General News


Here at this old house, I have been reflecting nearly daily on the prayer of St. Patrick. It is sometimes called “The Breastplate of St. Patrick” or the “Lorica of St. Patrick.” A lorica is a piece of Roman armor that covered the body from neck to waist. Many of you know the famous “armor of God” passage from Ephesians 6: 10-18:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For our[struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.

This breastplate attributed to St. Patrick in 377 AD is his response to the evil forces he was contending with as he brought the Gospel to Ireland. Image result for free picture of st. patrickIt has been set as a hymn and in popular songs. The version of it that I have been using goes as follows:

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In the predictions of prophets,
In the preaching of apostles,
In the faith of confessors,
In the innocence of holy virgins,
In the deeds of righteous men.

I arise today, through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of 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 shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.

I summon today
All these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel and merciless power
that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul;
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.

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.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

The section that begins “Christ with me, Christ before me” is sometimes used on its own and in the hymnal versions, it has its own strophic setting.

Your initial sense of this may be that it reminds you of St. Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle to the Sun.” It may also seem outdated when it talks about “witches and smiths and wizards.” However, over the next few posts, I want to share with you how I use this in a modern context to put on my own form of “spiritual armor” for each day.

Today, let me close by point out that the opening and the ending are the same. We always begin and end our day with God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Three distinct Persons yet one God. Next time, we will begin to unpack the other elements of this prayer for spiritual protection.

It is definitely winter here at this old house. Now that Epiphany has been celebrated and we move into that period known in the Church as “ordinary” time (after “ordinal,” or “by the clock” and not “boring”), the days between the Feast of the Nativity and the beginning of Lent. Here at this old house, we put away our decorations two days ago. I always miss the lights on the tree the most. They are the first thing I turn on in the dark mornings and the last thing that goes off before bed.

It is also a winter season in my soul. I have not been able to write and for a while, I tried to fight against that. Then, I realized that it can’t be harvest season all the time and the ability to lie fallow as the earth does in winter is its own gift, though not as welcome always as the gifts of planting, growing and/or harvesting are. I have quit being hard on myself and settled into a time of resting and listening spiritually. Rather than force creativity, I will simply let it lie fallow and wait for the signal that spring is here again.black-and-white, cold, fog

It is important to recognize the seasons of our soul. Just as we can tell what season Nature is in, if we stop long enough and ask honest questions, we can determine whether our spirits are in spring, summer, fall or winter. And as it is important to work with the seasons of Nature in terms of appropriate clothing and knowing when to plant, weed or harvest the garden, so it is important to embrace each season of our inner life. For those of us who are used to producing a lot of creative work, winter can be very trying as it is often a time when creativity seems to have vanished. Yet, often in winter deep work is happening underground, both in the earth and in our souls.

So, I embrace winter, both inside and outside. I invite those of you who are in the same season to join me in a cup of hot tea and a good book!

It is beginning to look like late Advent here at this old house. Decorations are up, baking is filling tins on the top of the refrigerator, and greeting card supplies are piled on the desk. We are well into Advent, especially since the Fourth Sunday of Advent only lasts 18 hours this year. It falls on December 24th and Christmas Eve begins at sundown.

I have been thinking a lot about life in Jerusalem. Our time there last spring continues to bear fruit in our daily lives. Since 1993, we have been drawn to Israel and especially the Old City of Jerusalem. I am in touch with friends there still and am watching them prepare for Christmas in the Old City and surrounding areas. They have also been deeply impacted by the USA’s announcement that it would recognize Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel.Image result for free photo city of jerusalem

Some here have applauded that move, relieved that a President has finally had the “courage” to say what needs to be said. Others recognize the political landmine that is Jerusalem, seeing the statement as a lit match near a can of gasoline. In Israel, Palestinians have turned off the lights on their Christmas trees in protest. The Palestinian Christians once again are caught in the cross fire between the Muslim community and the Jewish community, vilified by both sides as “agents of the West.” Unfortunately, Western civilization has come to be synonymous with Christianity. The Crusades are still fresh in their memory as well. God forgive us.

This whole issue was brought home to me last Sunday in the second reading appointed for the day:

2 Peter 3: 3 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

What hit me is we hasten the coming of Christ through living holy and godly lives. I sensed in the announcement from Washington that some people were excited for the wrong reasons. To hear the declaration of Jerusalem as the capitol of the modern state of Israel fed into a belief that yet another step was checked off the list of signs that must happen before Christ will come again. Yet, just as many in Biblical Israel missed the signs that pointed to the Messiah and so missed who Jesus was, so today, some think certain political events are definitive signs that herald the Second Coming of Christ. Even more frightening to me are those who wish to force those signs to happen so that the day will come more quickly without any regard to how those actions will impact real people’s daily lives.

Peter tells us that it is in the way that we live today right where we are that will bring the Kingdom of God. Maybe that is the message of Advent, a time when we reflect on Christ’s first coming to Bethlehem, his coming daily to us through the Holy Spirit, and his future coming in glory: what kind of people ought we to be? What kind of person am I really?

 

Sigh. In the last few weeks, I have suddenly found myself trying not to look. It is kind of like driving through the red light district or by a horrible car accident, though, and I struggle to not see what is around me.

”Christmas.”

Or as I like to call it, the December consumer season.

Why is it that the Church has been so ineffective against this tide of creeping conspicuous consumerism? Why is it that so many who follow Christ succumb to Mall Time instead of resting into Church Year Time?

While this may make me sound like a crabby old lady, in reality, I am sad. I overheard someone the other day say that they were already sick of Christmas and it wasn’t even Thanksgiving yet. (Remember, Thanksgiving is supposedly the time when we as a nation stop and give thanks to God for all of our blessings. Now, the food has hardly hit our stomachs before the retailers want to drag us out for pre-Black Friday savings.)Image result for free photo Thanksgiving chasing Christmas away

The star that is in my town now goes on around Veteran’s Day. I used to anticipate its lighting; now, I try not to look at it because it makes me so sad.

Two things are happening, as I see it: the message of Christmas is being completely swallowed up by commercialism-run-amok. Children don’t even know Christmas carols anymore, only non-descript “holiday” songs. Even faith communities rush to get their Christmas programs over early in December so everyone “can enjoy the holidays.” Does anyone else think this is wrong?

The second thing I see happening is that, as the whole scenario gets so out of hand, there may be a backlash beginning. People are refusing to rush away from the table at Thanksgiving to go shopping. Advent and its themes are being re-discovered even in faith communities that have never heard of the Church Year calendar. Conspicuous consumerism is beginning to fade into memorable times and experiences together as family and friends. Handmade, local mean even more when gifts are given. Black Friday becomes a time to do alternative events, like being outside as a family.

God invites, even commands, us to celebrate but I challenge you to find true celebration in so much of what passes for “holiday cheer” in this culture. How many of us come to January exhausted and in debt, thrilled that the holidays are over? The Discipline of Celebration from God’s perspective leads to life and joy and goodness.

If what you are planning in the next five weeks doesn’t do that for you, it’s not too late to re-evaluate!

 

This past week, we went camping at Chaco Canyon National Park in northwest New Mexico. It is a very remote spot: the nearest bank is 80 miles away. There are no services, gas, food, or lodging, anywhere near the national park. We were completely off the grid, carrying our own water as the campground has non-potable water (the Visitor’s Center one and a half miles away has potable water), and food as well as everything we needed to camp for two nights in early November.

We arrived the day before the full moon. Getting up in the middle of the night the next night to head to the bathroom was magical: absolute quiet, towering canyon walls on three sides of the campground, and a full moon that was so bright, we didn’t need a flashlight. We also stumbled into the final ranger program for the year that allowed us to be in the most famous ruin, Pueblo Bonito, after dark, hearing stories and learning about the site and the stars. What a gift!

In this liminal space that we continue to live in, it was good to be in a mysterious site like Chaco Canyon. No one really knows why Chaco was built. It is believed that is was a place of ceremony, with fewer rather than more people living in it, that it was more like the Vatican than Rome itself. Yet, many roads radiated out of Chaco to settlements near and far that were permanent living places. As the ranger said, scholars know some of the answers to the “what” questions but few to no answers for the “why” questions.

Among other things to see, Chaco has some amazing stone work. They built three-story (maybe higher) buildings out of stone and used mere pebbles for much of the work! The belief is that it was for the sheer aesthetic of it. The time it must have taken to build on that scale with those tiny rocks in hard to imagine. It would be like building a three story building today and using Lego-sized blocks for much of the walls.

And then, everyone left. Again, no one knows why. They literally walked away as they did from Mesa Verde, Aztec Ruins, and so many other places that dot the Four Corners region of the United States. I remember being at he Kennecott mine townsite in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park area of Alaska. When the copper mine played out and the last train came to take the rest of the workers and their families away for good, many people walked out of their homes leaving the dishes on the table, the pictures on the walls, and the furniture in the rooms. They only took what they could carry in bags on the train with them.

In this liminal space, I am being asked to walk away from things as well. I sense it is so that I can move toward something else that has not yet been revealed. I don’t think I am being asked to literally walk out of this old house and leave the dishes on the table but I do think I am being asked to leave behind old certainties and thought-patterns. I don’t think I am to actually leave the pictures on the wall behind but I do think I am being invited to leave behind the picture I had of how my future would look.

I find Chaco Canyon both thrilling and unnerving: a great civilization, a great center of diverse culture and activity completely abandoned to the ravages of time and nature. I thrill to touch the walls made by such brilliant craftsmen over about a 300-year time period and wonder how they could simply walk away from these monuments to human creativity and religious practice.

It makes me wonder if I could let go of enough of my daily life as it is now to answer a call to something completely new, if and when it comes.

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