The Prayer of the Open Vessel

The famous prayer of St. Francis is a prayer of the open vessel:

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. 

Lord, make me an instrumentof your peace – “Instrument” meaning tool. We think of a musical instrument, of course, which is a tool to make music. Yet the word “instrument” here also has the broader meaning of any implement that helps the one who makes it and uses it to do the work they want to do or make the art that they want to create.

Lord, make me an instrument.

When we pray to God to be made into God’s instrument, we are praying to be made into an implement for God’s work, God’s art, God’s creative activity.

St. Francis here is saying that God’s creative activity is characterized by peace. And Peace is characterized by the cultivation of love in situations of hatred, mercy in situations of injury, faith in situations of doubt, hope where there is despair, light in darkness, joy in sadness.

The image I get when I pray this prayer, is the image of the most basic tool, or instrument:

A bowl, a cup, a vessel.

If we’re imagining a musical instrument, this is a drum, which any kid knows a pot out to be. These are simple, basic implements, instruments.

Just a container, a bottom and sides that are open to receive and hold and pour out.

Lord make me a vessel for your peace.

When we pray this prayer we can become aware of how dense and boxed in we can get, because of injury, doubt, despair, darkness, sadness, hate.

This prayer, “Lord make me a vessel”

is then a prayer of emptying and opening ourselves to be able to serve as an instrument for God’s peace.

The prayer goes on to make it clear this is about cleaning out our ego:

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.

To be a vessel we must be empty and open, but also, let’s not forget: Strong. To become a good container, we must be fortified. Strong base, strong boundaries. So we pray to God to be built up as well as emptied and opened.

An open vessel is a central image of our faith, and a central image when it comes to Jesus. Most clearly, the chalice of Holy Communion, the Eucharist cup.

“Take and drink, this is the cup of the new covenant in my blood, poured out for you.”

This is Jesus’ prayer of the open vessel, in which he becomes an instrument of God’s peace in such a visceral, embodied way. Atonement = At-one-ment.

Jesus becomes so at-one with God that his is very life-blood becomes life-giving far beyond the boundaries of himself.

So we, if we are open and empty and contained enough, we can receive what flows through Christ, drink it in like wine, and become ourselves returned to that at-one-ment with our Creator, filled and nourished to overflowing. We intern become instruments of God’s peace.

The Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians (2:5-11)

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a humble servant, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.

Paul also wrote to the Galatians (2:19-20)

In fact, my old identity, defined by religious customs, passed away, so that a new God-given identity could come to life. I was crucified with the Anointed. The person I used to be no longer lives. God’s Anointed lives in me; and the bodily life I now live, I live by the same confident trust in God that the son of God had. He loved me and gave up his life for my benefit.

These are prayers of the Open Vessel, which suggest something of the mystery of Holy Communion.

When it comes to the mystery of Holy Communion, I think it is very significant the way the story of the Last Supper is told in the Gospel of John. It’s told very differently in John.

In Matthew, Mark, and Luke we have the familiar story we retell every time we celebrate Communion, breaking of the bread and the pouring of the wine.

But in the Gospel of John in the place where the other gospels have the breaking of the bread and the pouring of the wine, John instead tells the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. This profound act of humility, where Jesus becomes a vessel for the cleansing waters of God’s grace. Jesus then goes on to teach the disciples “to love one another as I have loved you.”

Jesus becomes an open vessel in this way, through the washing of the feet, just he enacts with the broken bread and open cup of Holy Communion.

All that said, let me share a few things about our new Communion chalices.

Mary Anne Duffy is the local potter who created them for us. We’ve been using them for a couple months now.

We worked with her so there is this ancient feel to them, these instruments of sacrament.

The symbol stamped onto the chalices is based on ancient Christian symbols. It’s used by an organization for the teaching  for basically becoming more and more an open vessel through the process of transformation through silent prayer.

  1. The Alpha and Omega: In prayer we open ourselves beyond the boundaries of ourselves in the presence of the transcendent God, who is the beginning and the end of all things, and far beyond.

  2. The cross: The symbol of our salvation, the At-one-ment that comes when we die with Christ to our small, petty selves, alienated from God.

  3. “The flowers symbolize the abundance of life through the resurrection. These flowers represent our letting go, in which our false self gives way to the flowering of the new self in Christ.”

  4. “The open circle is a sign that this is all an ongoing process in prayer, which brings us deeper into Divine Intimacy.”

Now, the chalices themselves, I said we wanted them to have an ancient, elemental feel.

Mary Anne approached the process of making these very thoughtfully and prayerfully.

She has shared that the process of making these chalices became for her became a meditation on the nature of vessels made of clay,

Clay formed into an open container for the free flow of nourishment from our Creator, poured out by grace for any and all, through the vessel of Christ,

Christ who knelt to wash the feet of the weary, free the souls of the troubled, and feed the bellies of the hungry.

This vessel of God’s love so humble and universal that, “what you do to the least of these you do so unto me.”

A vessel of clay holding life giving nourishment for any and all who need.

Mary Anne didn’t ask for much in payment, for these works of art.

And she’s donating what we are giving her to the organization

Humane Borders, motivated by faith and the universal need for kindness, maintains a system of water stations in the Sonoran Desert on routes used by migrants making the perilous journey here on foot. Our primary mission is to save desperate people from a horrible death by dehydration and exposure and to create a just and humane environment in the borderlands. We locate our water stations on government and privately owned land with permission from the landowners.

Founded in the summer of the year 2000, Humane Borders, Inc. is a non-profit corporation run almost exclusively by volunteers. Our focus is strictly humanitarian assistance. Donations to Humane Borders are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law, and we depend upon gifts from individuals and religious groups of all faiths to continue our work.

To end as we began:

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. 

#Christianity #ContemplativePrayer #HolyCommunion #SilentPrayer

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