My first introduction to the idea of an instrument was when I first learned about the Mathematical Set for school - "math set," for short. It was a very popular educational kit among students in grade school. For some, it was more like a rite of passage. I don’t remember ever seeing one in the United States but among children in former British colonies, it still is very popular.
A math set a rectangular shaped aluminum container which holds the following instruments: 17 cm pencil, 15 cm clear plastic ruler, Alphabet and numeric stencils, Lab instrument stencils, Metal divider compass, 180° protractor, 45° set square, 60°, sharpener, eraser and useful fact sheet. Every kid in my class had one for their maths lessons. Although it was a proud moment for each kid, it didn’t take long for kids to begin losing the instruments.
Looking back, what was fascinating about the math set was the different types of instruments contained within. Each had a different name, was shaped differently and functioned differently but each was an instrument, nonetheless. And each of us, you and I are instruments too. St Francis’ prayer was that we may be instruments of peace, not the kind of peace which the world cannot give, but God’s peace. That peace which surpasses human understanding. Men and women - instruments - of goodwill must work for that peace.
A few days ago, the members of The Spiritual Life Commission held their annual meeting to prayerfully consider our parish theme for the coming year which begins in September. The theme that the Commission settled on is Be an Instrument of God’s Peace. This is part of the Prayer of St. Francis. I was moved by the desire of members to consider the state of our individual lives, our communities, our nation, and our world - the state of our math set - and to invite us, those who are born instruments, to now BE instruments.
I do not think Francis was talking about the math set with his prayer. But I think he was talking about the role each instrument in a math set can play - the one role that you play as an instrument. Let's imagine that the world is a math set, and we are all instruments in a math set, different instruments, yet useful in creating a kind of world that engenders and flourishes in peace.
So, St. Francis prays:
Make me a channel of your peace
Where there is hatred let me bring your love
Where there is injury, your pardon Lord
And where there is doubt true faith in You
Where there is despair in life let me bring hope
Where there is darkness only light
And where there's sadness ever joy
Oh, Master grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console
To be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love with all my soul
The reality is that God will not come down and make peace for us... instruments like you and me must be that peace, and we must work for that peace. God has already provided us with the means by which we can achieve that peace.
There’s a story of a husband who went to see a doctor with this complaint: “Doc,” he said, “I think my wife is going deaf.”
The doctor gave it some thought and said, “I need to understand the extent of the problem, so go home and try talking to her at different distances, from 20 feet to 10 feet, but remember to keep your voice at the same volume each time.”
So, the man went home and immediately started the experiment. First, he stood 20 feet away from the wife who was washing dishes by the sink and asked in an even voice, “Honey, what’s for dinner?”
He heard no response. He moved closer to 18 feet and tried again.
“Honey, what’s for dinner?”
Still no answer.
He inched closer still... 15 feet.
“Honey, what’s for dinner?”
“Honey, what’s for dinner?”
Finally, the man came and stood directly behind his wife and asked in a clear voice, “Honey, what’s for dinner?”
His wife turned away from the sink and glared at her husband. “Like I told you four times already, we’re having chicken. Are you growing deaf?”
If I were to ask you what is wrong with our society, your list would include some of the following: erosion of values, failures of our systems, destruction of the family unit, discrimination, gun violence, racism, failing schools, corruption, injustice, unfair practices in the workplace, inadequate housing, poverty, and a host of others, not least a challenging economy.
It is interesting how we blame others for all our problems. But if we insist that it is someone else’s fault, then it stands to reason that we must wait for that someone to change their behavior before problems can be solved. But if we are to assume full responsibility for the problems created by ourselves and by others, then the only person who must change for our problems to be solved is YOU - God’s instrument.
St. Augustine, one of the Early Church fathers wrote a treatise, the City of God. In it, Augustine presents two visions of human life: one that accepts the place of disaster, death, and disappointment, while the other holds out hope of a better life and therefore provides a sense of direction in the world. In chapter 19, especially, he writes about peace and makes the claim that all creatures, even wild animals desire to have peace. He further writes the following: “Those in the City of God are active in their pursuit of peace with fellow man (woman), regardless of the fellow man’s (woman’s) religion or philosophy.” Being active is making yourself a useful instrument in the pursuit of peace without any recourse to barriers.
The point St. Augustine seeks to make is one where the burden is on the instruments in the City of God, those whose eyes are set on the eternal good, to use earthly and temporal things to achieve that particular end - the good.
See, "The man of faith, of energy, of warmth…steps in and does something.” Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo. He also wrote that “Many painters are afraid of a blank canvas, but a blank canvas is afraid of the truly passionate painter who dares-and who has once broken the spell of ‘you can’t.’”
Can you be that painter who isn’t afraid of the canvas?
A man or woman of faith is God’s painter - let the world be your canvas because you can paint beautiful pictures that evoke serenity and point us towards that City of God.
A man or woman of faith is God’s instrument - let the world be your math set because you are capable of the good that can turn the world around.
Be that instrument that only seeks to build peace... that seeks only the eternal good.