It is deliciously chilly. As a Floridian, I relish the opportunity to return to the mountains – my home in Appalachia – anytime I can. This morning my senses are feasting on fall light, forest surroundings, leaves in stages from red flame to brown crunch, and the fragrance of bacon and coffee mixed with mountain air. In slippers I welcome the late morning and have no sense of hurry during this holiday week.

How odd then that my best spiritual health routines must fall away when I should be at the most peace.  Kids surround me. Extended family plans form and squeeze out daily habits. And there are many more smiling faces to respond to on vacation (smiling most of the time!). Meditation… exercise… these are not within reach like when they are a part of my weekly schedule.

So I am leaning into a prayer I know well: The Prayer of Saint Francis.

I can’t get it out of my head. For years, actually, but especially right now.

Some context: God recently referred to me as a “tool.” Okay. That sounds like something my girlfriend called someone’s jerky husband. But in this case it was light fun and all in good humor in this spiritual dialogue between me and Mama God. I use the word “tool” all the time when talking about people and processes. Somewhere along the way I was even able to drop legalistic theology, in part, due to the recognition that just because God/Spirit uses certain tools in our development doesn’t mean they are the right tool at the right time for someone else. Repentance? A great tool. Critical. But don’t try to inflict it on someone who is experiencing trauma or lack of acceptance. In that case, maybe the right tool will be forged from the fires of mercy alone. Not change. Not yet. So even though I am a wordsmith and not someone who thinks about hammers and wrenches a lot, the word “tool” calls to mind for me the right fit at the right time for whatever is needed in the process of building or repairing. Dare to Lead, a curriculum I teach as a part of a team created by Brené Brown, outlines tools for building courage. Tools are usually something you can pick up and put back down, though in courage building and prayer they are used for inner work. The tools are almost fixed within the person. When you don’t even have to think about which thing to pick up, maybe you have advanced to the next level.

Spirit says in this season I am to care for myself so that I may be a tool. A vessel of peace. How I care for myself directly affects answering that call. That insight feels so… illuminating. Saint Francis’s “Lord make me an instrument of your peace” is a lovely way of expressing this and I prefer instrument to tool under the circumstances.

The most prominent theme of Francis of Assisi’s prayer is mercy (pardon is mentioned twice). Mercy is also the theme of my heart these days. Learning it. Practicing it. I am not good at mercy with certain people, even though it comes naturally to me at large.

Mercy. What a beautiful word. Say it. Roll it around your tongue. It has energy and it feels so good.

How can our hearts learn mercy if we have experienced spiritual abuse? Exploitation? Harm? If given the opportunity to destroy (at least a little bit) our abuser or their wellbeing, would we?

How do we change the world when it seems to be full of harmful people? Mercy? I don’t know the way yet. I do know that if you are being harmed directly, mercy has to first be given to yourself to escape that harm.

This morning a little spider has left some silken threads in the fall light, illuminating a divine image of how Mama God keeps knitting us together. I see threads of the Spirit everywhere. Incredible coincidences. Synchronicities. My web designer for my new enterprise has themed his business after Charlotte Cavatica – the spider who planted the idea of mercy for Wilbur the pig in Charlotte’s Web. There is another glistening thread. Michelle Hofer, OSH council member and artist, shares a deep spiritual connection to the color magenta with me. She uses it in her paintings to symbolize promise after desolation. I had also felt that meaning in the color beginning in 2020. How? I don’t know. Nothing I read. Just meditation. Another glistening thread. I started saving mama spiders from my pool this year despite my discomfort with them.  Another thread. As I drove through the mountains to arrive here the other day I heard a song I hadn’t in years by Peter Gabriel – just when I was thinking on these things – Mercy Street. “Where you’re inside out…” Yet another thread.

The Great Weaver’s glistening, sticky silks are knitting us all together in labyrinthine movement. We are all connected. We may use certain tools or instruments for a season but in this new season, perhaps, we are the instrument. Like the spider herself. Her web comes from within her. She just does what comes naturally to her.

We can be the peace God weaves when we quiet our souls and experience connection to all that is. She is encircling her illuminating strands around our hearts that we may become vessels of mercy without even trying, because we have already put in the time becoming mercy itself.