Devotional

Wisdom

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I arise today...
Through God’s wisdom to guide me...

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)

In an age where false information masquerades as fact and truth is mistaken as fiction, wisdom is perhaps more crucial than ever. Just as much of our news comes from social media headlines or tweets with no substance or nuance, so often our knowledge of scripture is limited to the few verses or catchy “Christian” sayings we read on our Facebook or Instagram feeds. I am reminded of one of my favorite 80’s movies, “Short Circuit.” As the robot, Number 5, increases in his own self awareness, he begins to consume as much information as he can. “Input… Need Input,” he says as he flies through the pages of every book in the house.

Like Number 5, we as human beings have an insatiable thirst for new information. We want to be “in the know” about everything, and we are often unwilling to admit just how much we don’t know about so many things. We need input.

There is nothing wrong with acquiring knowledge. I personally value education more than almost anything else in my life. The problem, however, is not our knowledge or lack of knowledge, but how we apply what knowledge we have. That is where wisdom comes in. As the old saying goes, “Knowledge may teach us that a tomato is a fruit, but wisdom tells us not to put it in a fruit salad or a smoothie.”

Perhaps the most beautiful and yet sometimes frightening thing about wisdom is that it is no respecter of persons. It is possible for a child to say something more wise than a Nobel Prize winner. Wisdom does not depend on our level of education or how much knowledge we have. A person can have a photographic memory and store up more information than anyone else and still act foolishly. Likewise, a person who never went to school can be “wise beyond their years” in the way they treat others and in the way they use whatever resources they have. Wisdom is all about our ability to rightly apply what we know, regardless of how much or how little knowledge we have.

I say it’s a beautiful thing because anything that levels the playing field of our social hierarchies can result in greater humility, mutual respect, empathy and love. It is also frightening because those of us who have gained greater knowledge in our lives tend to be proud of what we know and it is not easy to follow the sage advice of someone who may not appear as “smart” or intelligent, at least on the surface.

Perhaps this is why wisdom is in such short supply. Where “knowledge is power,” wisdom often brings humility which in our culture may be interpreted as weakness. Scripture tells us that all Wisdom comes from God and that it is freely available to anyone.

But anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask.

James 1:5

Some people have greater access to knowledge than others. Some people can afford higher levels of education or greater connectivity to the “information highway” as it were. But everyone has equal access to Wisdom if we only ask.

What would happen if we asked God for wisdom as readily as we seek out and consume new information? Instead of striving to read the entire Bible in a year, for example, what would happen if we took just a few verses and meditated on them day and night to consider how they shape our everyday lives. Here are just a few to consider:

  • 1 John 4:7-11

  • Mark 4:35-41

  • Matthew 5:1-10

  • Matthew 5:43-48

  • Romans 12:1-2

  • Psalm 23

  • Galatians 5:22-26

Consider choosing just one of these passages, or another that God lays on your heart, and sit with it for an entire week without reading anything else. Perhaps read the immediate context before and after these verses, but beyond that, simply ask God each day to examine your heart and show you specific ways to better apply these passages in your day to day life. Ask God for wisdom as you read and meditate on His Word. Read it over and over again. Sit with the words in silence for awhile. Jot down anything the Spirit of Wisdom may be speaking to your heart.

Wisdom is a slow process which is yet another reason we rarely ask for it. We want wisdom just like we want patience… right now. Knowledge gives us the instant gratification we crave, but it is only a shadow of the Wisdom God desires for us to have.

Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
and clever in their own sight.

- Isaiah 5:21

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.

- Proverbs 3:5-7

So let us seek the wisdom of the Lord, for “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).

Reflections:

1. How do you see the relationship between knowledge and wisdom play out in your own life?

2. Have you every explicitly asked God for wisdom as you read the scriptures? What was that experience like?

3. Choose one of the passages above, or another short passage of scripture God lays on your heart, and sit with it for at least a week (longer if the Spirit leads). One method to consider is the ancient practice of Lectio Divina. You can find more about how to approach scripture in this way at https://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/lectio-divina. Journal about the insights you gain and about your overall experience of reading scripture in this way.


Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

... I arise today,
Through God’s eye to look before me…

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer

Might

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I arise today...
Through God’s might to uphold me...

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)

Surely God is my help;
the Lord is the one who sustains me.

- Psalm 54:4

I’ll be honest, this image of God is more challenging for me than it probably should be.

Human history has been plagued with the idea that “might makes right” and those in power are often the ones who will do almost anything to get there, no matter who they hurt or walk over in the process. As Lord Acton writes, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

I remember children’s songs in church like “What a mighty God we serve,” or “My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do.” On one hand the idea that God is mightier and more powerful than any enemy we may face can be comforting, that is, so long as God is on our side. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine absolute power that does not corrupt. Such power and might, unchecked, is indeed a frightening thought.

In Revelation 15:4, the saints of God sing out the song of Moses saying,

Who won’t fear you, Lord, and glorify your name? You alone are holy. All nations will come and fall down in worship before you,for your acts of justice have been revealed.”

Who would not fear the Lord, indeed. “The Lord, strong and mighty. The Lord mighty in battle” (Psalm 24:8). The King of Glory is King of Kings and Lord of Lords and no power or nation shall stand against him.

Such imagery, though absolutely true, gives me pause. History has shown us time and time again that absolute power cannot go unchecked. It is dangerous. And yet we know God has no equal. Nothing can stand against the Lord.

But we also find comfort throughout the scripture that God’s might is perfectly balanced by God’s love. We find the story in Genesis 18:16-33 where Abraham pleads with God on behalf of the people and God promises to relent for the sake of even 10 righteous people in city. Regardless of the final outcome, God demonstrates to Abraham that he is not some cosmic heartless monster out to destroy the world as so many other gods throughout history have been portrayed.

The difference between the all-powerful God of Scripture and so many other gods throughout ancient mythology is that the God of Scripture is Love. By his very nature, God cannot exercise power and might in any way that does not reflect his loving character.

Nearly every encounter a person has with God in Scripture pans out the same way. Consider the stories of Isaiah, Peter, Paul, and John in Revelation, among others. The person is overwhelmed by God’s holiness, often falling down on their face as though dead. God’s first words in such terrifying moments almost always include the statement, “Do not fear.”

In Isaiah 41, we find God’s encouragement to Israel.

“You are my servant;
I chose you and didn’t reject you”:
Don’t fear, because I am with you;
don’t be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
I will surely help you;
I will hold you
with my righteous strong hand.

- Isaiah 41:9b-10

God’s might, rather than striking terror into our hearts, should fill us with hope and courage because God promises to uphold us in his righteous strong hand. Because of God’s might, we truly have nothing to fear.

Yet we must be careful, for unlike God, our sense of power often does lead to corruption. Centuries of ugly and violent religious history have shown us how easily we humans distort the power and might of God into a threat against our enemies, justifying countless wars in God’s name and condemning all who disagree with us to the fires of hell. We must remember Jesus’ call to love our enemies, and that God desires no one to perish but for all to come to repentance (Matthew 5:43-48, John 3:16). We must not try to manipulate God’s might for our own purposes. Our enemies are not God’s enemies, for even they are beloved and bear the image of God, their Creator.

God’s might will uphold us, but God’s love must prevent us from using his might to tear others down. Perhaps the mightiest act God ever demonstrated was the restraint he showed on the cross when he refused to send down his angel armies to destroy those who crucified his son. Might is not the power to tear down or lord over others. The greatest might of all is the power to sacrifice everything for the sake of love.

Reflections:

1. What is your gut reaction to the thought of a “Mighty God”?

2. In what ways have you experienced God’s might upholding you throughout your life?

3. How do you see God’s power at work in sacrificial acts of love? How might God be calling you to use His power in that way?


Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

... I arise today,
Through God’s wisdom to guide me…

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer

Pilot

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I arise today...
Through God’s strength to pilot me...

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)

Irv: You see Sanka, the driver has to work harder than anyone. He's the first to show up, and the last to leave. When his buddies are all out drinking beer, he's up in his room studying pictures of turns. You see, a driver must remain focused one hundred percent at all times. Not only is he responsible for knowing every inch of every course he races, he's also responsible for the lives of the other men in the sled. Now do you want that responsibility?

Sanka Coffie: I say we make Derice the driver.

Irv: So do I, Sanka. So do I.

— Irv Blitzer (John Candy) and Sanka Coffie (Doug E. Doug), Cool Runnings

A pilot steers the ship. He or she is essentially “the driver”. In an age where nearly everyone drives a car and even aircraft fly on “automatic pilot”, we can easily take the pilot’s role for granted. After all, steering isn’t that hard. We do it every day. And just like a plane, sometimes we end up running on auto-pilot. Have you ever had that moment when you pull into the driveway at home and realize you don’t even remember making the last several turns? It’s easy to zone out somewhere along the all too familiar route.

We have the same problem when we try to steer, drive, or pilot our lives. We make a thousand choices a day in our familiar routines without a second thought. We react to input and circumstances almost involuntarily rather than pausing to intentionally consider our response.

The strength of a pilot is a mental strength, the strength of a disciplined and focused mind. Such single-minded focus does not come naturally in a world that turns our attention from one thing to the next at a pace that would give anyone whiplash. As Sanka learned in the movie, “Cool Runnings”, it is one thing to steer a push cart down a dirt hill, but it is entirely something else to steer a metal sled barreling through gut wrenching turns down an icy track.

Life is more like a bobsled track than a wide open downhill slope. We must constantly stay alert. The slightest missed turn can cause unintentional harm to ourselves and those riding closest to us in the sled. The ability to make such split second decisions does not come in the moment. It comes from all of those hours of training and study. Over time, we learn to respond with grace and truth as naturally as we navigate the familiar roads to our homes.

I know a bobsled driver is not exactly what the writer had in mind when he talks of a pilot, but there is one more parallel worth exploring. Unlike flying with an airline pilot, the “passengers” in a bobsled are not passive. They do not sit back sipping on sodas and eating pretzels while the driver or “pilot” does all the work. They must stay low and lean in with the pilot through every curve. Each person in the sled must be in sync with the drivers every move.

Likewise, those on an ancient sailing ship cannot sit back and wait until the pilot steers them safely into port. There is much work to be done. There are sails to be hoisted, ropes to be tied, decks to be cleaned, and a hundred other responsibilities which I know nothing about. The pilot may have the strength and focus to keep the ship on course, but the pilot doesn’t work alone. We must train and discipline ourselves with the strength and focus to follow the pilot’s lead.

To paraphrase Sanka , “I say we make God the driver.”

Reflections:

1. In what ways do you try to pilot your own life? How do you feel about the results?

2. What fears prevent you from giving God complete control of the wheel?

3. What habits or disciplines might God be calling you to strengthen in order to increase your focus and intentional response to the pilot’s every move?


Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

... I arise today,
Through God’s might to uphold me…

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer

Rock

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I arise today...
Through the firmness of rock...

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)


We often describe the Christian life in terms of diving into deeper waters, allowing the wind and waves of the Spirit to take us where it will. This is an important truth, but it is not the whole truth. Yes, life in the Spirit can often seem like a mighty rushing river, but God is also our rock and our salvation, a mighty fortress and a bulwark never failing.

I’ve been to many mountain overlooks throughout North Carolina and Kentucky and most of the popular touristy ones are blocked off with man-made rails to keep people from falling over the edge. But my favorite places in the mountains are on the rocks beyond the rails, where they are accessible. There is one area of Grandfather Mountain past the bridge like this, and a few rock arches in Red River Gorge, Kentucky where I used to hike. But my favorite by far has been the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa.

It is the largest (in terms of land area) mountain top I have ever hiked and it’s views out over the ocean are awe-inspiring. I think that’s what I like most about it. Unlike the Smokey Mountains on my home turf, this mountain literally seems to rise right out of the sea. I sat on the edge of a rock overlooking the sea for well over an hour, on the far side of the mountain where most of the tourists did not wander. As I looked down at the inner city of Cape Town and to the harbor and sea beyond, I thought about the turmoil that nation had gone through, the suffering of Apartheid, the continual rises and falls of governments, the people on the margins who endure the brunt of the decisions made by those on top who are rarely affected. This kind of chaos exists in every nation of course, but the rock I sat upon reminded me that no matter how hard the waves crashed against the base of the mountain, the ground above it all remained solid.

I also remember standing on the Cliffs of Mohr on the Ireland coast. The fog was dense that day. I heard the rough surf below but could not see a things. We couldn’t even see the cliff walls below us. Yet somehow these invisible rocks jutting out of the sea had stood firm against centuries of crashing waves and winds.

When the winds of life throw me off balance and the waves crash hard against the foundations I thought were secure, these are the kinds of places I long to be. I remember standing on the edge of Chimney Rock in Kentucky one April afternoon. A random late year snow storm blew in out of nowhere, but as the wind pressed against me and the snow blinded my view, I became even more aware of the solid rock beneath my feet.

“Why do we run from the rain,” I wrote in a song that day. “Why do we hide from the storm?”

The rock is secure. There is nothing to fear. The ground is firm beneath our feet.

My prayer for the church and for all of us is that we will not only stand firm on the solid rock of Christ, but that we will become a place of stability where others can sit or stand secure even in the midst of their storms, far above the crashing waves of life.

It is one thing to take shelter inside where we cannot see or hear the waves and wind or feel the rain and snow. But sometimes I think we need to spend some time in the middle of the churning sea and feel the storm upon our skin as we sit or stand on the solid rock, on stable earth. The shelters we build to hide ourselves from the world will inevitably crumble, but the mountain stands secure.


Reflections:

1. Where do you need a firm rock to stand on in your life right now?

2. In response to storms, do you tend to retreat to a self-made shelter or stand strong on the mountain to face it? How do you sense God leading you to respond to the storms in your life today?

3. Would people describe you as a rock in their life, a safe and firm place where they can feel secure no matter what they are dealing with? Who might God be calling you to be a rock for this week? Who has God put in your life to be a rock for you?


Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

... I arise today,
Through God’s strength to pilot me…

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer

Earth

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I arise today...
Through the stability of earth...

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)

One of the beautiful things about this series is the ability to simply listen to the Spirit and reflect on whatever comes immediately to my heart and mind without trying to dissect every thought through a grueling process of research and study. Study is important and I enjoy academic rigor, but there is something to be said for responding to “first thoughts” on a word, a phrase, a scripture passage, an image, an experience, or anything else God may speak through. I see it as the spiritual or written equivalent of the #nofilter hashtag often used in photography. Rather than an academic essay on Patrick’s Prayer, these reflections are more like journal entries, simply offering those “first thoughts” and reflections and allowing God to use them as the Spirit wills (#nofilter).

There are of course a few risks in this approach. I’m sure my reflections would not hold up to academic scrutiny and they are not refined to fit neatly into a particular theological framework. Yet despite the risk, this is also the joy… the freedom of the stream of consciousness, like dancing with the Spirit and allowing God to lead, rather than relying on my own reason and understanding.

Today, this approach ran me into a bit of a problem. I wrote an entire reflection on the stability of earth using the image of the solid rock on which we stand secure. I got to the bottom of the post and began to type the next line of the prayer… “I arise today through the firmness of rock.”

Oops. I got ahead of myself. And so I will post that reflection next week as it deals more with the firmness of rock than the stability of earth.

This of course leaves me in a bit of a bind. What to write for today about arising through the “stability of earth”?

Honestly, I’m not sure. When I think of the stability of earth, my mind immediately jumps to the image of rocks. Yet in this prayer, rock and earth remain two distinct images despite their many similarities.

When I think of earth as distinct from rock, stability is not the word that comes to mind. If not rock, earth generally implies soil, sand, clay, grass, peat, or some other softer substance. Earth tends to give a little under our feet. When it is wet it may wash out completely, like the sinking sand that quite literally washes out from under you as you stand on the beach. Have you ever tried to mow the grass after a good rain? As the tires spin in the mud, stability is the last word I would use to describe “earth.”

So now I wonder, is there another way to look at “earth?”

Earth is not only the ground, it is the entire planet which humanity inhabits. It is the Garden of Eden and it is Fallen Babylon. It is natural and it is man-made. It is forests and deserts and arctic tundra and it is villages, parks and cities. The earth is ecosystems and climate change and the food chain and the “circle of life.” Earth may very well represent all life as we know it. Of course science could easily demolish my working definition here, but I speak only metaphorically, even poetically if you will.

What if just for a moment we consider earth as less about the ground itself and more about the place of life, a habitat created by God for all whom God would create? Perhaps then it is more stable than we think. Yes, parts of the earth are destroyed by fire and floods and earthquakes and even unnatural human forces. Yes, species have gone extinct and the cycle of life and death never ends. Earth and all that is on it exists in a constant state of flux.

Despite all of this change, earth still spins on its axis. It maintains its orbit around the sun century after century and millennium after millennium, at least close enough to sustain life but not too close to destroy it. What if stability then, does not depend on keeping everything the same? What if stability is not the absence of change or the firmness of our foundations, but rather our ability to withstand an ever-changing reality and even grow and thrive from it? Just like a tall building must have a bit of give to withstand high winds or earthquakes, so the earth with all of its shifting sands, remains a stable sanctuary from which we can live and breath and sing the praises of our Creator.

Reflections:

1. What does stability mean to you, in light of all the shifts and changes in life?

2. How do you understand the “stability of earth” and how does your understanding resonate with your life right now?

3. Pick out a line from this prayer, or perhaps a word or phrase from a scripture you recently read, and allow your stream-of-consciousness to flow freely with it. What “first thoughts” is the Spirit laying on your heart? How is God calling you to respond? #nofilter


Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

... I arise today,
Through the firmness of rock…

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer

Sea

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I arise today...
Through the depth of the sea...

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me

Psalm 42:7

The Message paraphrase of this Psalm translates “deep” to “chaos.”

Chaos calls to chaos, to the tune of whitewater rapids…

Throughout the book of Revelation, we note that the sea represents the realm of darkness, evil, and chaos. This is true in much ancient literature, simply because the sea is the place of unknown and often frightening mysteries. Whether by “sea monsters” or simply “falling off the edge of the earth,” many ancient sailors never returned from this untamed place.

Patrick understood this fearful image of the sea all too well. As a teenager, Irish raiders from across the sea captured him and forced him into slavery. Whether Patrick personally wrote this prayer or not, those who did certainly knew his story.

Yet in this poetic cry to God, we don’t find the sea portrayed as a dark place. Rather we are called to “arise through the depth of sea.”

We exert so much energy in life trying to avoid the “deep”, steering clear of chaos as much as absolutely possible. Often we find ourselves swerving past one chaotic situation only to find ourselves in an even darker and more difficult place. We cannot control the chaos. We cannot avoid the “deep.” It simply exists.

Arising through the depths helps us acknowledge this reality and respond with hope instead of despair, with courage instead of fear, and with peace instead of stress. As the Psalmist writes, “If I make my bed in the depths, you are there” (Psalm 139:8). Even when we find ourselves wallowing in the depths of our pain or sorrow, God may still be found here in the chaos. There is no place so deep that God does not walk with us.

There is little use in elaborating on “the depths” of the seas we experience. We know these dark and chaotic places all to well. Today we are invited to embrace those depths and to find God in the midst of the chaos.

Let us simply meditate on Psalm 42, a cry to God from the deepest and darkest places within.

Psalm 42 (CEB)

1 Just like a deer that craves streams of water,

my whole being craves you, God.

2 My whole being thirsts for God, for the living God.

When will I come and see God’s face?

3 My tears have been my food both day and night,

as people constantly questioned me,

“Where’s your God now?”

4 But I remember these things as I bare my soul:

how I made my way to the mighty one’s abode,

to God’s own house,

with joyous shouts and thanksgiving songs—

a huge crowd celebrating the festival!

5 Why, I ask myself, are you so depressed?

Why are you so upset inside?

Hope in God!

Because I will again give him thanks,

my saving presence and my God.

6 My whole being is depressed.

That’s why I remember you

from the land of Jordan and Hermon,

from Mount Mizar.

7 Deep called to deep at the noise of your waterfalls;

all your massive waves surged over me.

8 By day the Lord commands his faithful love;

by night his song is with me—

a prayer to the God of my life.

9 I will say to God, my solid rock,

“Why have you forgotten me?

Why do I have to walk around,

sad, oppressed by enemies?”

10 With my bones crushed, my foes make fun of me,

constantly questioning me: “Where’s your God now?”

11 Why, I ask myself, are you so depressed?

Why are you so upset inside?

Hope in God!

Because I will again give him thanks,

my saving presence and my God.

Reflections:

1. Allow God to examine your heart and reveal the deepest places of chaos. If a circumstance comes to mind, ask God to help you go deeper. Where is the underlying chaos, not on the surface of the situation, but in the depths of your heart and soul?

2. In what ways do you find yourself trying to avoid the depths? Reflect on a time when you embraced the depth and where you saw God present in that place.

3. Meditate on Psalm 42. Also consider Psalm 139. What is the Holy Spirit speaking to your soul?


Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

... I arise today,
Through the stability of the earth…

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer

Wind

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I arise today...
Through the swiftness of wind...

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)

Like lightning, wind offers us another image for speed, and with it, another nuance to explore in our understanding of Creator God.

Swiftness implies something more graceful, like the swiftness of a speed skater on the ice or a deer swiftly darting through the forest glade. While the speed of lightning is sharp, focused, directed and intense, wind tends to flow more smoothly. Even strong sustained winds like that of a hurricane more closely resemble the ebb and flow of ocean waves than a lightning strike or a Formula 1 race car.

Wind functions much differently than lightning. Take the sail of a ship for example. Wind fills the sail and guides the ship, if we point the sail in the right direction. A lightning strike on that same sail would set the entire ship ablaze.

Wind is fluid. Wind blows where it wills. We can harness the energy of the wind, but we cannot create it, control it, or contain it. Perhaps this is why we see the image of wind along with tongues of fire at Pentecost, as the Holy Spirit blows through the upper room and fills the disciples with divine strength, boldness, and understanding.

Wind involves the rapid movement of air from an area of high pressure to an area of low pressure, much like the compressed air inside a balloon being released into wide open atmosphere. This image in itself is rich with spiritual implications. How, for example, can we expect the “wind” or “breath” of God’s Spirit to flow into us if we live in a constant state of “high pressure”, always forcing air out rather than being empty enough to receive it?

The beautifully poetic word for wind in Hebrew, “Ruach,” also means spirit and breath. As we arise through the swiftness of wind, the Spirit of the Lord breathes life into our physical bodies and animates our spirits. “In Him we live and move an have our being” (Acts 17:28). While Luke refers explicitly to Christ, we experience the life of Christ through the movement of the Holy Spirit, much like we experience the existence of invisible pressure systems through the movement of the wind.

Sermons upon sermons could be and have been written about the metaphor of wind as it relates to God and to our spiritual lives. I offer only a glimpse of the many ways we might meditate upon this image. May the wind of God’s Spirit fill the sails of our Holy Imagination and lead us where God wills, to whatever dead and dying places within us need to be awakened by divine CPR, as it were.

One final thought on the spiritual significance of wind as I close. Wind often serves as an indicator of greater realities. The strength and direction of the wind helps us determine the location, speed, and direction of approaching storms. When the wind is too intense, we must “hunker down” and weather the storm. When the wind is too still, we might call it “the calm before the storm” or perhaps even find ourselves “in the eye of the storm”.

When the wind blows as a warm and gentle spring breeze, we feel relaxed and at peace.

If wind and breath and spirit are so intimately related, perhaps our own breath can serve as a barometer of our spiritual condition. We don’t pay much attention to our breathing unless we have overexerted ourselves or find ourselves struggling to breathe in some way. Mostly breath, like wind, just happens without our notice.

Take time to notice the Spirit-wind of your own breath. Is it swift and graceful, like that skater gliding with ease across the ice, or does it feel sharp, heavy, shallow, or difficult? Take a deep breath. What do you feel? Does this sensation seem unfamiliar or natural? How does it feel as you exhale? What feelings are you exhaling with this deep breath?

Reflections:

1. How do you experience the swiftness of wind in your own life right now?

2. Which image or description of wind most resonates with your Holy Imagination right now? What might God be speaking to you through this image?

3. How would you describe your own breathing in this moment? What is the Holy Spirit whispering to you through your own breath?


Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

... I arise today,
Through the depth of sea…

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer

Lightning

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I arise today...
Through the speed of lightning...

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)

So many attributes of lightning remained unknown to St. Patrick and his contemporaries. The electromagnetic properties within this strange phenomenon were inconceivable to the Celtic peoples and indeed to all of the ancient world. Yet one simple observation is clear… lightning strikes fast. A flash of lightning tops out between 87,000 and 93,000 miles per second, but they didn’t need to understand the the speed of light or the nature of electricity to recognize this as one of, if not the fastest observable phenomenon in nature.

What is the significance of such speed in relation to our life with God? God may be present everywhere at once, but we do not wake up one day empowered by the Holy Spirit to run like the Flash, nor is God running around from place to place like a squirrel on Red Bull trying to keep up with all of the cries for help sent up into the sky like prayerful bat-signals.

In fact, God’s omnipresent nature makes speed entirely irrelevant. Speed is a measurement of motion, but God is often described as the “unmoved mover” (Aristotle). In other words, God may set creation in motion and move people to action in response to divine promptings, but God is not moved. God simply is. If there is no place that God is not, there is nowhere for God to move, at least not in a physical sense.

Speed also requires a relationship between motion and time. How fast something moves is determined by how much time passes as the object moves from one place to another. Just like space, time is also an irrelevant concept for God. In theological terms, we might say that God exists in the “Eternal Now”. From the creation of the world to the final consummation in the New Jerusalem… even this very moment in which you find yourself reading an obscure reflection on speed and time… each and every moment exists as a “present moment” for God. Time does not pass in eternity. Just as speed requires a starting place and an ending place, so the measurement of time requires a beginning and an end, but God has neither. There was never a time when God was not and there will never be a time when God ceases to exist.

Are you utterly confused yet? Is your brain spinning with this impossible concept?

If so, you are in good company. Our inability to conceive of a reality not limited by space and time reminds us of our mortality and the futility of trying to fully comprehend or explain the nature of God or eternity. We simply do not have the language to speak of such things. God is God. We are not.

So if speed has no meaning outside of space and time and therefore has no meaning for God who exists outside of space and time, what does it mean to arise today with the speed of lightning?

Here is my limited and perhaps foolish attempt at an explanation, or at least what the image seems to imply to me.

A flash of lightning, to a non-scientific eye, is an observable phenomenon that defies time and space. It flashes so fast that perhaps it is the closest we can come to understanding how fast a “day” might be from God’s eternal point of view. For whether we are talking about a day or a thousand years, both pass as quickly as a bolt of lightning through the lens of eternity.

What if to arise through the speed of lightning is simply to arise with an eternal perspective? All of the worries of yesterday, today and tomorrow do not consume us because in light of eternity, even the worst of our problems is a fleeting reality, gone as fast as it came. To be in Christ is to live in the light of eternity, and in this light we find hope. Even when time seems to stop and our suffering seems to have no end in sight, we can arise through the speed of lightning and celebrate in the joy of an eternity free from the power and bondage of sin and pain.

Reflections:

1. Reflect on a time when you just sat and watched the lightning flash in the storm. What feelings or thoughts did it stir in you?

2. How do you understand the “speed of lightning” in your own relationship with God?

3. Meditate on 2 Peter 3:8-9. What is God speaking to your heart?


Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

... I arise today,
Through the swiftness of wind…

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer

Fire

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I arise today...
Through the splendor of fire...

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)

Like the sun and moon, the splendor of fire calls forth images of brightness, radiance and glorious light. Yet just as the softness of the moon’s reflective glow adds another dimension to the glorious light of God, so the warm crackle of a dancing fire further deepens the image.

Imagine yourself sitting before a stone fireplace or perhaps a blazing campfire. It may help to pull up one of the videos below and simply gaze into the flame on the screen for a few minutes. Of course the ambiance and warmth cannot be replicated digitally, but fond memories and imagination goes a long way toward taking us back to a serene moment of our lives when we found ourselves lost in the fire’s dance.

Fire is extremely practical and necessary for life; to cook, to keep warm, to cleanse or purify, an so on. Though we may use fire in so many ways, these functions are not the essence of fire.

Fire is mysterious, beautiful, inviting, though it can become equally dangerous and destructive. There is no exact science to determining where or in which direction each flare will rise from its source. Likewise, we cannot anticipate when Holy Spirit’s fiery tongue may fall upon us and ignite us in ways that our safe and solitary upper rooms can no longer contain.

We cannot anticipate when Holy Spirit’s fiery tongue may fall upon us and ignite us in ways that our safe and solitary upper rooms can no longer contain.

The splendor of fire has a way of both drawing us together and calling us to silence. We begin an evening around a campfire with laughter and storytelling as we roast hot dogs and marshmallows, but in the end, even the most talkative people find themselves gazing quietly into the mystery of the slowly dying embers. Perhaps the life of the fire calls us to reflect upon the splendor of our own lives, once so active and full of energy but in the end, we all slow down to rest.

At a silence retreat earlier this year, the stone hearth at the center of the retreat center invited nearly every participant to simply sit in its warm glow even as frost overtook the ground just outside the window. Some would read, others slept. Some poked at the logs to stir up the embers while other simply sat and stared. Though its strength grew and faded in cycles throughout the day, it kept burning until the doors were locked for the night. It did not speak audibly as the burning bush on God’s Holy Mountain, yet its voice whispered divine mysteries in the language of the heart and soul.

It is fitting that James describes the tongue as a fire and that the Holy Spirit comes in tongues of fire, for fire indeed has a voice. And like the flames themselves, the voice can speak warmth and comfort or it can consume all that is in its path like a raging forest fire. The fire itself is not alive, nor is God contained in the fire, anymore than God is in the rocks or trees or even in the sun or the moon. But there was a reason all of these elements of earth and sky were so sacred to the Celtic people and there is a reason St. Patrick and others did not entirely exclude these phenomenon from Christian worship. If God indeed is the creator of all things, why would we not expect to see glimpses of the divine nature, character and purposes in that which God has created?

We don’t listen to the fire or dance with the flames, but we are invited to hear and to dance with the God of the flames and perhaps, like Shadrach Meshach and Abednego, even to stand with the Son of God in the midst of the fire and not be consumed (Daniel 3).

Reflections:

1. Spend some time gazing at a fire. What do you feel? How do you see yourself? How do you see God?

2. What do you hear God speaking to you through the fire and how might the Three-One God be inviting you to participate in the dance?

3. In your life right now, would you describe the Holy Spirit’s presence more like a blaze, a fading ember, or somewhere in between? Why?


Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

... I arise today,
Through the speed of lightning…

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer

Moon

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I arise today...
Through the radiance of moon...

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)

Interesting that the writer of this prayer mentions only the simple “light” of the sun, and yet describes the moon as “radiant.”

Radiance implies more than mere light. It envisions brightness, splendor or brilliance. If anything, this description seems more appropriate for the sun than the moon. After all, the moon shines with a much softer, gentler glow. We cannot even look upon the brilliance of the sun but the moon we can watch clearly from its rising to its setting with no ill effect upon our eyes.

Perhaps the difference is context. It is easy to take the sun for granted because when it shines, all is light and we never look directly at the source. The moon, however, functions more like a candle in the darkness. Rather than simply illuminating all we see around us, it’s glow does draw our eye across the darkness of the night sky to the source of the light. In contrast with the darkness around it, the moon is indeed radiant, especially when it is full or in some special state such as a super-moon or harvest moon.

Unlike the sun, the moon does not produce its own light. It reflects the light of the sun into the darkness. This too contributes to our ability to see its beauty. When the sun shines upon the moon and we are able to look closely enough, especially with telescopes or even camera lenses, we notice even the craters and ridges of the landscape. We cannot see such detail upon the sun without specialized equipment, but the sun illuminates the face of the moon and in turn, the moon shines its face upon us on the earth.

While the sun is a glorious metaphor for the brilliantly blinding light of Holy God, the moon perhaps offers a metaphor for our place as God’s children in the darkness of a sinful world. When God’s light shines upon us, every crack and crevice is exposed. Though we try to hide in the darkness, the world needs to see that even in our brokenness, we are still beautiful to the Creator who shines his light upon our face. Every crack tells a story and every crack we see upon the face of another reminds us that we are not alone and that God has brought us through every meteor impact we have faced throughout our lives.

As we turn our face to the light, so we must reflect that light into the darkness of the world. When we try to shine like the sun, exposing the cracks on the surface of others, people turn away in fear, shame, or even anger. But when we simply reflect the light and allow others to draw near in solidarity, we can bask in the glow of the Son of God and together radiate even more light into the darkness.

One final thought. The moon has little value for us during the day. We do not see its light. Therefore, if we are to reflect the radiance of the moon in a way that will bring light and hope to others, we must enter into their darkness. We cannot hide in well-lit sanctuaries where our scars are so easily washed out by the glare. In the moonlight we find a safe place to be real without being blinded. In the moonlight we discover that even with our all of our craters and scars, we are beautiful and even radiant as we reflect the glory of the Son, in whom all things are created and have their being.

Reflections:

1. Spend some time gazing up at the moon. What do you feel? How do you see yourself? How do you see God?

2. In what specific ways does your life reflect the glory and the love of God in the world around you?

3. In what ways have we turned our face away from the blinding light of the Son and no longer reflect His radiance?


Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

... I arise today,
Through the splendor of fire…

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer