ONCE, during a visit to a major industrial area in the United States that was also heavily polluted, I was struck by the challenge nations face in supporting a clean environment while also providing jobs for their people. Clearly, there were no easy answers. One of the people I talked to spoke earnestly about the city where I lived at the time, mentioning how clean the air was and how pleasant it must be to live there. He didn't know that only a few miles away from my city was another major hazardous waste site! I could see that what he longed for wasn't really a specific material place so much as a higher quality of life.
To me, this means a life that includes beauty, peace, health, security, to give a few examples. These are qualities of life that God has created and has freely given to us, His offspring. Often, however, our vision of this spiritual reality is overshadowed by the material picture of pollution, overcrowding, carelessness, and greed. It is possible, however, to reverse these material conditions, to bring to light the spiritual creation of God referred to poetically in Job as ``when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.'' We uncover spiritual reality through prayer that helps us overcome the tendencies -- such as selfishness -- that are the foundation of environmental devastation.
At first prayer might sound like an impractical solution to our problems. But when we look at Christ Jesus' example, we begin to understand the power that comes from a life that is lived in accord with God. Through spiritual regeneration that frees us from selfishness or willfulness, and their effects, we can actively move toward environmental renewal.
Jesus was never intimidated or discouraged by conditions he faced. Much of this had to do with his certainty of God's presence in his life. Yet he taught that this certainty brought with it a responsibility to obey God's direction and to strive to live more in accord with His plan. In short, Jesus taught that we need to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves.
Such love requires us to change our thought of ourselves -- to think of ourselves as truly the spiritual children of God -- and to live differently. Greed, sensuality, anger, and other hidden polluters have no place in spirituality. And by realizing they can be no part of God's creation, or of our lives, we are dropping the material, and possibly hopeless-looking, picture of our planet.
This happens because evil of whatever type is actually the accumulated belief in materiality, whether this takes the form of greed, of sickness, of stupidity, or other sin. When we reject materiality as irrelevant to our true spiritual nature, we are declaring that we are willing to live purer lives. We are willing to change our own thoughts and actions, to be more Christlike.
It may be quite a challenge to change the basis of our thinking from satisfaction with the old, materially based way of doing things to this Christlike outlook. But prayer that has a desire for spirituality as its basis really does move us in this direction. I learned something of what this means a few years ago.
For a long time I had prayed for and written about the environment. Then a local drive to help reduce landfill accumulations came to my attention. It was certainly a subject that I supported. Yet now I was faced with the demand to actually change my own behavior -- in short, to have to do something.
I was astonished at the resistance I felt to taking this step. If I had been an environmental Neanderthal, I told myself, perhaps such reluctance it would have been understandable. But I had always thought that I was pro-environment and antipollution.
I turned to prayer in order to break down the resistance to an activity that seemed both intelligent and appropriate. I realized fairly quickly that prayer is only helpful -- to the environment or anything else -- if it changes us for the better. If we only pray words and don't strive to change our thoughts and actions, we are wasting our time.
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, makes this point very clearly in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. She writes, ``The test of all prayer lies in the answer to these questions: Do we love our neighbor better because of this asking? Do we pursue the old selfishness, satisfied with having prayed for something better, though we give no evidence of the sincerity of our requests by living consistently with our prayer?''
Those questions hit home when I admitted to myself that I would never deliberately throw buckets of garbage into the kitchen or the living room of my own or someone else's home. Yet I was willing to contribute to the filling of dumps that could increase the pollution of our community. This was definitely not loving my neighbor as myself!
From that moment on, I made a routine of gathering together recyclable goods and taking them to a center for collection of such items. As I have continued to pray in support of the environment, and of this activity specifically, I have found the trips to this center are increasingly enjoyable and never burdensome.
While none of us can singlehandledly eliminate the environmental problems our planet faces, if each of us is willing to pray, to search the heart and thought for the hidden polluters, we will be making a difference. And through our combined efforts truly to love one another as Jesus did, our earthly environment will progressively be cleansed.
The Christian Science Sentinel, a weekly magazine, contains more articles about God's power to heal.