Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, union;
From: A Prayer attributed to Saint Francis
The above lines are from one of the most well known prayers in Christianity; it is definitely not limited to Christians but is also taken as sound wisdom by people of all faiths, as well as folks who do not claim any particular religious affiliation. Though this prayer is attributed to Saint Francis, I was surprised to find that it almost certainly was not composed by this much-loved saint. According to Jon M. Sweeney, the author of The Complete Prayers of St. Francis, St. Clare and other Early Franciscans, “it’s author is in fact anonymous and the prayer itself is only a century old.” Yet Sweeney did include it in his book. He writes, “the lasting influence of this prayer, also known as ‘The Prayer for Peace,’–is above all due to how closely it reflects the true spirit” of St. Francis.
This is a prayer that I read every night as part of my evening prayers. I am drawn to this prayer because it sets forth a “rule of life” that actually tells us how to become instruments of peace. In a series of eight parallel phrases, the prayer describes what being an instrument of peace looks like. In addition to the three phrases quoted above the prayer also includes: “where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.” I think one reason the prayer is so universally loved is because the parallel structure makes it simple to memorize. The simplicity of the prayer’s structure attracts us to it, but after saying this prayer almost every night during the pandemic, I definitely realized that while the prayer is simple to say, it is not easy to live the life it describes. This is because it is impossible to live this prayer from an egocentric position. After all, the prayer is asking for divine help or grace to help the person praying to be able to actually live this way.
And how might we become “instruments of peace” if there is very little peace in our lives? I wondered what practices I might need to incorporate into my life that would provide fertile ground for the seeds of peace to sprout. The answer to my question came in the form of an essay in the “Review Section” of The Wall Street Journal. I am not used to looking to this paper for spiritual sustenance so I was surprised to find an essay entitled, “What We’ve Lost in Rejecting the Sabbath” by Sohrab Ahmari. Ahmari wrote, “Setting aside one day a week for rest and prayer used to be an American tradition. In an age of constant activity, we need it more than ever.” Since most of us have been working from home and have severely restricted social activities during the pandemic, you may think you have more than enough Sabbath time. But I think the opposite might be true. Ahmari observes that “the Sabbath doesn’t fit into the rhythm of our lives.” He goes on to say that “it feels like an imposition–it is an imposition.” Since so many of us have been working from home, the boundaries between work and home have become more fluid than ever. During the first part of the pandemic I was still working for a large corporation. My boss knew I was at home all of the time because of the pandemic. So she called me on the weekends and sent emails at all hours, and I felt compelled to respond. When you are working from home there is always the temptation to send that one last email or make one more call or schedule a quick impromptu Zoom meeting.
But is it possible to become an instrument of peace when there is no dedicated time for the Eternal in your life? I think not. We must take the time and offer it up to some other goal besides “getting and spending.” We need time just to be–time to connect to our deepest, truest self through prayer and rest. My friend Rabbi Rami Shapiro keeps the Sabbath by abstaining from all electronics on that day. This seems like an excellent practice to me, but even as I think about not picking up my phone or IPad for a whole day I feel the slightest tinge of panic. But that subsides and is replaced by the possibility of peace and joy. If that still seems daunting, try this. Meditate with this prayer. Use your meditation time to slowly repeat the prayer over and over. Eventually you will have memorized the prayer. You can start by taking ten or twenty minutes to meditate with this prayer–this kind of meditation is called passage meditation. Over a period of time, this prayer sinks deeper and deeper into you. You will have built ten or twenty minutes of Sabbath time into your day and you will be able to call up this prayer when you most need it. You will gradually find yourself becoming an instrument of peace.