Today is the Feast of St. Patrick

March 17, 2005 @ 9:43 am | Filed under: Books

I love the ancient prayer known as the Breastplate of St. Patrick. Here is an excerpt:

I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The brightness of the Sun,
The whiteness of Snow,
The splendor of Fire,
The speed of Lightning,
The swiftness of the Wind,
The depth of the Sea,
The stability of the Earth,
The firmness of Rocks.

I bind to myself today
God’s Power 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 shelter me,
God’s Host to secure me.

I will never forget the chill that went up my spine the first time I, as an adult, came across this prayer. It called up an immediate echo from one of my favorite books as a teenager: Madeleine L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet. The first stanza, above, is the substance of the “rune” quoted by Calvin’s mother and later used by Charles Wallace. I haven’t read the novel in some twenty years, but I can still remember part of that powerful poem: “In this fateful hour/ I call upon all heaven with its power,/ The sun with its brightness,/The snow with its whiteness,/The lightning with its rapid wrath,/The fire with all the strength it hath…” I can almost recall the rest. At the end there is, I think, “the rocks with their starkness;/ All this I place,/ with God’s almighty help and grace,/ Between myself and the powers of darkness.”

I am sixteen again, shivering at the majesty and faith in those words.


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