Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
I made several failed attempts to capture my response to this first line of St. Francis’ prayer. Here is one: “It is perhaps a sign of spiritual maturity to dedicate oneself to be of use in the world. There is a nice reciprocity in knowing that the world is not only for me, I am also for the world.” But that sounds like I’m saying I’m spiritually mature, which could not be farther from the truth.
What I love about this line is its humility, the willingness, perhaps longing, to turn over my life to. . . .Well, to what exactly? That word, “Lord,” keeps tripping me up, steeped as I have been in Western Christian tradition, with its centuries of patriarchal hierarchies. I tried dropping the word altogether, leaving “Make me an instrument of peace,” which sounds nice but utterly bland. That higher power is stripped out, that appeal to the unseen, the majestic, the other-than-worldly. In short, the sacred. That’s it, isn’t it? Those eight words are an invocation, a summoning of great power, and a linguistic bowing down.
Where I go wrong is to see “Lord” as something, or someone, outside of myself. If instead I see it as pointing to my own best Self, to what is lordly within me, it opens up an inner conversation. When I play with substituting other words for it, such as “Great Mother” or “Spirit” or “Source” or “Divine Creator,” interesting possibilities open up.
I had an experience once while meditating, an absolute certainty that I was touching into a divine energy. Jazzed with energy, I knew with absolute clarity that my hands are God’s hands, my body is God’s body, my eyes are God’s eyes. I am the Universe seeing itself, a divine spark, spirit embodied. Rilke has a wonderful poem about this where he imagines God accompanying us as we are made, with a bit of advice for how to live well. He says:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you, beauty and terror.
To pray to be made an instrument of peace is to acknowledge there is a choice, and that I need help daily, even moment to moment, in making it. There is a wise saying:
There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.
It serves as a good reminder to embody peace, not to work for it, nor to protest in the streets for it, nor to hate others who are not peaceful. It’s not even a matter of will, as Francis reminds us here; it is an act of turning over of will, an allowing and trusting. I am God’s hands and I am in God’s hands, both.
To be an instrument of peace perhaps requires tuning and practice, just as with a musical instrument. How can I cultivate peace today? By taking a breath instead of reacting mindlessly and playing out old patterns and habits. I can take a moment to sit in stillness and experience the feeling of peace washing over me, or rising from within a silent place deep inside. Reciting St. Francis’ prayer is a good way to do that.
The next line is here.