Did you celebrate St. Patrick’s day yesterday? We were visiting one of our daughters in Los Angeles (who was wearing a green sweater) and my wife and I were wearing blue. All around us people streamed toward restaurants and bars dressed in green hats, shirts, and dresses. We didn’t get the green dress memo. I remember as a kid at school you got pinched if you didn’t wear green. Thankfully no one pinched me in Manhattan Beach last night. But I was ready.
Is that all there is to St. Pat’s day? Wearing green or trying to avoid getting pinched if you don’t? Most of those reading this would know that St. Patrick was actually the forefather of one of the greatest mission movements in history, the Celts. I have written posts about them before, how they emerged from monasteries in Ireland and Scotland in the 5th century onward and moved across Europe with the Gospel. (If you haven’t read Thomas Cahill’s excellent book, How the Irish Saved Civilization, it is worth your time!)
St. Patrick taught and lived out themes that would be important to the Celt Church in coming centuries. One of those themes was his love for nature and seeing it as God’s creation. The Celts (and Church of the East in Asia) had a deep devotion to the created order, seeing it as another way to honor the beauty of God. Here is one of the many passages from St. Patrick about creation:
I bind unto myself today, the virtues of the star-lit heaven, the glorious sun’s life-giving ray, the whiteness of the moon at even, the flashing of the lightning free, the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks, the stable earth, the deep salt sea around the old eternal rocks. (translation in Newell 1997:25)
Another theme St. Patrick lived and taught was the presence of Christ and the heavenly hosts all around him, all the time. In the fifth verse of the hymn attributed to him, though it is not certain he actually wrote it, Christ is everywhere!
Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger. (Newell :26)
To St. Patrick and the Celt Church of the 5th century onwards, heaven and earth were not completely separate, but existed in an integrated continuum. There were even places that were easier to make the connection between the two, called “thin places”. This is where you could find yourself in even closer harmony with the presence of God, where you could sense that “more is going on than seems to be going on”. (those are my words.) Have you ever felt in a situation that you were in touch with the invisible in an unusual way, whether in a time of great ecstasy or even great sorrow?
I hope you had a good St. Patrick’s day, if you even knew it was happening. I hope you didn’t get pinched if you didn’t wear green. But I hope most of all that you and I get to experience times when heaven is close and earth is more than just getting through another day. More than just working another day to have enough to retire to hope that life is better than. Stop today and be thankful for St. Patrick. Next year you can even pinch me if I don’t wear green.