|Healing in Tucson
A Science of Mind community brings light to darkness
Rev. Donald Graves was sitting at the airport in San Diego on the afternoon of January 8, ready to return home to Tucson, Arizona, after spending the weekend at a planning session for the United Clergy of Religious Science. The spiritual leader of Tucson’s Center for Spiritual Living suddenly noticed a slew of text messages and voicemails on his cell phone. A woman sitting next to him asked, “Are you going to Tucson?” and then “Do you know about Representative Giffords?”
“I was wondering what the heck is going on,” Graves recalls. “I immediately got online and began to read the information.”
Earlier that day, outside a Safeway supermarket in Tucson, a lone gunman had shot U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and eighteen others during a “Congress on Your Corner” event where Giffords met with constituents. Six lost their lives, including U.S. District Court Chief Judge John Roll and nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green. Jared Lee Loughner, twenty-two, was arrested for the crime.
When such a disturbing event occurs, an entire community feels its effects. National and international media rush to the scene. People reach out to ministers and spiritual leaders for answers, seeking how to make sense of such an attack. Many tend to ask why something like this occurs rather than ask what is going on. But for those in Tucson’s Science of Mind community, the episode offered an opportunity for compassion, healing light, and a reminder that we are all One. It also offered a chance to see the good that can come out of tragedy.
Challenge and Compassion
The day after the shooting, Graves faced his Spiritual Center members, guests, and practitioners. “I still get a lump in my throat and feel what I felt that morning about really not knowing what to say to them,” he says. “I told them we have an interesting challenge here. It’s so easy to go to that place where there were victims and perpetrators--that somebody was wrong and this was unfair. That’s not what we teach here. What we teach is to be conscious that life is only One Life. That life is perfect; that life is God’s Life.
“I told them to be sad for the people involved, whether it’s Gabriel Giffords, her aide, Jared Loughner, whomever. Be sad for what happened, but don’t feel sorry for them and don’t feel sorry for your self. We don’t know what another person’s journey is, so feeling sorry for someone is disrespectful of them and their journey.”
Throughout January, Graves was covering the first four chapters of the Science of Mind textbook, paralleled with the four spiritual practices of meditation, visioning, affirmations, and spiritual mind treatment. On that Sunday, visioning was the focus.
“We asked, ‘What is the highest vision that can come from such an event?’” Graves says. “Life happens. Without that part of life, nothing probably would ever change. That chaos part of life was one of those moments in time that makes us stop, reflect, and dive deeper into who we really are.”
Tucson’s Science of Mind community—which Graves calls a wonderful, spiritually mature group—came together as one with both compassion for those in Tucson, all involved in the incident, and for themselves. Those who felt confused called a practitioner. Some submitted ministry of prayer requests. People called Graves or the prayer partners they had in classes. They talked it out.
Spiritual principles are present in every moment, and Graves found a number of such principles as soon as he heard about the shooting. “Life is eternal, it changes in the world of form, but life itself that lives in the center of the forms is eternal,” he says. “There is only one Life, and that Life is God’s life; that Life is perfect, and that Life is my life now. We are surrounded by in Infinite Intelligence, Power, and Presence. In God, all things are possible, including being able to see the truth in the midst of the travesty.”
Through his spiritual training, Graves finds opportunity in what many may see as tragedy. He shifts from seeing victims and negativity to what collateral good can come from an event. He easily reels off one of his favorite quotes by spiritual teacher, author, and philosopher Vernon Howard: Keep in mind that the most profitable time to apply these principles is when you feel it is the most hopeless or difficult to do so. Nothing scatters darkness so quickly as a sudden surprise by light.
Blessings and gifts can be found even in something that appears to be atrocious. Days after the shooting, the parents of Christina Green announced that through a donor’s network, some of Christina’s organs had been implanted in a little girl in Boston.
The night of the shooting, Graves had tickets to see the musical Wicked, a back story about the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. Wicked explores the concept that the witch is a misunderstood, victimized person whose behavior was a reaction against a charlatan wizard’s corrupt government. Graves couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the show and the alleged shooter.
“It was the perfect opportunity for me to see the back story of this musical, because none of us know the back story of Jared at all,” Graves says of the alleged shooter. “We have no idea what his upbringing was. I have no idea what’s going on with Jared, and my heart goes out to him because I have observed what can happen to somebody who does something like that. They are assumed guilty from the get-go in the worst possible way. This is not saying he didn’t do the deed, because it’s obvious he did. But he’s assumed to be evil or wicked. Frankly, we don’t know. My compassion goes to him as a sentient being. He’s on this planet and on this path. If he shows up in my life like he has, even though secondarily, then we’re on this path together.”
Graves offers a simple premise: be slow to conclude. He says it’s natural to want to draw conclusions or make judgments right away. But in the past, some decisions he’s made turned out to be not true. In a moment, it’s possible to misunderstand what happened.
“It’s very true that something has to get really personal for us to start paying attention,” he says. “For people who were there at the Safeway that day, it really got their attention. The people who knew those people who were there, it got their attention. For those in the community who heard, it got our attention. People who have experienced gun violence whether directly or indirectly, it got their attention one more time.
“If anything happens to us, it happens to all of us,” Graves continues. “If anyone does anything, that’s us doing it. There is this connection that is real between all of us. We all live in the same life, the same existence; we have just different experiences and do different expressions therein. We all share this life together. If we can’t have compassion for each other, regardless of what other people have done, I think we’re missing the boat.”
The Verb-ness of Love
Four days after the shooting, President Obama and other dignitaries gathered at Tucson’s McKale Center for a memorial. Some were surprised that it was an uplifting service instead of a sullen ceremony.
“It was literally a celebration of life,” Graves says. “It wasn’t poor me, isn’t life awful. It was a celebration of what we have and what we had. Tucson is not a town of victims, and it’s not a community that’s wallowing in its misery. This community does something about it. All of Tucson has stepped up. It’s so cool to watch.”
Out of the stigma that such an event can place on a city, the community of Tucson has responded with love. “What I’ve seen here in Tucson is the verb-ness of love,” says Graves. “That love is what you do, who you are, and how you show up. What you do. Love is bigger than most people try to limit it to be. It recognizes that you live in connection with everyone. Therefore, compassion is an automatic response.”
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