Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Becoming Peaceful

I’ve seen all the interviews and news footage of the stuff going on in Ferguson, Missouri after the shooting of Michael Brown.  And I’ve also seen the facebook posts of one of my friends, the newly ordained pastor of Oak Hill Presbyterian in St Louis, Missouri in her first week on the job.  So there are more than one way to look at what’s going on.  But there is one concept that all sides agree:  We need a little peace in our hearts.  We need to consider the words of St Francis of Assisi:

Lord, help me bring peace to all I meet
where there is hatred, let me bring love
where there is sadness, let me bring joy
where there is darkness, let me bring light
where there is doubt, let me bring faith

Lord, help me to 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 forgiving, that we are forgiven
it is in dying that we are born again

My pastor friend has posted a message to anyone who wants to help the people in Ferguson that the best way they can help is to pray. And her other advice is to work for a healthy community where you live. Both of those issues are addressed in St. Francis’ prayer.

I’ve come to appreciate this prayer and find it useful in just about any situation. Including the whole Back to School transition.

My daughter and I have a thing we like to do twice a year:  the night before the first day of school and Christmas Eve.

It started two or three years ago when we were sitting around on Christmas Eve feeling very self-satisfied because we had finished.  Everything:  Gifts…food…cards…phone calls.  We were on top of Christmas.  We had a couple of hours before church would start.  I suggested we go to Walmart  just for the hell of it, just to gloat over our great accomplishment. To remind ourselves that we were great and all the other people in the store were not.

I’ll admit this wasn’t the most Christian of attitudes to have the night we celebrate the Prince of Peace and Lamb of God. 

Now, the thing you need to know about my daughter is that she is terribly intimidated by crowds.  Where I embrace the mass of humanity like long-lost relatives, Emily wishes she could hide in the corner.  So she will often pause there in the parking lot and run through a couple of Serenity prayers and a St. Francis before she even gets out of the car.

And that day, reciting the prayer, our whole visit changed.  We decided that instead of gloating we would walk through the store praying for the shoppers, all those people we intended to claim superiority over would instead become cherished recipients of our love. We would become instruments of God’s peace.

We divided the store between us:  I would take the beer aisle and the baby department.  She would take the toy aisle and the “last resort” aisle where they stock cheese baskets and toiletries as gifts for grandmothers who don’t need anything.

It was one of the most spiritual things I’ve ever done.  I didn’t need a cart since I wasn’t going to buy anything.  I just walked around with my hands in my pockets, with no deadline or pressure; silently praying for the folks I saw, who I knew might have a tense day tomorrow.  The people who might drink too much for a variety of reasons, or people who were about to spend money they didn’t have for things nobody needed. It was a little bit like being a secret agent or a spy.  Nobody could possibly know what we were doing.  Likewise, we would never know if it made any difference.

It killed the afternoon and felt a lot better than gloating.  

We’ve done it a couple more times since then and have added the night before school starts.  If you have never seen the shoe aisle in Target the night before school starts you might look at some old newsreel footage of D Day to get the general idea.

So this is my word for you today:  Take St Francis with you this week.  Write his prayer on a piece of paper.  For the next seven days keep that paper with you wherever you go.  Give some thought to the people living in Ferguson, Missouri or the families starting a new school year.  It might make a difference.  It might not.  But we’ll never really know, will we?


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