Friday, March 11, 2011

Story Bible Moms: More from St. Patrick

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me!
Christ below me,
Christ above me.
Christ at my right,
Christ at my left!
Christ in breadth,
Christ in length,
Christ in height!

From St. Patrick's Breastplate

This week, I'm continuing with our meditation on St. Patrick's writings. This excerpt is also from his "Breastplate," or the prayer Patrick said when he was hiding from persecution. This is the part of the prayer I'm most familiar with.

I want to share a story with you that has to do with the prayer, but it will take awhile to get there. Hang in there with me for a while...

I have a Bible I was given as a third grader. For some reason, this is the traditional age in many Presbyterian churches when kids get their first "grown up" Bible. The congregation of my childhood is nothing if not traditional Presbyterians, so at the ripe age of 8, I was presented with this book. It sat on my shelf for many years. I remember reading Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson when I was in middle school, and wondering if the quoted verse ("Jacob have I loved, but Esau I have hated") was really in the Bible. I asked my mom, and she pulled my very own Bible off the bookshelf, and said, "Look it up." Well, the verse really is in there, and from then on, the Bible remained on my bookshelf in my bedroom.

As I grew a little older, I learned a more disciplined way of studying scripture. I also began writing prayers and quotes in the margins and the inside cover. But when I came across this bit of St. Patrick's Breastplate (not knowing it was part of a much longer work), I knew it deserved a place of pride in my quote collection. In my very best 16-year-old cursive, complete with curlicues, I copied this prayer right onto the title page, just under the words "Holy Bible."

For as long as that Third Grade Bible was the Bible I most used - until I was well into college - every time I opened the book, I paused to read these words of Patrick. The prayer is so powerful! Knowing the circumstances under which Patrick first prayed these words, that he was hiding from a would-be assassin, the power seems even greater.

But even on a most ordinary day, inviting Christ to surround us, not just sort of around, but in every place on every side in every dimension, this is a true invitation to change in our lives.

This Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent, the season of preparation for Jesus death on the cross, and resurrection from the grave. Depending on one's tradition, people give things up for Lent: meat, chocolate, Facebook. On Wednesday night, I asked Jonathan if our family should take up one of these disciplines. He had just preached a really lovely sermon about how Lent is meant to change us; to make us more Christ-like. He wisely asked, "How is giving up chocolate going to make you a better person?" I honestly replied, "It's not. It would probably make me a very unpleasant person."

And so I begin this year's journey to the cross with no "sacrifice," no tangible devotional exercise. But reading this ancient plea for Christ's safekeeping, I am reminded that nothing changes us more than truly, honestly, and completely inviting Christ to be in us and work through us. This prayer of Patrick's, if earnestly said, is asking for change in the deepest and most complete way.

Asking the Living God to surround us in every possible way is perhaps worthy of being written on the title page of every book we read, every endeavor we begin, and every day that we live.

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