I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Richard Bruxvoort Colligan’s reflection on a St. Francis Life.
Lord, Make Me…
You Franciscans out there will likely complete that sentence “…an instrument (or a channel) of your peace.”
If you’re hungry, you might finish the sentence with “… a sandwich, please.”
I’ve been wondering recently– deeply wondering– if such a life as St. Francis’ is possible.
As his famous prayer goes:
God, make me a channel of your peace
flowing from your river.
I grew up in Minnesota, U.S.A. as part of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Through various seasons of life, I’ve been a faithful fundamentalist, agnostic, process panentheist, progressive contemplative and other pigeonholing names. Ha! As I’ve felt my personal theology evolve over my 50-year lifetime, I’ve also noticed how the fiercely gentle, peace-centered Way of Christ has thrived. So I know in my bones that yes, such a life as St. Francis’ is indeed possible.
But is it possible now? In me? In us?
Consider with me what it looks like to be this kind of monk in the world.
Where there is hate, we plant love
As news of terrorism arrives from around the world, we are shocked, outraged and disappointed at our species’ capacity for violence. As many of our neighbors here in the U.S. feel vulnerable because of President Trump’s policies, across the planet, people have anger and fear about a great many things. Sometimes our anger and fear find enzymes to make hatred. Sometimes for good reasons.
What does it look like to plant love in the same soil where there is not merely dislike, but hate, hostility and violence?
It looks different on all of us. We might resist hatred by being kind to the new waitress who is learning. We might protest alongside someone invisible to society or engage more deeply in citizen advocacy, making explicitly known our desire for change. We might fast from social media and news outlets for a time so bad news doesn’t take root in our attention. We might recommit to the great loves of our life. We plant seeds.
Thanks to St. Francis, farmer of love for showing us what’s possible.
Where there is hurt, we plant forgiveness.
I was mad at my pastor (who is also my friend) last week. Took me a few minutes to settle down and let it go. Nothing big– it was clearly my issue, not his. Forgiveness– or better, an understanding of mutual mercy between us– was planted years ago as we began to know one another and became assured that as we eased slowly out of our initial boring politeness, neither of us is perfect.
It’s rare that forgiveness eclipses pain or is a magical “forgive and forget” thing. More often maybe, the generosity of pardon comes as a bewildering grace that distracts the eye of Sauron from destruction. (Nerdy Tolkien reference alert!) While we’re intent on other things, a seed of forgiveness can break its stem through the soil with a Springtime song. Whether we’re giving or receiving grace, every moment of forgiveness is a miracle.
Like that teensy mustard seed in Jesus’ parable, what can grow is a big, bushy thing so large it becomes a home for other beings to thrive.
Where there is doubt, we plant faith.
This is a tough one because for me doubt is such a delicious, life-giving nutrient.
In fact, as often as not, my job as a musical artist is to cultivate wonder amid confidence, questions among certainties.
If I could sit down to supper with St. Francis, this might be my second question: What is this faith that is against doubt? (The first being how he feels about his likeness in garden statues). I have a feeling in response he would sing of the sun, moon, trees and butterflies all in their places, and with a smile, continue preaching to the birds and squirrels.
I wonder if he’d say it this way: Where there is isolation, we plant seeds of trust. Amid the angst of private unknowns, we intend interconnection.
And where there is despair, we plant hope.
As a survivor of clinical depression and someone who is grateful for antidepressant meds, I have great respect for despair. And an honest-to-God awe for hope.
In Jesus’ parable, great, generous handfuls of seed were flung among fierce weeds, on rocky ground, near hungry birds. They were given opportunity among the circumstances of greed, overwhelm and burnout.
We proclaim evidence of hope when we leave behind a tiny thing in the soil, a word in conversation, a comment on social media, a look deep in the eyes of one you love, a song in the woods heard only by trees, insects and the creek.
Is a Francis life possible? As monks in the world, we plant seeds every moment of every season.
Richard Bruxvoort Colligan is a freelance psalmist in Strawberry Point, Iowa, U.S.A. His recent song, “God, Make Me a Channel” was commissioned by the Abbey and has been translated into seven languages.