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Redeeming the Past

MUCH of the conflict in the world seems to have its roots in the past. Resentment within ethnic or racial groups, religious differences, and other past troubles fester in thought and then break out into hatred and destruction. Even in our personal lives, former times sometimes haunt us.

Breaking free of these past impressions isn't always easy, even when we really want to put them to rest. But diligent prayer can open the way for us to see the experiences in our lives--including those of previous years--in a totally different light.

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The feeling that we are victims of an unhappy past stems from the belief that we are mortals who were born from other mortals, and that through time, these mortal parents, grandparents, and others have produced a material history that directly impinges on our lives. Thus, a family that was financially destroyed as a result of a war might continue to hate the victors in that war. Accepting this belief--or its equivalent--seems to give the past power over us.

The Bible gives us quite a different view of man's history. It tells us that he is spiritual, made in God's likeness. This is not a theoretical concept, as the many examples of spiritual discovery and renewal given in the Scriptures make clear.

Nor is man a combination of spiritual heritage and material history. Our actual identity is only spiritual, and the family we all belong to is the one of which God, divine Love, is Father-Mother. The man made by divine Love cannot know or express hatred, because hatred and Love are opposites. Nor can he desire revenge, because Love by its very nature precludes a wish to indulge evil.

At first, these statements might seem idealistic and far removed from our lives, where temptation and pressures sometimes make us feel anything but loving. Yet instead of merely insulating us from the pains of the past, this new view of man--and of ourselves as God's offspring--can set us completely free. This occurs because accepting such a radical change in our outlook is, as Christ Jesus put it, like being ``born again.''

He used these words, John's Gospel recounts, in response to questions asked by a Pharisee who came to him one night. Jesus told him frankly, ``Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God'' (3:3). Aren't we born anew when we give up a belief in material history-- good or bad--and accept that we have always been the offspring of God, good?

``The kingdom of God'' which Jesus spoke of is not a distant hope; it's not postponed to what we might call a spiritual future.'' When we begin to accept the heritage of Love that is actually ours, we also start to see evidence of God's kingdom in the form of peace, harmony, joy, and goodness. As our thoughts are spiritualized, we find that our ability to perceive God's presence increases. We may even find that as we look back on past events, there is evidence that divine Love was being expressed even in

troubled times--in the acts of a neighbor or friend, in the patience of a colleague or generosity of a relative. As we pray, the goodness is no longer hidden by the suffering we were experiencing.

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To the degree that we understand that man is born of Spirit, God, and that this man is our true and only nature, we gain a new view of our lives. Fears and hatreds are revealed as burdens that we don't need to keep carrying in thought. We begin to see that they have no real relevance to our permanent and unbreakable relationship to Love. This unity with Spirit, and the powerful heritage it gives us, are clearly described by Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, in her book Sci ence and Health with Key to the Scriptures. She writes: ``In Science man is the offspring of Spirit. The beautiful, good, and pure constitute his ancestry. . . . Spirit is his primitive and ultimate source of being; God is his Father, and Life is the law of his being'' (p. 63).

This spiritual heritage enables us to give up hatred and anger and to live in the joy of reflecting Love, God. It brings to light the presence of Love in every event of our lives, even when we may have felt alone at the time. Recognizing our membership in the family of God also brings with it a responsibility not to indulge past hatreds but to pray for healing of a world in which the past seems to hold progress in check.

In our prayers, we can affirm that man is not--and never has been--a murderer or a tool of revenge. Man is the child of God, and we have the right to see evidence of this spiritual nature in ourselves and those around us.

As God's idea, man expresses intelligence, faithfulness, compassion, love, and gentleness. Affirming the presence of these qualities helps us--and others--to see beyond manipulative political techniques and to probe the deep moral issues that need to be addressed. It also begins to lift the burdens and stereotypes of the past. Instead of seeing people as symbols of former cruelties, we can look for and find their individual ability to express the qualities of God.

When we listen to the news and learn of continuing hatred and distrust, redeeming the world's past may seem hopeless at times. Yet as we individually prove our spiritual heritage and live the spiritual life that is the only reality, we are actually serving as liberators. Conscious efforts to prove God's continuous government and presence eliminate the curse of the past and redeem those in distant lands as well as our own communities.

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