Finding answers while mowing the lawn

A well-worn statue, a national rallying cry, and my dad’s illegal prayer.

Dear Friends:

I just mowed my lawn. Which means I just silently prayed The Prayer of St. Francis.

Let me explain. A few years ago, a neighbor retiring to Florida was debating what to do with his 75-pound statue of St. Francis of Assisi. The movers were charging him by the pound and frankly the statue was a little worn. (See photo.) I said, “I’ll take it and put it in a place of honor in my backyard.” Problem solved.

Ever since then, just about every time I mow the lawn, I think about the famous words of that pretty cool guy from the 13th Century. If you don’t know them, you should.

Lord, make me an instrument 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.
Amen.

Profound, huh? Now think about that prayer in context of what’s going on here in 2020. What if we all responded to injury with pardon? Saw despair and gave hope. Dispelled darkness with light. What if we proactively consoled, loved, and sought to really understand? What if that prayer became a national rallying cry?

Now here’s where the story takes another twist.

I actually welcomed that statue as a way to honor my dad who had recently passed away. He was a long-time fan of St. Francis, and — growing up — we had a similar statue in our backyard.

Ken Payleitner was also an elementary school principal during the era when prayer in public schools was beginning to stir up some controversy. (Now it’s not even an option.)

Back in those days, my dad really wanted to share The Prayer of St. Francis with his teachers and students, but he wasn’t one to rock the boat. So he did something even better. He changed a few words and hung that prayer just outside his office. The plaque, which remained there unchallenged for more than twenty years, went something like this:

Help me work for 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.

Help me 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 when I leave this world, help me have an impact that lasts forever.
                                                                        by Francis of Assisi

Don’t worry, the ACLU never filed suit. But I’m proud to say visitors to the principal’s office in that public school saw a prayer that stood the test of time. And, I believe, can still make a difference.

In his corner of the world, Principal Kenneth Payleitner really did work for peace. I’m hoping to do the same. How about you? How about passing this on?

By the way, The Prayer of Agur (Proverbs 30:8-9) is also a valuable prayer for such a time as this.

Be well,
/jay

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