Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Prayer of St. Francis: What I Like and Dislike About It

In this post, I'll be critiquing the Prayer of Saint Francis, as I discuss where I find the prayer helpful as well as the applications of it that do not help me so much.

An English version of the prayer goes as follows:

"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love.  For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.  Amen."

Where I find the prayer helpful is that is teaches me to give rather than to receive.  This, for me, includes saying "Hi" to people even though they don't say "Hi" to me or treat me like a leper whenever I do say "Hi" to them.  Believe me, it's tempting to do otherwise.  But I have to remember that it's better to give than to receive.

Where I find the prayer problematic, however, is that I think that it pressures me to be a change-agent.  If I am in a place where there is a lot of hatred and strife, I don't feel compelled to make everyone love each other.  I'm not qualified to undertake such a challenge, to tell you the truth, for I'm not a trained facilitator.  But I can show love and forgiveness myself, on a personal level, even in places where people are at each other's throat.  Actually, I should strive to do so.

Another problem that I have with the prayer is the part about offering people faith, hope, and joy.  The last thing that I'd want if I had doubt, despair, and sadness is for some happy-clappy evangelical to lecture me on how I should be happy and just have faith.  Rather, I'd want for people to listen to me and understand where I'm coming from.  That's why I like the part of the prayer about seeking to understand rather than to be understood.  It's not that I wouldn't want any encouragement at all.  I think that, if someone prayed for me and asked God to be with me and to give me the strength and wisdom to deal with a situation, I would greatly appreciate that and would feel encouraged.  But my belief is that it's better to be with people in their pain and then to give them encouragement, than it is to pressure people to be in denial about their pain.

Perhaps St. Francis would agree with my insights, and I'm just misinterpreting him.  But my spiritual life is not just about accepting a lesson or teaching as authoritative, but rather it entails me wrestling with that lesson or teaching and seeking to process it for myself so that I can live a better life.  This does not necessarily mean that I reinterpret the lesson or teaching to make it palatable to myself, though I do try to make it at least manageable to me rather than something that I cannot do.  In doing so, I try to preserve the lesson or teaching as something that's challenging, while also not allowing it to burden me with guilt, if that makes sense.

2 comments:

davey said...

As usual, you have, and share, a good orientation to these things!

James Pate said...

Thanks Davey!

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