On the morning of October 2, 2017, my wife and I were on our way to the Las Vegas airport, still trying to wrap our heads around what had happened the night before. In the distance, we could see the missing window in the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino where a shooter had fired upon the crowd attending the Route 91 Harvest country music festival. Right next to us, just blocks from our home, was the outdoor concert area where the emergency crews were still investigating and cleaning up.
At one point in time, this might have been considered a rare situation, but in modern times, it seems we all have a story that somehow connects us to a mass shooting. And for those of us on the spiritual path, it begs the question: How can such horrific violence still be happening and seemingly increasing in a world that is supposed to be spiritually evolving?
Although none of my congregants at Unity of Las Vegas were directly affected, our prayer team made themselves available around-the-clock to address the collective pain felt in the community. As you might expect, the question of why was in their hearts and minds. And it was this question I addressed in my next Sunday talk, as well as in the group discussions that followed the service. Now, let me share with you the same message that brought comfort to them.
Evil Begins in Consciousness
Some religious traditions teach that evil or the devil causes events such as mass shootings, giving their believers a clear enemy to rally against. But, in Unity, we don’t see the world that way. For us, there is a shooter who is a child of God, just as we are all children of God, and this shooter is influenced not by an outside force like evil but rather by consciousness.
One of the many things Unity cofounder Charles Fillmore said about evil is, “Evil appears in the world because humans are not in spiritual understanding. We have not learned that all is Mind; neither have we conformed to the law of Mind, with the result that inharmony appears in their bodies and affairs.”
Evil is not a thing in and of itself but rather the lack of God in a situation or the movement away from God in a decision. It is the individual and collective consciousness that influences our actions, and these actions determine whether we are moving with God-Mind or against it. We have the God-given free will to choose, and as Fillmore points out, without spiritual understanding our choices create inharmony on a small scale, which can become tragedy on a large scale.
But ultimately this is just a mental exercise if we don’t move the conversation from theology to the reality of our lived experience. These shootings really happen, real people are harmed, and something real must be done about it.
Stopping the Cycle of Tragedy
Taking what we have discussed thus far, one could conclude that any mass shooting or unprovoked act of violence results from a lack of spiritual understanding. Fundamentally, there is an individual who feels disconnected—a disconnection that stems from a lack of understanding about their true nature as a child of God. Often, they don’t know how to deal with their own deep, painful feeling of disconnection and therefore act from that pain. One might say they act from spiritual misunderstanding.
So how can we put action behind this realization and stop the cycle of disconnection and tragedy? Quite simply, by becoming more aware of those around us who are hurting.
In modern times, it seems we all have a story that somehow connects us to a mass shooting. And for those of us on the spiritual path, it begs the question: How can such horrific violence still be happening and seemingly increasing in a world that is supposed to be spiritually evolving?
Life is often too difficult to handle alone, and it really takes a community of like-minded individuals to support us on this journey toward wholeness, this journey back to God. That is why I have been a longtime advocate for people gathering in communities of all forms—and, more specifically, in spiritual community. By having a spiritual community, we can hold each other accountable for our spiritual growth and become more aware when someone is falling into a dangerously disconnected place.
Whether we are faced with difficulties that are physical, emotional, relational, or even tied to mental illness, being surrounded by people who know us, love us, and are regularly with us creates guardrails on the journey. You might consider these as the community “bowling bumpers” that keep us moving forward, without straying too far in a single direction, into extremism.
The Power of Community
Jesus reminds us, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). There is a powerful energy created when we gather together, especially when we gather together as spiritual seekers. And if we want to heal the plague of disconnection that permeates our world today, especially with the advent of increasingly isolating technologies, we will have to be in each other’s presence. As we listen, empathize, and support each other on this journey, we also help each other to stay centered in the face of difficulty. It is in gatherings like these where we pray for each other, but in extreme circumstances, we might also have to recommend professional help for someone or even alert the authorities to someone’s ill intentions.
Humans are wired for small communities, and for thousands of years, communities have been tools that help us grow and expand as individuals and groups. So, in these times of the rapid digitization of the human experience, we need to be even more tenacious about preserving authentic human connection and the power that comes with gathering.
So, what are some real steps we can take?
1. Start thinking about how even your small actions might unintentionally contribute to the direction of disconnection. Maybe instead of using self-checkout, opt for waiting in a line that leads to a real human cashier, choosing connection over convenience.
2. Consider whether you should be engaging in social action, being mindful to do it from a place of love and understanding as opposed to fear and anger.
3. Join a local Unity community, or reinvest yourself in the community you are in. I can’t emphasize enough the power and impact that comes from a like-minded spiritual community.
Increasing our spiritual understanding not only improves our lives but also affects the consciousness of those around us. Our efforts should be both external and internal as we work to address the issues of violence in the world today.