Smoke colored clouds hug the world today. My neighborhood is slightly brighter than yesterday with its rain clouds and mud puddles. The ground is drying up a bit. I try to create a place for myself that feels zen. But sitting in my dirty gray chair, I can’t help but notice the yellowed curtains and scratched up windowsill from the dogs that were, once upon a time, supposed to make me happy. I spend most of my morning trying to get Marley to shut up as she incessantly barks at dogs out the front window. I’ve already cleaned up a puddle of pee. I have a headache pulsing in the corner of my left eye. One glass of wine too many last night. If there is a thing called Xi, then mine is certainly not centered.
A month or so ago I decided to buy a book about Mother Theresa and today I finally made time to read it. I’ve always been intrigued by this unassuming woman who committed her life to teaching and serving. Even though I don’t claim faith in her Lord, there must be something to be gleaned from her life. Her words are not in narrative form, just a collection of quotes and prayers. After reading through a few pages that talked a lot about being holy like Jesus, I was paused by a prayer. The words were not her own, rather it was a prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:
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 may I not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
because it is in giving that we receive,
in pardoning that we are pardoned.
These words encouraged me, a Christian prayer that I might believe in. But for some reason, the word “Lord” got stuck on my tongue. It felt strange praying to “someone” when I wasn’t sure “someone” in particular was listening. Yes, I want to be an instrument of peace. Yes, I want to sow love, pardon, faith, hope, light, and joy. Yet I don’t know how to pray this prayer for myself without believing in Jesus. This is a very common feeling for me lately…I don’t know what to call “God” and I don’t know if I’m offending others if I call out to him/her/it singularly. I can see the heads of my Christian friends waggle back and forth. That poor lost soul…
In order to still try it, I just omitted the personal salutations. ________, make me an instrument of peace. It still felt funky, but at least I could make it through the first line. After silently speaking the words of this beautiful prayer, I looked around my room. These past few years, my husband and I have done a lot of dreaming. Living in a someday mind, saying I want this, I want that. Not in a four year old way. But in a middle class, late twenties, American way. (Pinterest doesn’t exactly help this cause.) The prayer says that “it is in giving that we receive,” suggesting that all this dreaming and buying will not really satisfy the roots to the wants that exist. We want something intangible. It’s called happiness, beauty and peace. The Pottery Barn catalogue suggests that the white pillow with the embroidered aqua bird on it will bring us these feelings. But the pillow itself is not the vehicle for those feelings to enter your life. (I know I’m not saying anything new here…)
Back to Mother Theresa, this woman didn’t sit around and dream about what she wanted or what she should do with her life. She simply was present and ready. While the words want, want, want floated around my head I quickly realized that I need to change those words to be, be, be. If I can just be present and on this page here in my proverbial book of life, rather than peeking five chapters ahead, I could probably enjoy the story a little better. And if I’m in this moment, I might actually see the opportunities for giving and sowing love just like St. Francis prayed.
I often think that giving is purely financial. (Probably due to the existence of a recommended 10% tithe every Sunday for twenty-some years of my life.) In efforts to not freak out about my budget immediately, I decided to think about ways that I can give of myself. I already have a job that is service oriented. But lately my mind has been elsewhere, leaving me unmotivated and stagnant in my growth as an educator. So I need to figure that out and try to be a bit more “present” while I’m at work. Rather than dreaming of what to make for dinner and looking forward to my lunch break when I can check my Facebook.
Another thing I should probably consider is how I can “give” to my friends and family. I need to take time to make calls, check in and see how I can help. Mike’s friend just found out that his daughter’s cancer has returned. She’s four and has already had chemotherapy once. She just got her port out a few months ago and now she has to do the whole damn thing again. My heart breaks for her and her parents. I find myself closing my eyes and praying how can we help every day. Have I called? Nope, but I sure as hell have spent hours on the internet looking at “someday” properties. I need a serious priorities check.
I tried praying this morning to figure out the answer to what we should do. But I got tripped up on those “God” words again. Then I realized something pretty profound (if I do say so myself…). Maybe I need to stop talking and just listen. Listening is not my forte. Back when I was a Christian, I loathed “listening to God” because I didn’t really believe there was a guy hanging out waiting to “tell” me what to do. So my listening often turned to me making “God” say things in my head. Today, I don’t really think some divine epiphany is going to come to me. But I do think that I have a pretty good head on my shoulders and if I could just be I might have enough space in my brain to process an answer. This means I need to clear out some future plans space that sucks my brain energy (man, that sounds really sci-fi). Or in super hippy, yogi terms…try to clear out the negative energy so there’s room for positive energy.
I’m going to try to make the prayer fit me…
I need to be present. So I can be an instrument of peace for those I encounter every day, whether loved ones or strangers. Where there is hatred let me sow love; where there is injury, care; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. I need to be present. So that I don’t so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. Because it is in giving that we receive happiness, beauty and peace.
There, that’s better.
© 2012 D. Willson