It seems appropriate to think about St. Patrick and his prayer during this time of Lent. I’m always intrigued by the concept of praying without ceasing and two of the figures who have helped me think through the issue are St. Patrick and St. Francis of Assisi. Since March 17th is St. Patrick’s Day, it seemed like a good idea to look at the poem attributed to the fifth century missionary to Ireland.
If you don’t know, young Patrick was kidnapped by pirates in Britain. He was taken to Ireland where he took care of animals for a few years before escaping back to his family. Eventually, he returned to western Ireland and is considered responsible for converting the island to Christianity from Celtic polytheism. This was all around the fifth century.
The poem may have been written by him, or it could have been a collection of anonymous hymns he drew together as bishop. Here is part of the "Lorica" of St. Patrick:
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 when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
A simple refrain fills the verses and it is not hard to memorize. I believe, when we pray without ceasing, we make our lives all about Jesus. Although the full "Lorica" of St. Patrick is written like a druidic prayer which would have used magic, Patrick used the language of his day to bring people to Jesus. We do not have to think there is magic in what we say to still see the usefulness of this poem.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17 we get, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing." (NIV) The context is rich here. If we go back to verse 12 and read through 25, we get a picture of living and working in a faith community.
When we work with people things are not always perfect. We have expectations related to perfection though. This could be because we assume the goodness of God will automatically filter through into people’s lives or that we think the Holy Spirit will work in the same way in all people. Generally, we want to assume most people are good and so we think the church will be especially good. But that can be a form of works-based righteousness.
The reality is: some people are lazy, some people are judgmental, some people work hard with little thanks, others are just not sure what they believe anymore- all these people and more make up the church. Our responsibility is to what the Holy Spirit is doing in our own lives. Go back and read St. Patrick’s "Lorica" again. What binds us together is Christ. As I wrote previously, we must find our identity in Jesus. Our service to one another, our preaching, our teaching, our fellowship, our singing, and our opening of our homes must all be about Christ.
We preach a dead man raised from the dead! Let’s keep the absurdity in front, behind, beside, and before us as we live. This is our living prayer (cf. Romans 12:1-2). -Christopher