I love to walk through Springfield – to pass Lincoln’s beautiful home on 8th Street (with its wooden sidewalks), the old Capitol building, his former law offices and the place where he attended church. On my recent stay there, I once again visited the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum – one of my most favorite places. I purchased a biography of the 16th President entitled 366 Days in Abraham Lincoln’s Presidency by Stephen A. Wynalda.
Even though I have read many books on Lincoln, this one included a quote I was unfamiliar with. About his ideal church, Honest Abe stated, “When any church will inscribe over its altar the Savior’s condensed statement of law and gospel, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind, and love thy neighbor as thyself,’ that church will I join with all my heart.”
Mary Baker Eddy, a contemporary of Lincoln, and the founder of Christian Science, called this command of Jesus the “El Dorado of Christianity.” She felt that living from this basis of loving God and man, would reveal the power and goodness of the one God to humanity. She wrote in her book on spirituality, health, and salvation, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, “Having no other gods, turning to no other but the one perfect Mind to guide him, man is the likeness of God, pure and eternal, having that Mind which was also in Christ.”
To me, this means as we love God supremely, we open ourselves to the direction and love of this divine Mind, which naturally evolves into our love for each other.
I experienced the practical benefits of this when serving as a Christian Science chaplain at Cook County Jail in Chicago, Division 5. For about ten years I helped give church services at the jail on Monday evenings. My co-worker, another chaplain, and I strove to infuse these services with our love for God and His children, and to include each inmate in that love.
One Monday night just before I left for Chicago, the other chaplain, Ed, called me with some disconcerting news. He said the lieutenant on duty had intercepted some notes indicating that a gang fight was planned to take place during our service. Ed asked me to hurry to the service and to pray for peace. I thought about those words of Jesus to love God and my neighbor, and I endeavored to feel and express that divine Love to everyone in the chapel that night.
After I arrived, the inmates began filing in. We usually had about 30 attend the service; 50 would have been a good turnout; but that night 125 men filled the chapel! We welcomed each one, looking him in the eye and shaking his hand. It was very apparent that many of these men, some we had come to know fairly well, were distressed. After they had taken their seats, the lieutenant warned, “I heard there was to be a fight here tonight. Go ahead. When any disturbance happens, I will grab the chaplains and take them out, then I will lock the doors. If anyone is standing after the fight, I will deal with you.”
Ed announced that for our first hymn we would sing “Fight the good fight with all thy might.” I was incredulous! Later, Ed told me that he had chosen that song to help all of us understand that the fight we need to be engaged in is changing hate to love, disrespect to understanding, and fighting to peace. As we sang that hymn and continued on through readings from the Bible and Science and Health, I could feel the tension in the room melt. So could the inmates. After the service, they stood and applauded – something they had never done before.
You could say we felt Lincoln’s “church” that night – a place where loving God with all our heart, soul and mind and loving our neighbor as ourselves brought peace to what could have been an ugly situation. Those words of Jesus speak to all of us facing inharmonious, violent, or unjust circumstances. We can strive to love God and our neighbor and feel the peace, love and justice of God in our lives.
©2017 Christian Science Committee on Publication for Illinois