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Make Me A Channel of Your Peace

    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’s doubt true faith in you

    Make me a channel of your peace
    Where there’s 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

    Make me a channel of your peace
    It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
    In giving to all men that we receive
    And in dying that we are born to eternal life

    The hymn, Make Me a Channel of Your Peace, is a popular English language song that sits firmly rooted in Christian worship, but is seen as more ecumenical than many Christian prayers. The oldest known version of these lyrics were in French, published in 1912. The connection to St. Francis appears to be more closely related to Franciscan monks than the saint himself.  As the First World War started, this poem grew in popularity. In 1967, Sebastian Temple arranged the version most commonly heard around the world today.

    The singer or reciter of this piece is asking to be made into a channel of God’s peace. The pairings here are perhaps the most interesting element; they illustrate what the author (and later the translator) understood to be the meaning of this form of peace.

    It gives us the following combinations:

    Hatred :: Love

    Injury :: Pardon

    Doubt :: Faith

    Despair :: Hope

    Darkness :: Light

    Sadness :: Joy

    Many of these pairings fit conventional antonyms in English: hatred/love, despair/hope, darkness/light[1], sadness/joy. Other pairings are more unusual. The opposite of doubt in this case is not certainty, but rather faith. Perhaps most troubling is the notion that the pairing for injury is pardon, rather than healing. (Another way to render ‘injury’ might be ‘wrong’, but there the obvious antonyms would be ‘right’ or ‘justice’.) Where someone has brought hatred, the singer intends to bring love. Where someone has brought injury, the singer sees the need for pardon. But whose pardon, and what form might that pardon take?

    Can someone offer a pardon on behalf of others, for example? Simon Wiesenthal, in his book, The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness, offers this question to readers. He recounts his experiences in a forced labour camp during the Shoah, when he is summoned to the bedside of a dying Nazi who asks for forgiveness for his participation in a massacred of 300 people, among other crimes. In posing this question to readers and himself, he is inundated by dozens of commentators offer their opinions. They range from an understanding of forgiveness as being important for the spiritual wellbeing of the one who forgives, and thus up to him rather than the petitioner, to an understanding that the perpetrator’s first victims are no longer in a position to offer forgiveness, so none can be offered.

    Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg suggests that there is work to be done in this space. She distinguishes between repentance, apology, atonement, and forgiveness. Her work On Repentance and Repair: Making Amends in an Unapologetic World considers the description of repentance offered by the medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides: recognising that harm has occurred; resolving to change; owning the consequences of one’s actions; offering an apology (which need not be accepted); and living in accordance with the desire to change – that is to say, should a similar situation arise, working hard to not do the thing that caused harm again.

    We can, taking this lens, see the line “where there is injury, your pardon, Lord” in a new way. The speaker recognizes that harm has been done. This is, for both Ruttenberg and Maimonides, the first step. This being a Christian hymn, it exists in a Christian context, where the practice of Confession in many denominations allows the confessor to take ownership of their actions, stating what they have done. Perhaps, for this speaker to take the next step – resolving to change – they need reassurance that even without forgiveness from the victim, they can find forgiveness with God. This perhaps gestures to the need for inner peace (It is in pardoning that we are pardoned…) as well as looking outwards to a wider brokering of peace in the context of harm done by others.

    For us to be channels of peace, we must recognise and own the harm we cause. Pardon – or forgiveness – may be more elusive, but the steps we take to seek or give pardon are crucial parts of a healing process.

    What Do You Think?

    • What is the role of repentance in finding peace?
    • What is the role of forgiveness (giving and seeking) in finding peace? What are the power dynamics at play when one asks forgiveness of one we have wronged? What does that look like, when the harm is on-going?
    • What balance do you see in this hymn between inner peace and a more outward-looking peace-making endeavour?

    If you enjoyed this item in our museum…

    You might also enjoy ‘Journey for Forgiveness‘, ‘Oseh Shalom‘ and ‘Story #1913‘.

    Jenny Oberholtzer, May 2022


    [1] It’s always worth interrogating the phrasing around darkness in religious imagery in Western societies; it often pairs with anti-Blackness. Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney, a Womanist biblical scholar based out of Texas, has written extensively on how original texts especially can be interpreted, and the impact of colonialism and racism on the ways we discuss religion.

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