As We Rise Today
As we rise today, perhaps after too much Guinness or green beer, it seems appropriate to lift up the real Patrick. The revelry of St. Patrick’s Day in the USA is shared by huge numbers even here in the northeast where the weather doesn’t really lend itself to outdoor parades. But, the US Census does report that 34.5 million Americans list their heritage as either primarily or partially Irish. That is worthy of celebration. (It will be fun to see how the surge of interest in AncestryDNA and 23andMe impact the next census.)
As a middle schooler, I wore green on St. Patrick’s Day (as did Al Cesare, a classmate, we dubbed a “Mediterranean Irishman”). It was all great fun until I returned home from school to find my Irish grandfather shaking his head. He asked me “Did ye not know that our people are Orangemen and that the pipes parade we attend every July in Toronto is our day of celebration?” I remember it distinctly because his tone was sharp and that was very unlike him. My reply was that in America the only Irish day celebrated was St. Patrick’s Day and I didn’t want to miss out. He shook his head again, muttering “Aye,” and returned to his paper. I would come to learn the complexities of that difference separating Orangemen and Republicans in the years to come.
I must confess that on my first visit to Ireland as a teenager, I wasn’t that interested in visiting the Patrick sites. Perhaps because I was a Scot-Irish Presbyterian, my grandfather’s influence, or perhaps just because I was fourteen. I was, however, very moved to walk the medieval city wall in Londonderry with young cousins then and again a few years later after the Bog Side riots. I was always proud to be Irish but never again would identify as an Orangeman. Scot-Irish, yes. Orangeman, no. More about that in later blogs.
My first genuine encounter and understanding of Patrick came years later when I was visiting the south of Ireland, revisiting Derry and learning the complexities that my grandfather had only alluded to.
I have come to find meaning in Celtic spirituality and its universality. My Scot-Irish background finds common ground with the real Patrick. I now see that Patrick’s Celtic roots and his courage to do what he was directly called to do, even when the Roman Church tried to direct him was key to the formation of this integrative Celtic spirituality I now practice. We often here that Ireland and Scotland were spared the destruction of ancient sites because the Romans withdrew to fight the barbarians clamoring at their gates. It is also true that Patrick’s incorporation of many of the customs and rituals of the Old Religion allowed these sites to remain.
So, I want to give another rise of the glass, in a sober way to Patrick who shaped Celtic spirituality through his actions, his spirit and his heart.
These words of Patrick speak to me as they have spoken to so many through the ages. I think demonstrate why he has been remembered and celebrated:
I arise today, through the strength of heaven;
light of sun, radiance of moon,
splendor of fire, speed of lightning,
swiftness of the wind, depth of the sea,
stability of earth, firmness of rock.
This is just the beginning of the classic prayer called St. Patrick’s Breastplate. This version is also a song called Deer’s Cry. Legend has it that he was under attack when he first made this statement of faith in the elements of the original Celtic trinity: earth, sky and water. Celtic wisdom has always connected us to Mother Nature and Patrick brought that sense of connection into Celtic Christianity.
I invite you to look into the man behind the legend, behind the parade.