Speaking to the Soul: I bind unto myself today



by Maria Evans


The Feast Day of St. Patrick


Psalm 97:1-2,7-12

Ezekiel 36:33-38

1 Thessalonians 2:2b-12  

Matthew 28:16-20


Although today is the day we think of St. Patrick in terms of snake migration, shamrocks, and the sacramental elements of corned beef and cabbage, in the Episcopal Church it conjures up elements of what is probably the most common opening hymn at ordinations:  St. Patrick’s Breastplate (#370 in your hymnal if you feel the urge to follow along.)  Now truth be known, it’s probably the most common ordination service hymn because it’s long enough to accommodate the procession at an ordination–yet, if one has ever listened to the words, something in it is bound to hook everyone.  For me it’s the 4th verse:


I bind unto myself today

the virtues of the star-lit heaven,

the glorious sun’s life-giving ray,

the whiteness of the moon at even,

the flashing of the lightning free,

the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,

the stable earth, the deep salt sea,

around the old eternal rocks.


What we tend to forget in all the mounds of cabbage and hunks of savory corned beef, the parades and the green beer, is that Patrick’s greatest virtue was his unshakeable, abiding faith in the Triune God–that the path to true joy lies in surrender to the Holy Trinity.  Of particular interest is that although the form of this prayer is based in the form of a prayer whose pagan roots are a prayer for protection (hence its Gaelic name Lorica, or breastplate) it is also a prayer of assent and surrender to God.  It is a prayer where God is revealed to be present in the easy-to-see places and the not-so-easy-to-see places.


Although over the years we’ve cleaned the prayer up a bit (we no longer ask God to protect us from “the spells of women, smiths, and druids” as the original did, and we now use more generic directional language (before, behind, etc.) as opposed to naming Christ “in the fort”, “in the chariot seat” and “in the poop [deck]”), the concept is the same–Christ is everywhere.  To learn to see him there, is a gift of grace, and we have Patrick to thank for showing the way.

To what aspect of the Trinity and of St. Patrick’s Breastplate can you bind yourself today, just a little more tightly than you did yesterday?  What must become unbound in yourself before that can happen?



Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, is a grateful member of Trinity Episcopal Church and a transitional Deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. You can also share her journey on her blog, Chapologist.

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9 Responses to "Speaking to the Soul: I bind unto myself today"
  1. Thanks, Maria.
    I love this hymn! It has comforted me since childhood.
    The part that really resonates with me is the section that is so different from the rest:

    Christ be with me, Christ within me,
    Christ behind me, Christ before me,
    Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
    Christ to comfort and restore me.
    Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
    Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
    Christ in hearts of all that love me,
    Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

    It's a reminder to me that Christ is with me always; I just need to pay attention!

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    • Yes, Peg! And for me that's the harder part to sing--a parallel for the challenge of seeing Christ in all places perhaps?

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  2. Thank you for a poetic break from the corned beef and cabbage, and a reminder of the importance of being unbound to bind ourselves to the Trinity. Thank you also for the history and background. As I sit in the morning briefing for the United Nations' Commission on the Status of Women, I am quite thankful that "spells of women" has been removed.

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  3. Before clock strikes midnight in hospital room where I am staying with my mother who was blessed with good back surgery, I want to thank you, Maria, especially for keenly pointing out this prayer is one of both "assent and surrender to God" as we experience Christ is hospital rooms, too. Your reflection truly refreshes my soul, and reminds me of this refreshing cafe after I have been away long time. Something in Anglicanism touches deeply my United Methodist heart down here in SC. I shall quote your phrase, and your concept of our need to unbind stuff in order to bind to Christ, if I may, in my sermon Sunday. Praise be to Jesus Christ our Lord for His joy, love, and truth, and for you and yours.

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    • Be my guest, Fred. Thanks for your comments, and thanks be to God that your mom's surgery went well! Glad you enjoy the Café. Remember, those Wesley boys never gave up being Anglican priests, so we love our Methodist cousins!

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