“To be free is to be totally available to others” Fr. Murray Bordo
In previous blogs, we have considered what is it that brings ultimate purpose and meaning to our lives. This short piece reflects on the “How” to live out a life purpose of love and service to others.
In 1182, Pica Berardone, wife of a successful international merchant, gave birth to a fine Italian son. Groomed by his father to be a man of the world and take over his father’s thriving business, Providence stepped in, and abruptly altered his course and that of Medieval Europe.
Through a self-chosen life of poverty, celibacy, and self-giving, he started a movement that turned the world of that time upside down. To this day, whether religious or not, he is counted as one of the real social heroes in the history of man.
His name was Francis, and he was from Assisi.
This short blog is not meant to detail Francis life or his effect on ours. Many books do this well. (St. Francis of Assisi: G. K. Chesterton)
What I want to do is reflect upon a classic prayer attributed to him or to his contemporary followers – which serves as an expression of the centerpiece of his mode of life.
Lord, make me a channel 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;
and 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.
There are several versions of this prayer, some which say “Instrument.” But I love the word picture of “Channel” and all that the metaphor connotes.
Think of a channel and its purpose. It is designed to contain and direct a substance from its source to its intended use. Think of a water line, or an electrical conduit, or a hydraulic or steam pipe.
For our metaphor, the source and substance in this channel is God, which is Love, and all loves attributes: grace, charity, generosity, encouragement, thoughtfulness, kindness, patience, forgiveness, solidarity, friendliness.
It is my belief today that I am here on this earth to serve as that channel, imperfectly, faltering, but still trying. In acting so, I have an opportunity to receive in life all I desire— desires I was often unaware.
The objective of the substance within the channel—this love, are all who are in my life— family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and anyone God places in my path or on my mind. If you want to know who your neighbor is, read Luke 10:25-37.
Here is the rub: What is the basic problem in a channel or a conduit? Over time, it can build up with contaminants and trash. Think of a person who has a heart attack. It didn’t happen “all of a sudden”. Over time, secretly, unobserved, hard plaque builds up on arterial walls. There are no noticeable symptoms until the build-up reaches a point where the flow of blood is so restricted that the heart goes into distress.
Less dramatic is the plumbing in your home that builds up with trash over time, little by little, until there is no flow. This build-up can be quite a nuisance, and it never happens at a convenient time.
Our souls are just like that. They are made to carry God’s love out to others. Often our source of love and grace came in the guise of a friend doing their job as a good, healthy channel. It now becomes our turn.
But, over time, we allow the contaminants of self and all its manifestations (fear, resentments, pride, anger, jealousy, envy, greed, lust, self-pity, spiritual laziness, gluttony, addictions) into our channel, slowly choking off the flow of love to others, and if left unchecked, we become “Sick of Ourselves”.
This can be life threatening—first spiritually, but also physically. For once that flow is choked off, I find myself no longer receiving fresh love – it has nowhere to go. Life goes gray, then to black, to life-threatening despair.
While this is a dramatic end, many of us do not get there. But all you need to do is take a close look around, listen to words, watch the drooping faces on the trains and buses and in the lines and it is easy to see that we live in a society where most of us are in some state of having choked-up channels.
Staying with this metaphor just a little longer, how can we tell when our channel is getting clogged?
Unlike other material conduits, we do have indicators that tell us when we need to take some action. I call it my “Spiritual Barometer.” Simply stated, am I serene, or am I anxious? Then, try to ascertain if I am anxious, what is the cause. Usually, there is no direct cause, or the cause seems to be a little out of perspective.
It always comes down to one question: Am I relying on my resources at any given moment, or am I relying on a loving God. What is my choice at this moment?
If I am truly relying on God for all things, then I can more easily let go of the anxiety, resentments, pride and all their related baggage.
The source of Love is always there; the faucet is wide open coming in. Our job is to keep our channel clear.
Next week I will reflect on ways of keeping our channel free of obstructions so that we can be of maximum service to our brothers and sisters.
For this week, try to see yourself as God’s channel of love and grace to others. How is your flow today? Is it a trickle, or is it a stream? Is it your prayer to become that channel, and to seek to understand, rather than be understood? To love, to give, to forgive, to console?
Till then, may the peace of God flow through us out to others…