The Celts were adventurers. They sailed off into unknown lands, sometimes sailing without a rudder, trusting that God would bring them to their place of resurrection, their place of wholeness and vocation. Each day was seen as adventure, filled with danger and possibility. So, Celtic travelers often drew a circle around themselves as they began each journey. The circle (or “caim”) reminded them that they were always encircled by God’s care. In the spirit of Psalm 139, they trusted that if they ascended to the heavens, God would be with them. If they descended to the depths, God would also be their companion. With the apostle Paul, they trusted that nothing could separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Savior.
Legend has it that a local chieftain was out to get Patrick. The chieftain sent his men to kill Patrick as he traveled along a lonely wooded road. As they closed in on Patrick, his pursuers discovered that somehow he disappeared. All they saw was a deer bounding across the road. From that adventure, legend has it that the Prayer of St. Patrick (the “Lorica” or “Breastplate”) emerged. As you read these words, you can almost visualize Patrick drawing a circle around himself as he rotated in a clockwise manner.
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
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a multitude.
Christ shield me today
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 everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
Through the mighty strength
Of the Lord of creation.
You can almost feel the strength of God as you read this prayer. God permeates everything as the life-giving energy of creation. But, rather than being impersonal or indifferent to the affairs of mortals, the Energy of the Universe is personal and protective, as close as your next step or the air you breathe. Christ surrounds us completely, giving us confidence that “all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” (Julian of Norwich) Whether or not we are aware of it, we are always encircled by God’s love, which is larger than our own lives and planetary journeys.
Today, we need the wisdom of St. Patrick. We live in a perfect storm of challenges, many of which are beyond our control. We are tossed about in the seas of relativity and uncertainty. The world’s religious traditions are in flux and the spiritual landscape in North America is shifting. Congregations are in crisis and wonder if they will survive the decade. We need to experience ourselves in God’s evolving and emerging circle of love and power.
Some people predict the end of the world or life as we know it through comets coming close to the earth, shifting tectonic plates, or the reversal of the earth’s axis. Others anticipate a catastrophic second coming of Jesus. We are anxious about the future of planetary life as we consider the reality of global climate change and humankind’s feeble responses. We are economically and professionally uncertain. We need courage, inspiration, and perseverance. We need to surround ourselves in a moving circle that joins adventure and safety; a circle that spirals outward to embrace the ever-changing world.
St. Patrick’s Day can be an opportunity to reflect on God’s presence in your life. You can take some time today, and each day, to draw a sacred circle around yourself. You can chant Patrick’s words whenever you are feeling at risk or anxious. They are a reminder that God is your companion in all your adventures. God is the circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. (For more on Celtic spirituality, see Bruce Epperly, The Center is Everywhere and J. Philip Newell, The Christ of the Celts.)