Friday, January 23, 2009

The truth behind the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis, probably the most loved of all Christian saints, was born as Francis Bernadone, in Assisi, Italy, in 1181 or 1182. A remarkable prayer has been commonly attributed to him, called simply the Prayer of St. Francis. As one might expect, there are a few variations of it, and this is one:

Lord, make me an instrument of thy 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;
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;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.

This version was taught to me by my meditation teacher, Eknath Easwaran. Sri Easwaran had a deep love for St. Francis. I suspect it was Sri Easwaran who added the words "to self" in the last line—no doubt to emphasize the idea that eternal life means mystical union with the divine, as opposed to the idea of spending eternity in heaven.

The NY Times today reported that this prayer is not believed to have come directly from St. Francis, a fact widely understood within certain circles of the Catholic Church. In fact, no one knows for sure who exactly wrote it. It was very likely inspired by St. Francis's life, and some of his phrases might be reflected in it, but he didn't write it.

When I first heard this news from Fr. Michael McGarry, when staying at Tantur in 2006, I was initially somewhat shocked. On Sri Easwaran's recommendations, it was my first meditation passage. I imagined that St. Francis himself had composed it based on his own experiences living the best life he possibly could.

In time, I concluded it didn't matter who wrote it. It remains one of the most stunningly inspiring religious passages we have available to us in the modern world. It's direct and to the point, from the first line to the last. It's an especially powerful passage to turn to when struggling to be good among difficult people who in their ignorance are behaving badly. And it is faithful to St. Francis's life. The real truth behind this prayer is that it speaks of the truth of humanity's highest ideals.

Shortly before my mother died, she and I watched the marvelous film on St. Francis's life, "Brother Sun, Sister Moon". She was moved by it. I read out the prayer at her funeral. I very much hope it will be a part of my life till the day I die.

Two pieces of good news from the U.S.

Great news! President Obama seems to be making good on his promise to close the Guantánamo Bay prison complex. This is a victory for human rights campaigners—and ultimately a victory for those who seek to make the world a safer place in which to live.

Equally important, to my mind, is an observation from PepsiCo manager Bryan Lembke: "If you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it". He was referring to PepsiCo's initiative to measure the carbon footprint generated by the production of their orange juice. He is absolutely correct. I applaud the people responsible for undertaking this initiative within the company for their work in this area, and I hope it is the one of a series many meaningful steps to improve the sustainability of their industry.

If Mr. Lembke's simple observation was applied more widely, fantastic changes for the better could be made. I have long believed that measuring economic performance by primarily relying on GDP (or GNP) is foolish and dangerous. Wonderful alternatives to exist that can be used to help societies more wisely measure socioeconomic wellbeing. Many are outlined here.

Friday, January 09, 2009

New websites

Today I launched two new websites. The first is the beginnings of my personal website:

The second site relates to a free and open source software project I have been working on for some time:

They're both currently rather modest, but I hope that changes in time! For instance, I plan to put links to my academic research on my personal site.