Christ to shield me today
against poison, against burning,
against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward....
The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)
The Breastplate prayer, while often used in the mornings as a way of arising each day in the light of Christ’s glory, is also and perhaps primarily a prayer of protection. In the previous section we asked God to protect us from the invisible powers of evil. Now we turn to far more tangible concerns; poison, burning, drowning, and wounding.
We must admit to some cultural barriers in fully applying this prayer, as things like poison and burning do not generally pose a threat to us. On the other hand, there are perhaps ways that each of these threats still show up in our supposedly “more civilized culture.” Let us look for a moment at each of the four specific threats and what they might mean for us today.
While most of us do not need a royal food taster to make sure we are not poisoned by our enemies, the truth is we still face poison in many forms today. People struggle with the more obvious poisons of alcohol or drugs, especially given the present crisis of opioid abuse in our culture. In truth, any addictive behavior can become like a poison to our bodies and souls. Sin, in any form, functions like a poison that destroys us from the inside out. I was once part of an accountability group where we regularly prayed, “Lord, make my sin taste like the poison it truly is.” It was a way of remembering that even those seemingly small or insignificant acts of selfish desire would eat away at our souls perhaps even more than some major moral failing.
Burning is a little tougher. There is not a clear spiritual parallel and though some families lose everything in house fires and other similar disasters, I don’t know anyone who faces the threat of being intentionally burned at the stake. In some ways, however, our corporate sin of greed and selfishness is “burning the earth” as we continue to burn fossil fuels and do harm to our environment and to future generations who will suffer the increasing effects. This is not the place for a political argument about climate change, but suffice it to say that caring for God’s creation is first a social, a moral, and a spiritual issue. Politics only distract us from our God-given responsibilities as stewards and caregivers of the earth. The “burning of the earth” through global warming due to our own neglect, apathy and even abuse of natural resources inordinately impacts the poor and those who are unable to escape or do not have the infrastructure to withstand the “natural disasters” that are increasing in frequency and intensity at an alarming rate. At the end of this reflection I will offer a few resources if you are interested in digging deeper into the moral dimensions of climate change and what we can do about it.
There are certainly parallels between drowning and the climate change issued I mentioned above. Science has shown without question that as glaciers melt, sea levels continue to rise and coastal regions throughout the world are suffering disastrous consequences even now. There are of course spiritual dimensions to this danger as well. The Good News Translation of Psalm 38:4 says, “I am drowning in the flood of my sins; they are a burden too heavy to bear.” We do not need a cataclysmic weather event like Noah’s flood to take seriously the ways our sin, both individual and as a society, can easily overwhelm us.
Wounding comes in all forms. We may pray for protection against physical harm, but we must also take seriously the ways our hearts our wounded. As the saying goes, “hurt people hurt people.” In other words, if we do not deal with our own wounds or hurt, whether emotional, physical, spiritual, mental or in any other form, we will inevitably wound or hurt others out of a sense of self-preservation. Many of those we condemn for doing harm to others have been so deeply wounded themselves that they react violently out of utter desperation and hopelessness. We must consistently pray to protect our hearts and souls from being wounded and perhaps even more, we must pray against the ways we wound or inflict harm upon others, no matter how unintentional.
Of the four specific dangers mentioned in this passage, which one resonates the most with you and why?
What other ways can you see these dangers impacting your life?
Beyond the reward of eternal life, what rewards might you experience in your everyday life by praying against and overcoming these dangers to your mind, body and soul?
Here are a few great resources regarding the moral dimensions of climate change:
Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:
Christ with me…