Me and “prayers for Chile” go way back when!

It would not be unduly modest to say that I have been just one of a crowd of many, many millions who have prayed for the people of Chile over the past few weeks.  Chief among that crowd were the trapped miners themselves and their families in Camp Hope.  (You’ve gotta love that name, and it sounds even better in hindsight!)  And over the past couple of days I have been one in a crowd of billions – pray-ers and non pray-ers – who have celebrated the successful conclusion to the rescue operation.

But me and prayer for Chile actually go way back.  Chile grabbed my attention when I was a graduate student just leaving the University of Surrey in early eighties England.  The autocratic Pinochet junta was well and truly established when my older brother introduced me to a biography on Victor Jara by his wife Joan which tore at my heartstrings.  Along with thousands of others the Chilean folk singer had been murdered in an army coup in 1973 when General Augusto Pinochet overthrew the left-wing Salvador Allende government.

While my family’s voting patterns had always been moderately left of centre when I was growing up, I wasn’t a Socialist, so my anguish wasn’t political.  It was the human rights injustice of the murder of political opponents – whether  committed by right on left or left on right – that stirred my emotions.  I also loved the musical soundtrack of Chile – the haunting melodies of Victor Jara himself, and of Violetta Parra and Inti Illimani. That music was associated with the left-wing ascendency that Pinochet’s coup suppressed.  But the soulfulness of the music could also transcend politics, as was clear when the BBC featured the glorious guitars, flutes, and pan pipes of Inti Illimani to accompany the classic 1983 documentary “The flight of the Condor”.

I can still recall the quiet moment at work when I got some time to myself to finish reading that biography book about what its author called “an unfinished life”. I felt devastated to be living in a world where such brutality can occur, even if it is modest compared to the evils of Nazi genocide and twentieth century Communism.

In what could be called a tale of two books, though, the spiritual light of Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (to which I had recently been introduced) helped lift the gloom from reading the biography. Its spiritual reassurance helped me to see that I could pray and contribute to progress.  One of the ideas that struck me in my early reading of Science and Health was the following call to care for the wider community:    “…those who discern Christian Science will hold crime in check. They will aid in the ejection of error. They will maintain law and order, and cheerfully await the certainty of ultimate perfection.”  (This refers to the inherent spiritual perfection that all humanity shares but which is gained step by step, by an understanding and demonstration of everyone’s relationship to God.  It is not referring to the kind of “pseudoscientific notions of racial supremacy and purity” (Wiki) envisaged by the pre World War 2 Eugenics movement.)

This, and other ideas, gave me confidence to confront my sense of resignation to the power of oppression (whatever its political shade) with a growing trust in the underlying spiritual force of good, God, always pressing itself upon human consciousness. Over the passing years there followed many moments of heartfelt prayer for Chile from here in Britain – where I got to hear the exiled Inti Illimani live in concert at The Royal Festival Hall – and then from my temporary home in the USA.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s The Christian Science Monitor kept me regularly informed as the changing political winds blew the country towards the 1988 referendum that voted “No” to Pinochet’s regime; as the 1989 elections ushered in a return to democracy; and during 1998 when former President Pinochet was detained in my home city of London pending extradition to Spain on human rights charges, which never transpired.

Coincidentally, 1998 was a year in which my prayerful appreciation for Chile was consummated with a visit.  I got an invitation from my church to travel there to meet Latin American representatives of the Christian Science movement who do similar media and legislative work to me.  I found myself in the Chilean Parliament in Valparaiso talking to a senior member of the Chamber of Deputies in a meeting with several colleagues.  I could have wept with the joy of being so up close and personal with this expression of a democratic Chile!

Somewhere along the way I also got to see the award-winning movie “Missing” starring Jack Lemmon as Ed Horman, the Christian Science father of an American journalist fatally caught up in the 1973 coup.  The movie tracks the father’s awakening to the possibility of political entanglements by his own country in the rise of the repressive regime.

The film’s perspective of events was disputed by the US State department at the time, but whatever the exact truth of what occurred, what a contrast to that perception this past week has been.  An American company successfully drilled the vital connecting tunnel to the miners and humbly retreated to let the Chileans take centre stage for the actual hours of rescue.

Chile has come a long way since I first started praying for this beautiful nation, even though there is still much that needs to be accomplished.  But what a difference when, on the one hand, Chilean workers are being valued and lauded by the whole world, while on the other hand the President has been hailed for the spirit of care with which he responded.  (See, for instance, this moving CNN opinion piece by poet, novelist and essayist Arturo Fontaine.)  And, at the end of last year, Victor Jara was finally buried by his widow with national and international recognition.

Did prayer – my prayer alongside the prayers of so many others – make any difference to this trajectory of events?  I would never try to force that conclusion on anyone else.  But I feel quietly grateful that prayer gives us one way to express the fact that we care about the lives of others as well as proving its power to heal in our own.  As Jimmy Sanchez, the youngest of the 33 miners, put it so sweetly in one of his letters, while still trapped, “There are actually 34 of us because God has never left us down here.”

God never leaves anyone, ever.  But clearly there is improvement needed in the consistency and clarity of our prayers and actions until we prove that universally.

Perhaps it’s time for all praying people to double the commitment and unity of our efforts – like those heroic miners!

Here is an interesting, early video of Inti Illimani (best watched in the small view, because of the quality.)


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Categories: Christian Science, Christianity, Prayer for Healing, Uncategorized

Author:Tony Lobl

I write and speak on spirituality from my perspective as a Christian Science practitioner. I am also an Associate Editor for the Christian Science periodicals. I studied at the University of Surrey earning a BSc Hons Degree in Modern Mathematics before the impact of spirituality on health caught my attention and re-shaped my career.

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