graphic on the screen updated a tally next to the words, “Confirmed Dead.”
That was a year ago, April 16, 2007, the day a student gunman killed 33, including himself, at Virginia Tech University, the worst school shooting in US history. Now, a year later, we might ask if there has been any progress. Are school populations any safer? Sadly, the frequency of campus shootings has increased since then. There have already been five incidents in 2008, the most deadly of those being the Valentine’s Day shooting spree at Northern Illinois University.
What is the solution to this escalating trend of violence?
Many argue that gun control laws need to be strengthened in the US; that the time has finally come to close the loophole through which undocumented weapons are easily purchased by anyone with cash, without even showing identification or proof of mental stability.
Others point to flaws in the education system that can marginalize, alienate, and persecute some students to the point where they lash out violently at the community at large.
And a growing number of individuals, despite the general reluctance of law-enforcement agencies and school administrators, believe that the answer lies in allowing students and teachers to carry concealed weapons for their own protection. Several states are currently considering such legislation, and one state, Utah, has already adopted it into law. The idea is that an alert and well-trained citizen can stop a deranged shooter before he can inflict much damage.
But is this really the answer? Throughout her writings, the Discoverer of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, suggested that real solutions are based in something deeper—in Spirit, and in Love, which is to say in God. She once wrote: “Love is the fulfilling of the law: it is grace, mercy, and justice. I used to think it sufficiently just to abide by our State statutes; that if a man should aim a ball at my heart, and I by firing first could kill him and save my own life, that this was right” (see Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 11). The clear implication is that a higher right exists that doesn’t involve a preemptive gunshot. It may not be easy to see or find the higher right in an already untenable situation. Nor may it seem even possible to do without being physically armed. But what does it really mean to be an alert and well-trained citizen?
In my own experience I have come to see that prayer promotes alertness and provides solutions—prayer that is based on the spiritual fact that there is one Mind, another name for God, governing all. That every being in the universe is subject to this Mind and responsive to it. That Mind can bring healing to every problem, regardless of how complicated or random or unpredictable it seems. That the properties of Mind—wisdom and intelligence—can bring forward right combinations of ideas to produce right actions.
When confronted by a tragic breaking news story, such as a school shooting, we may be shocked at first, trying even to grasp what’s occurred. We may feel helpless, with no attachment to the situation and no way to influence it. We may even get caught up in the unthinkable horror of the scene and spend time in fear and awe of it. But with prayer, we will not remain helpless bystanders. We can confront the confronter by refusing to admit any thought that is frustrated, hateful, or bent on destruction, and be alert to those who need help and support. We can engage mentally, in prayer, to know that evil is powerless because God indeed is the only true power. The immediate and unlimited resources of good that God provides are available right now to bring any crisis to a swift close and comfort those affected by it.
We have the solemn right today to claim our own safety from evil, as well as that of everyone else. As we grow in our conviction of the present power of good, we see this power in our lives. This can also mean greater alertness on our part to know that any attempt of evil to inflict harm and result in chaos can be seen, and progressively thwarted, before any damage is done.
Article originally appeared in the Christian Science Sentinel, June 9, 2008.
Republished with permission of The Christian Science Publishing Society.