Perhaps the most famous composition connected to St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) is the beautiful “Peace Prayer of St. Francis.” Curiously, the prayer has no actual link to the saint, not appearing in print until some seven centuries after his death. Apparently first published anonymously in 1912, the prayer was not attributed to Francis until 1927. Since that time, it has circulated widely in the English-speaking world in different versions and translations. Some versions are even slightly longer than others, adding additional lines of text.
These types of issues, which tend to plague all searches for religious purity (textual or otherwise), also highlight why adapting and borrowing from spiritual traditions can be an appropriate endeavor for Nones. Regardless of the prayer’s history, it has some beautiful and inspiring sentiments. Although some of its metaphysical content may be misguided, there appears to be little doubt that the world would be a better place if more attention were paid to its ethical ideals. Furthermore, meditative prayer has shown signs of providing psychological benefits in research studies—and there is no reason to think that certain aspects of prayer cannot be adopted by those with a vaguely spiritual or non-supernatural view of reality.
So, use the Prayer of St. Francis—even if it was not written by St. Francis, even if it was misattributed, even if its texts and its translations differ. Here is my own suggested adaptation:
Let me be an instrument of peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, pardon.
Where there is discord, harmony.
Where there is pride, humility.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
Let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that one receives,
it is in pardoning that one is released,
it is in dying to selfishness that one becomes fully alive.
In my own estimation, None “spirituality” should just be a good faith attempt to find the most authentic and compassionate ways of thinking and acting, regardless of their source or point of origination. Of course, it is still very important to do our best to recognize and reject erroneous ideas—especially toxic ones. Perhaps paradoxically though, being too rigid in our approach to truth and error can foster a pernicious kind of self-deception. As journalist Kathryn Schulz notes in her intriguing book Being Wrong: Adventures on the Margin of Error, noticing the faults and mistakes of others can ironically be most valuable when it becomes an exercise in human solidarity and empathy—and a warning against the corrosive effects of mockery or judgmentalism:
Being right may be fun but, as we’ve seen, it has a tendency to bring out the worst in us. … To be judgmental, we must feel sure that we know right from wrong, and that we ourselves would never confuse the two. But the experience of erring shows us otherwise. It reminds us that, having been wrong in the past, we could easily be wrong again …. [I]t reminds us to treat other people with compassion, to honor their possible rightness as well as their inevitable, occasional wrongness. Instead of taking errors as a sign that they are ignorant or idiotic or evil, we can look to our own lives and reach the opposite conclusion: that they are, like us, just human.