Thursday, March 17, 2016

The strong name

‘I arise today in vast might,
in vocation of the Trinity,
belief in a Threeness,
confession of Oneness,
towards the Creator…’

Thus begins ‘the Breastplate,’ or Lorica, of Saint Patrick, a mighty prayer invoking Divine Might and clearing the road ahead of all possible obstacles and dangers, making mighty ‘against every fierce, merciless force’ him who recites it. It is also called ‘the Deer Cry’ because the occasion of its composition was the journey of Patrick and his monks to convert one of the Irish kings to Christianity. The king did not want to convert and sent armed men to ambush the missionaries. Somehow, Patrick and his monks got through the ambush chanting his prayer. When the king later asked what happened, his men replied, ‘We did not see them. We saw only a few head of deer go past.’

As a new Christian, a ‘born again’—though what I call my ‘born again experience’ looks in retrospect like nothing other than the moment I became aware of the fact that I was born again ‘of water and the Spirit’ without my knowledge or consent when I was baptised as an infant—as a new disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, confronted by ‘the world, the flesh, and the devil,’ I recited this prayer of the apostle of Ireland frequently, complementing it with many signs of the cross, bows and prostrations. Yes, I had a whole ritual worked out, almost a dance movement, to pray with my body those mighty petitions my lips uttered. I fully intended my performance to be efficacious.

Yes, performance maybe more than prayer. Such are the faults of beginners, and that is what I was, a very, very green Christian. I hadn’t spilt my blood yet, not really, and I was going to make sure I never did. I hadn’t yet noticed that a follower of Jesus does what he sees his Master doing. Green, not red, was the color I wanted my life in Christ to be. This was the deal: I follow Christ, and He protects me. He keeps me safe. I can trust in His promises. That’s why He says, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ Christ spilt His blood to save me, so I don’t have to spill mine. I even went so far with this color thing, that I had a picture of Jesus in a green robe!

Becoming ‘born again,’ joining the Church, I felt good. I felt I had really accomplished something. Looking back I now call it, ‘pretending you’re a sinner, so you can pretend you’re saved.’ I didn’t really know what it meant to be a disciple. I thought to myself, I had finally outgrown the ‘children’s version’ of Christianity, and I was now a Christian man. I now knew ‘the rules’ and henceforth I would follow them. Then, God would bless me, just like it says in the Psalms. What a happy life! But, back to the Lorica, that most powerful prayer that I offered to ward off the evil that surrounded me and my little family on all sides. As my life became less and less precarious, I offered it less. What a mistake!

It even seemed to me, finally, a quaint relic, almost a magical incantation. I now realize that, of course, it can become that, and it probably was that for me in my youthful folly. For I did not have real faith then, only folly disguised as faith. Real faith is not mercenary, but I wasn’t listening closely enough to the Word of God preached to me in church, or when I read it at home. Misguided teachers of a materialistic gospel—which is no gospel at all, but just another way to make money—hid the truth from me, just as they still do for many new believers, whether they are young or old. Captured like a bird in the fowler’s net, the Lord had mercy on His unworthy servant. He tore the net, and I escaped…

The strong name of the Trinity. Yes, it is strong. It is very strong, for the Lord is in His name, and His name is in Him. But this name, and this Trinity, though they are mighty, though they protect—yes, like Abram, we know the Triad as three yet call them ‘my Lord’—this might is not what we call might, nor is this protection always what we expect. It cannot be, because He treats each of us in a unique way—as there is only One God, so there is only one of each human being, all different, all unrepeatable, and so are His ways with us. The prayer always ‘works,’ and we always need what it asks for, but we almost never know what it is we need.

Like the Irish kings of old, deep within the walls of our self-protection we hide, unwanting light, pretending to good but rejecting the only One who is good. We send our sentries to ambush them whom God sends to convert our hearts, yet because He loves us more than we hate Him, they pass through our ambush and pierce our defenses. To chant this Lorica, we switch sides against our selves, against the ‘old man’ in us, and join the ‘new man’ whom Christ has formed in His Divine Image. This prayer has now, for me, truly become ‘the Deer Cry’ because it is no longer something I can perform, but the bleating of my heart for a protection not only promised but delivered.

‘Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ under me,
Christ over me,
Christ to right of me,
Christ to left of me,
Christ in lying down,
Christ in sitting,
Christ in rising up.
Christ in the heart of every person who may think of me,
Christ in the mouth of every person who may speak to me,
Christ in every eye which may look on me,
Christ in every ear which may hear me.’

Now I know, it is one thing to simply recite this prayer, and another to walk in it. Just as the holy gospels are all contained in the name of Jesus, and that name is the same as the name of the Trinity, so is this Lorica of Saint Patrick, not a spell of white magic, seeking that our will be done instead of the will of our heavenly Father, but an expression of the Divine name for us to walk in. That walking will, and of necessity, must be following Jesus wherever He leads. Yes, for if we are disciples, we shall walk like Patrick and his monks: ‘They have kept themselves as pure as virgins, following the Lamb wherever he goes.’ That is might. That is protection against all harm. That is life.

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