I LIVE in a leafy corner of a large city, among terraced houses and redbrick sidewalks. Recently my friendly, cosmopolitan neighborhood became ruffled. A group of residents resented the Parks Department for not providing a special place for exercising dogs off their leashes. And in an act of civil disobedience, they allowed the dogs to careen through flower beds that were being maintained by volunteer gardeners-like me!
A protracted-albeit civilized-discussion with the protesters left me indignant at their lack of consideration for others. Self-righteously, I argued: Was I wrecking flower beds because the Parks Department hadn't met my needs for a place to skateboard, or fly kites, or play football in the heart of the city?
Soon I realized that human reasoning would get me nowhere. Fussing over others' disregard for what is often called the Golden Rule in the Bible-''As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise'' (Luke 6:31)-didn't excuse me from obeying that rule to the full. What was expected of me in such circumstances?
The answer came almost immediately, from something written by the Discoverer of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy. It is in the book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: ''For right reasoning there should be but one fact before the thought, namely, spiritual existence. In reality there is no other existence, since Life cannot be united to its unlikeness, mortality'' (p. 492). ''Right reasoning.'' If I would engage in this, the result could be a package deal that would include attentive listening on both sides, marked by patience, fairness, and respect.
I realized I needed to lift my thought far above a scene populated by willful people with minds all their own. I had to look beyond the beauty of the flower beds and the uncontrolled animals to the atmosphere of Spirit, where God reigns absolutely.
Right reasoning-which is centered on the laws of God-would lead me to a better understanding of others' feelings and of their situations; toward genuine forgiveness for any irresponsible behavior on their part; and to action on my own part that would bring an equitable, quick solution.
After all, the Bible makes it clear that God is Spirit, that He is ever present and wholly good, and that His children are all part of one family. I knew from experience that as we develop a strong sense of our relation to the Father, we feel complete, cared for, loved, lacking nothing. We become more patient with others, and less critical of them.
Christ Jesus, who set demanding standards for his followers, once challenged his disciples' tendency to judge others too hastily when they had witnessed breaches in the law. He cautioned them over superficial or hasty judgments when he said, ''Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment'' (John 7:24).
On another occasion, and in very different circumstances, he lovingly reminded his disciples not to bother themselves over-or even be curious about-others' salvation. Speaking of another of his disciples, Jesus said to the disciple Peter, ''If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me'' (John 21:22). Surely that's the gentlest, least critical way any group has ever been told to mind their own business!
As I looked forlornly at the broken flowers, I asked myself whether the fallen stems were really worth the mental turmoil that threatened to upset my whole day. Was I placing others' intransigence before my own commitment to do as Jesus would have done-trust God to maintain the goodness and purity of His creation?
My growing sense of God's love and care for all of us blossomed through the last days of summer. And right reasoning did indeed prevail. The plea for doggy playgrounds was put on the agenda of a neighborhood meeting, and enough flowers survived the spirited animals to enrich our streets with an autumnal blaze of scarlet and gold.
Several hours of prayer had brought me to the realization that the answer to every human predicament lies within the grasp of each individual. But there was also a call to action-to love my neighbors more, and identify each of them as an imagebearer of God.