Instead of just the lyrics this Monday, let’s talk about the first time I heard this song by Sarah McLachlan. This might not make sense if you’re not familiar with Buffy the Vampire Slayer though.
Each season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer ends with Buffy battling the Big Bad – in Season 1 it was the Master, in Season 2 it was Angelus and so on.
In Season 6 (or was that Season 7? I can’t remember and I’m too lazy to fact-check) of the series the writers change the direction for the season finale. They made three losers the “villains” of the season. They were pathetic, all their dastardly plans failed, and they were often the clowns of the series – until one of them came after Buffy with a gun. Buffy was shot, and a second stray bullet killed Tara.
The death of Tara was the trigger that took Willow over the edge. This was what the entire season arc was really leading up to – our favourite red-headed geek-witch as the Big Bad of Season 6: the Dark Willow. She was out to kill the three losers responsible and she will crush anyone who gets in her way. But before that, she went to the emergency room and pulled the bullet out of Buffy with her powers; Dark Willow could save Buffy, but not Tara. No magic in the world can bring Tara back, because she died by normal means – an ordinary bullet, from a gun, fired by a human. That is the way nature works, and Willow could not accept that.
When Dark Willow went after the three losers, Buffy ran after her. Buffy wasn’t that concern about the losers – one of them did try to kill her afterall. But Buffy loved her friend: dear, sweet mousy Willow who was smart and cute and kind. Buffy was trying to prevent Willow from committing murder – because once she crossed that line, she will never be the same.
But Buffy was too late. Dark Willow found the loser responsible for Tara’s death. She tied him up in the woods, drove a bullet into his flesh to make him feel the excruciating pain. The loser whined, begged, cursed, and Dark Willow, with a sigh: “Bored now” – flayed him.
Flayed – as in tore the whole skin from his body. It was graphic and horrific, and that deed told Buffy that Willow was lost to them. She understood her duty now is to stop the Dark Willow that used to be her friend, who has decided she would try to end the world.
Towards the end, when Dark Willow was raising a satanic cathedral that would end the world, it was not Buffy who came to the rescue. It was Xander who arrived. He told Willow he was sorry about Tara, he told Willow he loves her. He let her know that he still sees his best friend from kindergarten, who cried when she broke the yellow crayons. Xander, the loser with no power, saved the day. It could have been cheesy, but the scene was genuinely touching. Willow couldn’t kill her best friend, and she started pounding at him with her fists furiously, before finally allowing herself to break down. The source of Willow’s rage and hatred has been her deep, inconsolable grief. When she could finally cry, the dark magic lost their possession of Willow.
Where was Buffy? She was stuck in a pit with her sister, with monsters that kept coming at them. When the dark magic lost control of Willow, the monsters in the pit stopped coming. Buffy climbed out of the pit with her sister. As the sisters stood in the daylight, wondering why the world did not end, nevertheless glad to be alive here and now with each other – Sarah McLachlan’s "Prayer of St. Francis" played as the closing theme of the season.
It wasn’t strength, or supernatural power that saved the day. Buffy, the strongest of them all, was trapped with her sister, Dawn, in a deep pit full of monsters that kept coming at them. In the end she despaired. She knew her strength would eventually fail her, and Dawn will die with her; she wasn’t strong enough to protect them both.
Willow was the most powerful witch in the western hemisphere (or was that the northern hemisphere? If I had my Buffy DVDs with me, I would check) – but she couldn’t save Tara.
What Xander did was he looked beneath the violence and all that has come to pass. He put himself in harm’s way and spoke to the part of Willow that was grieving. He offered compassion and love in place of violence, because in the greater scheme of things, strength does not resolve violence or hatred. Only love and compassion can do that.
Sarah McLachlan adapted the Prayer of St. Francis into a song. It is a simple but profound prayer, and when we combine it with the beauty of Sarah McLachlan’s vocals, it is sublime.
The Prayer of St. Francis
Lord make me an instrument of your 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.
And 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.
And it's in dying that we are born to eternal life.
As a song it is a short one, about 2 minutes. Nevertheless, I have played it over and over and never tired of it. Its message is universal: It is about humility: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace” – a plea to serve, to be a vessel of love to the world. It asks of us to go against our lesser impulses, to return hatred with love, where there is injury, to offer pardon. For me, Prayer of St. Francis is yoga music.
NOTE: “The Prayer of St. Francis” is available on Sarah McLachlan’s Rarities, B-Sides & Other Stuff: Vol. 2 and Buffy the Vampire Slayer Soundtrack.