The Writing of “Gardener of Peace”
By Craig Mindrum, Ph.D.
Lord, make me a gardener of your peace.
Where there is hatred, may I sow love.
Where there is injury, healing.
Where there is discord, let there be music.
Where there is falsehood, may I speak truth.
Where there is doubt, help me show faith.
Where there is despair, may I bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me be light.
Where there is sadness, let me be joy.
I want to console as much as I want to be consoled.
I want to understand as much as I want to be understood.
I want to love as much as I want to be loved.
It is in giving that I receive.
It is in losing that I find.
It is in forgiving that I am forgiven.
And it is in the dying of the self
That I am reborn to eternal life.
This is the famous “Peace Prayer” of St. Francis of Assisi, and yet it’s not. How did this version of the prayer—what I call a “poetic reinterpretation”— come about?
First, some background: The “Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi” was actually not written by Francis himself—who lived from about 1181 to 1226 A.D.—but, scholars think, by a French priest in the early part of the twentieth century. Ascribing prayers or even books of the Bible to saints or patriarchs of the Church is a time-honored tradition.
The prayer certainly embodies the spirit of Francis. It is simple and humble, two qualities Francis especially valued. It has a dual focus. It provides guidance for how to live a faithful life, and also speaks to relationships and reconciliation. While acknowledging that any power we have to be effective comes only from God, the prayer demands something of us. It says that having an impact on the world and its sorrows takes work and effort. And it says that reconciliation takes both time and tending. The prayer offers subtle but profound guidance for how to renew our lives and the lives of others.
Since its publication (in about 1915), the “Peace Prayer,” as it came to be known, has become one of the most famous prayers in Christianity. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, for example, made it part of the morning prayers of the religious order she founded. (And you can hear her read her version of the prayer here during her acceptance of the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize.)
The gardening metaphor: A different understanding of cause and effect
I rewrote the first line of the prayer as “Lord, make me a gardener of your peace” more than a decade ago. It came about through an insight that there are two metaphors at work in the original prayer that cannot be easily reconciled.
Consider, after all, how the main movement of the prayer begins. In French, it is: “Là où il y a de la haine, que je mette l'amour.” In English: “Where there is hatred, may I sow love.” “Metter,” in French (pronounced “METT-ay”), is the verb gardeners or farmers would use when going out to “sow” their seeds. That word is then repeated in each line of the first movement of the prayer. (To see the original French version and a literal English translation side by side, see the Appendix.)
“Sowing” is a lovely image, one that recalls Jesus’s parable of the sower, told in the Gospel of Mark—the seed that fell on paths, on rocky places, and on good soil (Mark 4:1-9).
“Sowing” is also a powerful metaphor. It captures a central truth about our lives, one that we are often hesitant to admit: We can sow the seeds of new ideas, of love, or of reconciliation, but we cannot control how those seeds will grow. This sense of limitedness is something Jesus himself acknowledged: All I can do is give you the message. He who has ears, let him hear. Or: those seeds that have found good soil, let them grow.
Given that compelling metaphor of sowing seeds, what is one to make of the very first line of the prayer, and its use of the word “instrument”? In French, “Seigneur, faites de moi un instrument de votre paix.” In English, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” (Some translations change the word “instrument” to “channel.”)
The writer perhaps did not fully appreciate the fact that the two metaphors at play in the text fight against each other. On the one hand, the text uses a mechanistic metaphor—an image of instrumentality, of simple cause and effect. You do X and Y will happen. Then, throughout the rest of the prayer, the text relies on a metaphor that is, almost unarguably, more faithful to the way we actually experience cause and effect in our lives. I can take an action, but I can neither predict nor control all the various consequences of that action.
To me, partly because of my own experience as a gardener, the metaphor of tilling the soil and sowing seeds is an extremely powerful theological image. It is not accidental, for example, that the Book of Genesis has God shaping humans from the earth. The writers of that story, from an agrarian culture, knew full well where life and sustenance come from: from God’s bounty springing from the soil, bounty upon which all animals on the earth in some way depend.
But there is more: the sense of the fragility and unpredictability of it all. One sows seeds, or plants a tree or a bush, without any assurance it will thrive. One works the earth in accordance with the seasons and the rhythms of nature, but under laws that are only partially known and that seem to change in subtle ways over time.
We also must work based on an awareness that the entire notion of human time changes in a garden. We do a great deal of work in the spring and autumn months, for example. There is a limited window in which planting or transplanting can happen. Every gardener at some point learns the unfamiliar way in which “mistakes” get corrected. You have a plant in the wrong place, perennials with too little light, azaleas mysteriously failing to thrive under the sugar maple. The response of the gardener: “I can correct that—next year.”
This sense of time challenges our usual preconceptions of cause and effect. We have to slow down in a garden, and we have to stop trying to impose our will all the time, or to seek dominance and victory. Those intentions will produce only unhappy results, and an unhappy gardener.
The middle part of the prayer also reinforces the sense that our lives must be about the sowing, not trying to harvest results for our own reward or self-aggrandizement. Our call when it comes to reconciliation is not to harvest success, because success is not ours to decide. Our job, instead, is to spread the seeds. And, in lines that seem almost Zen-like, the way we are filled is by emptying ourselves; we receive by giving something away. We are consoled by consoling; we are understood only through the effort of understanding others; we are loved when we become loving. In giving we receive; in losing we find; in pardoning we are pardoned.
The Gardener of Peace Project
Shortly after writing my translation (or, better, a “translocution”—saying something in a different way) I shared it with my close friend Reinhard Ziegler, who I have known for more than 20 years. During his career, Reinhard has been a corporate consultant (as am I), as well as a teacher both in educational and church settings. Throughout his career he has also been a practicing artist.
For many years we talked about some sort of cooperative endeavor working with the “Gardener of Peace.” We spoke first about a book that would combine the text with his photos, though neither of us was particularly inspired by that idea. But the seed had been sowed in our hearts and minds, and we waited for something to sprout.
Now something has indeed sprouted. Through Reinhard’s non-profit organization, The Vessel (which he co-founded with his wife, Lori Lovelace), the seed of a poem has grown into the “Gardener of Peace: In Pursuit of Reconciliation project” (www.reconcile.world). The project is wide-ranging, but at its heart, it engages people face-to-face with the poem/prayer and asks them what parts of it particularly resonate. Where in their lives are they seeking reconciliation? Participants then pose for portraits, and are videoed as they speak about the prayer through the lens of their lives.
As Reinhard worked with the prayer during early interviews, he felt that it somehow did not resonate with people as much as he would have liked. He encouraged me to think of rewriting the prayer in a way that would bring its concepts to life. After several iterations, the poetic reinterpretation now at the heart of the Gardener of Peace Project emerged from the soil. I confess that my scholarly background initially resisted a version that strayed too far from the original source, so I need to thank Reinhard for gently persisting based on his intuition about the prayer’s words and how they could touch hearts more deeply.
A final story: I struggled with the last line of the prayer. In most English translations, it runs, “It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” It’s a line that seems at odds with the relentless “presentness” of the prayer. The Peace Prayer is about a call to live each day according to the reality of our spiritual lives and the reality of our limitations: to sow God’s seeds, knowing that whether they grow or not depends not on us, but on the quality of the soil on which they fall … and, of course, on God’s sun and rain which, to borrow another of Jesus’s important insights about the basic reality of our lives, is given to both the evil and the good, the just and the unjust. To the flowers we want, and to the weeds that we do not. (“Worthiness” is a complex subject, in a garden.)
The resolution of the problem came in two stages. First, one part of the answer revealed itself, having waited patiently for me to see it. The verb in the original text, I finally had eyes to see, is not “to be born” (naître); it is “ressusciter”—to be reborn.
Yes, exactly right. The death referred to at the end of the prayer can be understood as the one we all will face some day: the death of our physical bodies. But it is also one that occurs—or that can occur—each day: the death of trying to impose our own will on the world and the death of the illusion of our separateness. This was the second stage of the resolution: It is the death of the self that allows us to be reborn—to see that we are always and already living in eternity.
In one version of the prayer, then, I rewrote the last line as “It is in the dying of the self that we are reborn to eternal life.”
For a reason I no longer remember, I eventually dropped that line and went back to “It is in dying that we are reborn.”
But recently, as Reinhard and I were chatting about the evolution of the prayer/poem, he said to me (I am not making this up), “You know, the end of the prayer really isn’t only about the death of the body. It’s really about the death of the self.” You can see in the result that I restored that line and that interpretation.
May we all one day tap into the Power that helps us die and be reborn. And may the greatest leaders among us become Gardeners of Peace.
Below is a literal translation of the Peace Prayer, along with the original French text.
Seigneur, faites de moi un instrument de votre paix.
Là où il y a de la haine, que je mette l'amour.
Là où il y a l'offense, que je mette le pardon.
Là où il y a la discorde, que je mette l'union.
Là où il y a l'erreur, que je mette la vérité.
Là où il y a le doute, que je mette la foi.
Là où il y a le désespoir, que je mette l'espérance.
Là où il y a les ténèbres, que je mette votre lumière.
Là où il y a la tristesse, que je mette la joie.
Ô Maître, que je ne cherche pas tant à être consolé qu'à consoler,
à être compris qu'à comprendre,
à être aimé qu'à aimer.
Car c'est en donnant qu'on reçoit,
c'est en s'oubliant qu'on trouve,
c'est en pardonnant qu'on est pardonné,
c'est en mourant
qu'on ressuscite à l'éternelle vie.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, may I sow love.
Where there is injury, may I sow pardon.
Where there is discord, may I sow unity.
Where there is falsehood, may I sow truth.
Where there is doubt, may I sow faith.
Where there is despair, may I sow hope.
Where there is darkness, may I sow your light.
And where there is sadness, may I sow joy.
O Master, may I 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 losing that we find;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
It is in dying
That we are reborn to eternal life.