Editor’s note: This is the 11th in a 12-part series of letters Paul Graves is writing to his grandchildren in 2012. They are based on the Peace Prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.
Dear Katie, Claire and Andy,
Grandma just finished planting tulip bulbs in our front gardens. And she gave your mom other tulip bulbs so you all can plant more in your garden. Have you helped your mom with that planting?
I hope so, because it could be a great reminder of the last step in the peace-prayer journey: “And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” Or as Mother Teresa phrased it: “It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.”
Remember, this prayer was not actually written by St. Francis. It was written around 100 years ago, likely by a French Catholic priest. I don’t know if he was only talking about “eternal life” in the sense of what happens after we die. But since the rest of the prayer talks about bringing peace to our human relationships, I hope not.
For now, let’s focus on what Jesus focused on, bringing peace (healing and wholeness) to people alive in this world. In John’s Gospel, Jesus says a grain of wheat needs to be planted and die in order for it to become what it is meant to be: an edible “fruit” that will nourish whoever eats it.
That’s an imaginative way to talk about human life. If we don’t die in a spiritual sense, we will never become what God has created us to be: people who love others, people who work for other people to live healthy lives, people who try to stand up for those who have difficulty standing up for themselves. Things like that.
But first, Jesus says we must die.
Die in what ways? Maybe the biggest barrier we have is our own self-centeredness, our egos. To tell our egos to “die” is to say, “I don’t want my selfishness to take center-stage anymore. Sometimes, I must think first about other persons’ needs.”
Our egos focus on what we “want” so much that we forget about what we need. One of our basic needs is to be loved. (Other people have that same basic need.) But when, deep-down inside, we don’t think we are loved, we scratch and claw for the “wants” that make us feel loved.
That’s where our God-need comes in. God knows we need love. God provides that deep-down love – not because we “deserve” love, but simply because God wants to love us. Sadly, very few people really take that love for what it is, a free and unconditional gift. Most of us have been trained to “earn” love.
The Rev. Richard Rohr says that we live too much in our “false self,” the identity we have developed to make sure our egos survive. Jesus reminds us in his words, but especially in his life on Earth, that our egos are not who we really are. We are really children of God. God created us to love and to share that love with others.
For us to share that love most completely, our egos must die so that the “true self” (Rohr’s term) can live in us and through us. We must work at that kind of dying every day. As we let our egos die a little at a time, we experience inner peace a little at a time. What we experience, we can share with others.
In my next, and last, letter about the peace journey, I will talk about how Jesus, the prince of peace, turns our world upside-down – in a very good way.
Peace be with you, kids,