Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Reflection on St. Patrick's Prayer

St. Patrick's Breastplate is, frankly, both freaky and intriguing



The following prayer is attributed to St. Patrick of Ireland, circa A. D. 377.  To me, it's both freaky and intriguing. Christianity is not wizardry or magic. But Patrick's use of imagination to envision God's presence in all nature and surrounding us--that's powerful stuff.

I read this prayer each year--half because there is actual historic and spiritual substance behind the now-mythic figure of Patrick and this prayer at least points us in that direction (as opposed to mindless drunken ethnic frivolity), and half because it's about the only time of the year I care to acknowledge that I am of Irish descent (via my maternal great grandfather Thomas Garrett).

This prayer, called St. Patrick's Breastplate, is fascinatingly comprehensive, even exhaustive. It mentions things I frankly never think of or even believe matter. Even so, that it reminds me of these things is instructive.

It also gives a sense of how much Patrick and early Christian forebears saw nature itself as being in concert with grace. This reflects the Psalms. "All nature sings." Talk about imagination!  Patrick's sense was that all life is bending toward or expressing Trinity at its very core.

But this thing about "summoning"--I don't get that, I don't think like that, and I do not see that as the manner of prayer or use of spirituality in the New Testament.  Christians are not wizards. Christianity is not magic.  Prayer is not incantations.  Prayer is a conversation in a relationship.  It is a communion.  When it comes to addressing temptations and evil, the prayer Jesus taught his disciples is far more simple and direct: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

Interesting that Patrick's imagination envisioned Christ's perpetual, enveloping presence throughout one's day, but did not go so far as to imagine prayer as something just as intimate, simple, and direct.

It is likely that this "prayer" wasn't supposed to be prayer at all. Perhaps it is more in the genre of a pronouncement, a preaching, a teaching, a public prayer. Just goes to show that we can say some pretty weird and awesome things about God and grace and life when heads are bowed, eyes are closed, and we know people are listening attentively.

Here's the prayer:

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In preachings of the apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who desires me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and evil,
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.

Christ shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that reward may come to me in abundance.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.
Amen

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone!


John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA 
www.indybikehiker.com 
www.twitter.com/indybikehiker 
indybikehiker@gmail.com

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