“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.” -St. Francis’ Prayer of Peace
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, an instrument of your peace … How does someone become an instrument? What makes an instrument an instrument?
First, you need a musician. And to make an instrument you don’t need just any musician, but an inventive musician. The kind of musician who is always drumming on things or tinkering around with stuff to try to get them sing. That’s who makes an instrument.
If we are to be made into an instrument for God’s peace, it means we must be formed by the hands and filled with the breath of a great musician, a creative, playful, masterful Intelligence. Holy God, make me an instrument of your peace. There is so much just in this first line of St. Francis’ prayer. Just speaking this line is an act of surrender. It’s admitting that we are not the musician, but instruments in the hands of a Higher Creative Power. What else makes an instrument an instrument, besides a musician?
All instruments have two things in common. Pick your instrument – a guitar or piano, a drum or a fiddle or kazoo, or a singing human body – what they all have in common is a hollow space and something that vibrates. A drum is a hollowed-out piece of wood with hide stretched over the top. You hit the hide, it vibrates, and the air in the hollow space booms. The earliest human instruments were just hollow reed whistles, then people made cylinders of clay that direct the breath in such a way that it vibrates and makes a sound, that’s a flute. A hollow space and a vibration, that’s all you need. Brass instruments are metal tubes that you buzz into. Stringed instruments are empty wooden boxes with chords lashed on and stretched tight. The chords do the vibrating and the wooden box does the resonating. Singers turn the structure of our bodies into an instrument. Singers, you could say, are lovely humming bellows of breath and bone and muscle.
Make me an instrument, O God. Being made into an instrument means we have to get hollowed out. There needs to be space in us to resonate and amplify a higher and deeper music. So, make me an instrument of your peace, O Lord, means that we let God open up a space in us, hollow out our core. We have to let some of the dense junk of our ego get cleared out, all the me, myself, and mine we stuff in and clutch tight. We get out of the way and let God through. It helps to realize that at our core, we are not our own, but we belong to something, someone far greater. At our core we open and empty out into this great Eternal Spirit in which we all live and move and have our being. One of the way God acts on us is to hollow us out. But not hollow out until we disappear altogether. An instrument is not just empty space, but it’s a container that holds space open. The frame has to be strong. And many instruments hold a lot of tension – a piano holds 18 tons of tension from all those strings. But the frame of an instrument can’t just be stiff. It has to be responsive, it has to be able to move and resonate. So, if we pray for God to make us an instrument we are praying to get hollowed out but not until we become a nothing or a nobody, but until we get down to the essence of who it is that God has created us to be. We become a strong and responsive container for the open flow of God’s Spirit. We start out as logs and we end up as drums.
The other thing a drum needs, beside hollow space, is hide stretched over one end. It needs a drum head that’s taught and ready to vibrate when the musician sets it into motion. A guitar needs strings ready to be plucked. When we pray in the way of this St Francis prayer we attend to the parts of ourselves that are, you could say, tuned to how God’s Holy Spirit moves. Prayer tunes us up. We recognize there are parts of ourselves that are like strings that sing when the divine hand comes near.
So, to recap, the first line of this prayer, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,” is about three things: 1. Surrender: Placing ourselves as an instrument in the hands of the Great Musician. 2. Emptiness to the point of Essence: Allowing ourselves to get hollowed out into a resonant and strong container. 3. Attentiveness & tuning up: Being attuned to God’s movement and melody through us in this world. Becoming more alert, aware, awake, and responsive.
The rest of the prayer bears out these three aspects of the prayer: surrender, emptiness & essence, and attentiveness & tuning up.
“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.” Hatred, injury, doubt, despair, darkness, sadness … these all come up in our lives, naturally. Last week we reflected on the wisdom of Ecclesiastes that says there’s a time and a season for all these things. This prayer does not deny that. This prayer is not a drug to numb us for from the hard things in life. But things like hatred, injury, despair and so forth are the kinds of things that we can get stuck on, they can turn us in on ourselves, they can get dense in us if we let ourselves get absorbed into our grievance or our pain. If we become instruments of God’s peace it means we make room for God to clear those things out. A musical instrument in fact helps us to express difficult emotions and difficult experiences. It’s no mistake that the people on this earth that suffer the worst hardship make the best music. The saddest song has a kind of magic to it that brings peace. So, if we’re an instrument for God’s peace it’s not like we come to sadness or despair and shut it out. But we help it find voice and move on and clear space for more expansive horizons.
The last part of the prayer bears out the deep reorientation and expansion that happens when we offer ourselves as an instrument for the music of heaven.
“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.”
Our perfect guide here is, of course, Jesus. The Way of Jesus is a musical way, pitched to harmonies that are far beyond us yet touch the very essence of who we all are.
Thanks be to God.
(Delivered July 8, 2018, at First Congregational Church of Walla Walla, by Rev. Nathaniel Mahlberg)