A Word from the Irish
I fly to Dublin, Ireland, on Wednesday then on to Belfast where I’ll be preaching the Holy Week services at Knock Methodist Church. The pastor, Britt Gilmore, grew up at St. Luke’s UMC in Orlando where I led his confirmation class when he was 10 years old. Looking back, Britt described that experience as “a significant season in my own journey of faith becoming personal.”
If I could go to Sligo (also the name of a tiny town not far from where I grew up in Western Pennsylvania), I’d make a point of seeing a statue of the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats. A friend pointed out that it has a strange resemblance to me!
Reading Yeats in preparation for the trip took me back to these familiar lines. Written in 1919, they are painfully appropriate for our time.
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
(From The Second Coming )
I also came across these words that could be equally applicable to what we see and hear today.
A century ago, Yeats pointed to the great risk of our time, namely, that we lose our cultural center — what the pilgrims called “the common good,” the values of decency, integrity, honesty and respect for our institutions and traditions — as we are pulled apart by polarizing forces that are “full of passionate intensity.”
To protect the “certainty” of our convictions, we can easily be tempted not to honor people who are different — people of different races, cultures, religions, sexual orientations, political persuasions — but to demonize, demean, dishonor and defeat them. Rather than dealing with stubborn things called facts, we can hide away 24-hour-cable-news bubbles where everything we hear reinforces the “loose fantasy” of our previously held “alternative facts.”
Wisdom from St. Patrick
How do we break the relentless cycle of bitterness which, in the words of Macbeth, always “returns to plague th’ inventor: this even handed justice/Commends the ingredients of our poisoned chalice/To our own lips”?
For those who claim to be disciples of Jesus, what is different about the way we deal with our differences?
Perhaps the beginning of an answer is in another old, Irish poem. Though no one knows who first prayed it, it’s passed down to us as the Lorica (meaning body armor or breastplate) of St. Patrick. You can hear a choral version of it here. Pray something like this every day and it could change the way we live.
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.
Is it too simplistic to say that for Christian people, the center of certainty is Jesus? Is it too much to expect that people who claim to be his followers should think, live, and act as if they actually believed that Christ was with them all the time? Doesn’t the world have a right to expect that regardless of the way other people behave, disciples of Jesus should behave in ways that are consistent with the words and way of Jesus in the gospels?
There’s more to St. Patrick than green beer or leprechans sneaking into the house leaving green pee and bringing treats to children. (Who invented that one?) Maybe the old saint got it right!
Grace and peace,