Thursday, March 17, 2011

To Patrick

You wear obscurity like Joseph’s coat,
Meandering your way from history into myth
As if they were the same, as if you wrote
It on the wind and dared us probe its width.
For what is harder: banishing the snakes
From where they never were, or gathering them
Like sheep on Slemish, ‘til our memory wakes
Embedded in your verdant clover stems?
Walk on, as if it were the same to light
A fire on Slane as in our hearts or from
Your fingertips, and carve your crosses right
Where we would wrap our arms around the sun.
And where we can't sift form from matter, smile
Like a schoolboy, besting us in guile.

St. Patrick's breastplate

For my birthday, my parents' gave me a weekend of spring back down South to remind me of what will eventually (I hope!) arrive in the Midwest.

I'd love to write a lovely, inspirational anecdote to celebrate some obscure aspect of Irish culture. But it is my birthday, and my family calls, and the trees are budding under the warmth of the March sunshine. I'll have to settle for the tried-and-true, well-known "St. Patrick's Breastplate" that any ol' google search will assure you was "most certainly not" written by Patrick as if it matters, as if a possibly 8th-century hymn is not connected to the life of its 4th-century generator in this living body we call the Church.

And now I must arise in the light of sun...

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

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
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 way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel 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 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.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

He remembers that we are dust

In the two years that constituted my M.A. program, my sister had a frightening brush with death, my sister-in-law had a miscarriage, my three-year-old nephew had heart surgery, a friend from undergrad was shot, a grad-school friend was diagnosed with Leukemia, a friend from church lost her two-year-old, and two friends from former eras lost newborn babies.

Remember that you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.

But this year, before I could prepare to enter the season that reminds us that sin and frailty ravage our bodies like my friend’s cancer, I was startled by the hope of the resurrection that awaits us on the other side of death. Old friends who have struggled for years with infertility just picked up their new son in Ethiopia. Two of the friends who lost babies are holding another in their arms, and the other is holding one in her womb. The frail bodies of my sister and nephew and grad-school friend have made it through the ailments of their blood and heart and bone and found life at the other side. My family just celebrated the second birthday of my nephew who was born nine months after his brother or sister passed imperceptibly out of the womb.

Bless the LORD, O my soul…
who heals all your diseases,

who redeems your life from the pit…

Despite the beauty of life and healing in the previous paragraph, the mystery of the Christian story is that it holds both paragraphs together: Christ does not destroy death; he enters into it, paving the way for us to follow into life. Isaiah says that “He will swallow up Death forever”; he will consume it until “Death is swallowed up in Victory,” until it becomes the nutrients broken down and digested in Victory’s stomach.

As we enter Lent, we are not rewinding the story to an earlier scene before Christ’s Resurrection; we are progressing deeper into the story of the renewed creation. Our sin and frailty that we meditate upon for these next six weeks is the place Christ has chosen to enter; we go there to meet him. Lent is a time of grace.

As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.

For he knows our frame;

he remembers that we are dust.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

March dawns

Spring creeps in on elvish toes, imperceptibly magical, an enchantment that takes root in thawing earth beneath the snow long before its victory is revealed to weary eyes. But the victory is already complete, a subterranean furnace that silently chuckles at Winter’s empty domination. The tyrant with his weight of frozen oppression twitches uneasily, tossing his near-exhausted darts in groundless pride, trembling in anticipation of the assassin’s knife.

Yet the usurper’s final insult is his disregard, his ambivalence toward the emperor he has already defeated. Winter reigns on his throne of bleeding ice within a palace of straw, and Spring declines to waste his breath to huff and puff and blow it down; he would rather infiltrate the crags and caverns where Life has crouched in fear, shedding his vitality to melt the rigid hibernation. Hope stands poised to welcome his inevitable reign.

And here I am supposed to be preparing for Lent, yet the season of repentance has waited until Hope is undeniable to appear. It is another of the innumerable graces of the Church that sorrow is never divorced from Hope, that we are never called to enter utter darkness. Death is already invaded by Life, before we even have time to contemplate its dominion. Death may do his worst and it is terrible indeed, but he afflicts us like the Winter on an early March dawn, while Life lies laughing beneath an inch of slush.