A Radical's Prayer

*This is a transcript of a talk given on 2/18/07 at the Unitarian Church of Pittsfield, MA

The past few times I've been here I've spoken to you about some of the difficulties life brings us, and I've shared some of my own struggles with you.
One of the themes that these talks have shared is that there is often a gift to be found in difficulty, pain and loss.

The prayer that I'll be talking about this morning is one of the gifts I discovered during one of those times in my own life.
Had I not been going through a tough time I seriously doubt I would have been willing to try something like prayer. Especially a prayer by a Catholic saint!

But life is funny…sometimes “ha-ha” funny, and sometimes just plain ironic in what it brings to you…or what it brings you to!
The source for this suggestion was unlikely, my friend Pete. Not exactly a religious kind of guy. But he'd had a good deal of his own troubles, and these had led him to a spiritual awakening. And this prayer had played a part in it for him, so he recommended it to me.

As with so many things that have been good for me in my life, I resisted… at first. The idea of reading a formal prayer - any formal prayer-was not at the
top of my list of things I wanted to do. I don't know, maybe it was all those years of catholic schooling, but when it came to saying a prayer, my attitude was, “been there-done that-didn't work”

And because I'd gone to Catholic school I automatically assumed I knew this prayer. But then I thought to myself, what the hell, why not give it a shot. After all, what did I have to lose except a few minutes of my time?

So I got a copy and read it. Here's what it says:

Lord, make me a channel of thy peace;
that where there is hatred, I may bring love;
that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness;
that where there is discord, I may bring harmony;
that where there is error, I may bring truth;
that where there is doubt, I may bring faith;
that where there is despair, I may bring hope;
that where there are shadows, I may bring light;
that where there is sadness, I may bring joy.
Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted;
to understand, than to be understood;
to love, than to be loved.
For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.
It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.

If I'd seen or heard this prayer before it had never registered with me. It was brand new as far as I was concerned.

Life's like that sometimes -we don't really hear something until it's time for us to hear it. Who knows? I may have been exposed to this prayer
a thousand times back in school. But if I was, it just never “clicked”. As the saying goes, the teacher appears when the student is ready.

What I find absolutely remarkable is that this prayer manages to convey in 135 words a formula for living that will not only improve your life, but by making
an effort to live by the things it asks, you'll help make this world a better place. I consider this prayer a template for living.

Even if you have no desire whatsoever to live a spiritual life, it'll help you live a happier life. Why is that? Simple: What you put out - comes back to you! It's the law of cause and effect. And the “effect” generated by the things this prayer asks you to become, “affects” your life!

This message, “what we give -we get” transcends cultural barriers, and variations of it can be found in all religious texts-east & west.

Emerson said: “That which dominates our imaginations and thoughts will determineour lives, and character.” I guarantee you that If you allow this prayer to seep into your consciousness, it will change you.

Now I called this morning's talk “A Radical's Prayer”. I thought that might appeal to some of the radicals among you.

But that was only a secondary consideration. Because the truth is that Francis of Assisi was a radical; a true radical for the time he lived in. And were he here among us today, that label would still fit! He was a committed pacifist and peace activist, an environmentalist and an animal right's activist.

In 1219, in the midst of the Crusades, Francis and a few companions went on a pilgrimage of non-violence to Egypt.
His hope was to open up a dialogue between the Muslims and Christians. Sounds
like we could use Francis now, doesn't it? He did get to meet with one of their leaders, a Sultan named Melek-el-Kamel. But
when he returned to talk with the Christians they wanted to kill him-they believed he was a heretic and traitor.

The Sultan intervened and saved Francis by letting them know that Francis had tried to convert he and his men to Christianity.
Apparently, even if he'd not been impressed with Christianity, the Sultan had been impressed with Francis.

I learned a lot of things about him as I prepared this talk. I learned that in his earlier years he'd led a life of privilege and came from a rich family; his
father had been a successful and prominent businessman. Francis had been a guy who liked to enjoy himself- today we call it “partying” - he was known for his
drinking, gambling, and womanizing.

But then, as is so often the case in life, “something happened.” He became seriously ill, and during that time he had a spiritual experience or awakening
of some kind. When he recovered, he turned his back on the wealth and the family business, and took a vow of poverty, dedicating his life to peace and
service to humanity.

He'd made a decision to follow another radical-perhaps the most “radical” radical of all time, Jesus.

By the way, Francis' father was not too keen about this idea, so he took him to their local church so the monsignor could talk some sense to him.
But Francis was not impressed. While his father and the monsignor looked on in disbelief, Francis removed his clothes-which to him represented wealth and
privilege. And he walked out of the church and away from his former life, starting his new life just as he had started his original life: buck naked.

I learned that he even wrote songs; songs whose lyrics sound amazingly Native American, maybe even Pantheistic.

In one of them, “The Canticle of the Sun”..... (spelled S-U-N ) he acknowledges the elements and nature as expressions of the Divine. He uses the words
“Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon”, as he gives thanks for the beauty of the heavens and the gifts they give to the earth.
He also gives thanks for “Brother's Wind and Air, Clouds and Storms” for helping to sustain the animals and the earth.
“Sister Water, and “Brother Fire” are also thanked, and he ends this all by praising “Mother Earth” for nurturing her children.

I could imagine a Navajo or Lakota singing such words. But a 13th century European Christian from Italy? Hardly

The reason I selected this prayer for today's reading was because I wanted to give you all a chance to take it in-to listen with your heart-to
have a few minutes to quietly reflect on what it's saying-and what it may be saying to you.

This prayer is not only “food” for thought; it is “soul” food. Like many other prayers it opens with a request, but there it veers off the
usual path. This prayer is not asking to “get” anything. Instead it's asking that we who are praying it become a channel. And the first thing we're asking to channel is

What might this request do for your day? And then the prayer asks that we may bring the following into the world: Love,
Forgiveness, Harmony, Truth, Hope, Light, Joy…
In each case, whenever the opposites of any of these things are present, we're asking in this prayer that we may bring their spiritual remedy.
In the face of hatred, we ask that we may bring the power of love despite, or maybe even because, of this hatred.
In the face of judgment and retribution, we ask to be a presence for healing and forgiveness.

When we're surrounded by darkness-whether it be ignorance, vengeance, prejudice, fear-whatever it's source-
that in those times we may be the carriers of light.
In practically all of the world's spiritual texts light is a representation for a higher truth, awareness or consciousness.
To shed light on something often reveals the truth that has been hidden.

So, through this prayer, we're asking that when we're confronted with any kind of darkness, we don't add to that darkness.
Instead we bring the light of reason, compassion, love and hope.
In my opinion our world needs all the light it can get, so it needs as many channels as possible.

And then this wonderful prayer takes us further, into unfamiliar territory, as we ask a very unnatural thing:
That we may understand rather than be understood, comfort rather than be comforted,
and love rather than be Loved.

I call this unfamiliar territory because for every person the desire to be understood is so very important!!

Yet here, we are willing to put that aside as we attempt to do our best to understand another human being-even if they don't have a clue about us.
We ask anyway - even if we don't particularly like them. As a matter of fact, some of the people we like the least may actually be our
greatest Spiritual teachers. We acknowledge that it is more important that we do our best to understand then to have them understand us.

Jewish philosopher Martin Buber devoted much of his life to opening up dialogue and communication between adversaries because he believed that understanding
can turn an enemy into a friend.

Has anyone here seen the film ' Joyeaux Noel'? It's based on a true story that happened during the First World War when an unexpected Christmas truce occurred
between some of the troops. These men who'd only hours before had been shooting at one another began exchanging pictures of loved ones, sharing food, and
playing soccer. When this truce ended the men found they could no longer shootat one another and these units had to be disbanded and the men shipped to other
outfits. Some of the officers were Court martialed for fraternizing and giving comfort to the enemy.

Have you ever been with someone who is suffering some terrible heartache or grief? Or been with someone who has a serious disease-maybe even dying? In
this prayer we ask that we may be a source of comfort for those suffering. This might call us to step beyond our own comfort zone. After all, in the face
of suffering we are powerless. Or so we think. We worry that we don't know what to say or to do.

But in this prayer we ask that we may comfort. This prayer urges us to “show-up”. All we have to do is show up and become willing to open our
hearts…and our ears. Sometimes listening is the most amazing source of comfort. We stop trying to say the “right thing”.

Sometimes there is no “right thing” to say. After all, what do you say to a 43 year old who knows they're dying? Just be there- that's all. And believe me,
many times that is enough. Being present for another human being is a gift you are giving to them. Comfort rather than be comforted.

And this brings us to the request that we be willing to love, rather than to be loved. Again, this would seem to go against the grain for us. Being loved is so
important -we all want it. Now this prayer is not suggesting you enter into (or stay in) a crazy, co-dependently sick relationship; one where you constantly give your love to someone who only takes.

Sure, you may rationalize this, saying that you're really being “spiritual” because, after all, it's more important to "love than to be loved."
But you're not being spiritual- you're being used. And you're promoting and enabling an unhealthy relationship. No one wins in this kind of situation.

The truth is that Love must always, always, start within you - and it has to be for yourself before it can ever be available to anyone else.
We absolutely cannot give what we do not have. Period! So, to “love rather than be loved” speaks first to you: and then it will spread
out from you! And this is Love, not narcissism -don't mistake learning to love yourself with self-centeredness and self-indulgence.

Those actually represent a lack of love we feel for ourselves. That's why we try to fill our self with “stuff”.
Much of our consumer driven economy counts on this. When we are in the presence of people who love, we can feel it. And we usually
feel good around them. They attract us to them, but it's the love that's doing the attracting.

The prayer ends with a statement, containing both a great spiritual truth and a promise: It is by self forgetting that we find, by forgiving that we are
forgiven, and that by dying we gain eternal life.

A few moments ago I said to you that what we put out, comes back to us.

Everything in this prayer is yours to give as well as yours to receive, because in truth giving and receiving are two sides of the same action.
The more you use this prayer, the more these qualities have an opportunity to become a part of you. This prayer can be like a compass for your life.

I will make to you the same recommendation that Pete made to me. Get a copy of this prayer and start your day with it-everyday. Read it slowly and out loud.
Let your subconscious mind hear your voice saying these things. Commit to doing it for a month. See what happens-what have you got to lose-a
few minutes a day? I think you may find it worth it.

The man who this prayer is named for was a radical, and the changes this prayer can bring to your life and our world is every bit as radical as he was…maybe
even more so.

Thank you.