by Maria Evans
The Feast Day of St. Patrick
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.