I arise today...
Through the speed of lightning...
The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)
So many attributes of lightning remained unknown to St. Patrick and his contemporaries. The electromagnetic properties within this strange phenomenon were inconceivable to the Celtic peoples and indeed to all of the ancient world. Yet one simple observation is clear… lightning strikes fast. A flash of lightning tops out between 87,000 and 93,000 miles per second, but they didn’t need to understand the the speed of light or the nature of electricity to recognize this as one of, if not the fastest observable phenomenon in nature.
What is the significance of such speed in relation to our life with God? God may be present everywhere at once, but we do not wake up one day empowered by the Holy Spirit to run like the Flash, nor is God running around from place to place like a squirrel on Red Bull trying to keep up with all of the cries for help sent up into the sky like prayerful bat-signals.
In fact, God’s omnipresent nature makes speed entirely irrelevant. Speed is a measurement of motion, but God is often described as the “unmoved mover” (Aristotle). In other words, God may set creation in motion and move people to action in response to divine promptings, but God is not moved. God simply is. If there is no place that God is not, there is nowhere for God to move, at least not in a physical sense.
Speed also requires a relationship between motion and time. How fast something moves is determined by how much time passes as the object moves from one place to another. Just like space, time is also an irrelevant concept for God. In theological terms, we might say that God exists in the “Eternal Now”. From the creation of the world to the final consummation in the New Jerusalem… even this very moment in which you find yourself reading an obscure reflection on speed and time… each and every moment exists as a “present moment” for God. Time does not pass in eternity. Just as speed requires a starting place and an ending place, so the measurement of time requires a beginning and an end, but God has neither. There was never a time when God was not and there will never be a time when God ceases to exist.
Are you utterly confused yet? Is your brain spinning with this impossible concept?
If so, you are in good company. Our inability to conceive of a reality not limited by space and time reminds us of our mortality and the futility of trying to fully comprehend or explain the nature of God or eternity. We simply do not have the language to speak of such things. God is God. We are not.
So if speed has no meaning outside of space and time and therefore has no meaning for God who exists outside of space and time, what does it mean to arise today with the speed of lightning?
Here is my limited and perhaps foolish attempt at an explanation, or at least what the image seems to imply to me.
A flash of lightning, to a non-scientific eye, is an observable phenomenon that defies time and space. It flashes so fast that perhaps it is the closest we can come to understanding how fast a “day” might be from God’s eternal point of view. For whether we are talking about a day or a thousand years, both pass as quickly as a bolt of lightning through the lens of eternity.
What if to arise through the speed of lightning is simply to arise with an eternal perspective? All of the worries of yesterday, today and tomorrow do not consume us because in light of eternity, even the worst of our problems is a fleeting reality, gone as fast as it came. To be in Christ is to live in the light of eternity, and in this light we find hope. Even when time seems to stop and our suffering seems to have no end in sight, we can arise through the speed of lightning and celebrate in the joy of an eternity free from the power and bondage of sin and pain.
1. Reflect on a time when you just sat and watched the lightning flash in the storm. What feelings or thoughts did it stir in you?
2. How do you understand the “speed of lightning” in your own relationship with God?
3. Meditate on 2 Peter 3:8-9. What is God speaking to your heart?
Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:
... I arise today,
Through the swiftness of wind…