“The swiftness of wind, the depth of the sea ….”

March 17, 2009

stpatrickwindowOne thing we can learn from St. Patrick is not to dismiss the ideas of other people as though they had no value. Patrick converted people from old Celtic religions to Christianity, but he seems to have realized the merit in those traditions. The prayer attributed to him and recorded after his lifetime in the Book of Armagh exhibits something easily overlooked about so-called pagan faiths – that they recognized perhaps more clearly than monotheistic religious communities sometimes do the immanence of the  divinity in everything that exists. That came across to us in Iceland a couple of years ago when we accidentally came across a group of people welcoming the summer solstice with an ancient ritual that addressed the gods present in nature. My generation of Catholics was taught at an early age, from the old Baltimore Catechism, that God is “the Supreme Being who made all things and keeps them in existence.” In our eagerness to imagine God in a form we can understand – which often means turning him into a human image and, therefore, not God at all” – perhaps we miss the chance to understand what that means: “and keeps them in existence.”  Patrick’s prayer implies that he did not miss that chance:

“I bind to myself today the power of heaven, the light of the sun, the brightness of the moon, the splendor of fire, the flashing of lightning, the swiftness of wind, the depth of the sea, the stability of earth, the compactness of rocks.”


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