Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down.
For much of my life when I heard the word “Christ,” I thought of Jesus. I am sure that most people do. But when I heard the Deer’s Cry sung by the Irish singer Rita Connoly, I thought instead of a healing spirit at work in the world and in my life. Maybe part of it was that she sung the prayer, and I could hear in her voice something that was immediate and present, not simply in the past. I did not think of someone who lived in the past, walking the hills of Galilee, but something around us and within us, like wind and breathing.
Having read John Cobb’s Christ in a Pluralistic Age, where he develops the idea that “Christ” names the spirit of creative transformation at work in the world, I knew that my feeling for Christ was in some ways traditional. I was thinking of Christ as the Logos of which the Gospel of John speaks: a Logos that is God's presence throughout the world in a healing and enlightening way, and that was revealed in but not redudible to the healing ministry of Jesus.
But it was Rita Connolly’s version of the St. Patrick’s Breastplate Prayer that helped me feel Christ this way. I have been doing so ever since. I think of Christ as a healing spirit at work in the world: a spirit that can protect us, not be preventing all calamities, but by giving us the inner strength to deal with whatever calamities befall us and those we love, and by inspiring and encouraging everyone, everywhere, to live from love as best they can. In this sense Christ is indeed everywhere.
Yes, this Christ is linked with Jesus in important ways. Christians are a people who see this healing spirit at work in Jesus, and who take the healing ministry of Jesus, including his death and resurrection, as their guide for living I am among them. I think Christ was in Jesus in a special way, and he is indeed a window to Christ for me. If the healing spirit of Christ is akin to a word or sound uttered by heaven, he is the word become flesh. But I also know that the healing spirit that I name Christ is at work in the lives of people who belong to other faiths and to no faith. Christ is not reducible to Christianity or to the word “Christ.” Christ is deeper, and greener, than this. Christ is in the wind and the sea, too. In the splendor of fire and the speed of lightning. Christ is in the healing power of the body and, of course, in the lives of people who live from love. Blessed are the meek, of whatever faith, for theirs is the kingdom of God.
Still, for me and so many others, the word “Christ” is one of our best and most beautiful words for naming, and being in touch with, this healing spirit in whom we entrust our lives. We pray deeply, and often, with the words of the Deer’s Cry: Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ on my life, Christ on my left. Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down. And we know that we arise each day with help from this spirit. This spirit is our salvation.
- Jay McDaniel, March 3, 2021
St. Patrick's Prayer and Process-Relational Theology
Caught up in shopping for my family, and only the second time I have gone to a grocery store in twelve months, I almost forgot to buy traditional the St. Patrick’s meal of corned beef and cabbage. Like a lot of you, I’m a little distracted these days. Last year, many of us were distracted by the unknown and impossible – closing schools, churches, and restaurants, and worried about the food supply – in America! This year, I’m also a little distracted, almost giddy, two vaccines behind me, wearing a mask and practicing safe distancing, but feeling safe to go to public venues for the first time in a year. I am even thinking of holding our yearly Beach Easter Sunrise Services in-person in a few weeks, if the numbers are good on Cape Cod, and possibly returning to in-person worship in our historic sanctuary in May.
St. Patrick’s Breastplate prayer was written in a difficult time, too. A local chieftain had placed a price on his head. As legend has it, the chieftain’s troops were hot on Patrick’s tail, when he invoked this prayer of protection. All Patrick’s pursuers heard was the cry of a deer bounding across the trail.
Patrick’s prayer affirms an ever-present, dynamic God, similar to the dynamic relational God of process theology. God is everywhere, sustaining everything, guiding our steps, and giving us wisdom to face the challenges of each day. God is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. God is above us, below us, around us, within us. Wherever we are, God is with us. We are always centered in God, and God centers us. And, also wherever we go, God’s circle of love surrounds us.
Whether from Patrick or from process-relational theology, these are wise words in a time of pandemic. We are tempted to see the Coronavirus as all-powerful and ourselves without any agency or power. The Coronavirus becomes our god, frightening in comparison to our weakness, not the One True God, Infinite and Intimate and calling forth our resources to be agents and companions in responding to crisis. Yes, Coronavirus is real and still dangerous to persons. It has threatened our social and economic order and revealed the in stark details inequalities of economics, housing, policing, and education in the USA. . But the Coronavirus is not the ultimate reality. It is finite, not Infinite; temporary, not everlasting; contingent, not necessary.
God is persistently, gently, and sometimes forcefully, working within all things, including the virus and our response to the virus, seeking individual and corporate wellbeing, congruent with the greatest good in the moment and over the long haul. Divine wisdom is inspiring us, and if we listen to it, we will not only be less fearful but use our freedom and agency compassionately and justly. We can experience faith, hope, and love in a time of pandemic, listening to God’s voice within our voice, calling upon God’s wisdom and energy to guide our steps, and acting in ways that join care for our kin with world loyalty.
Let us place ourselves in the circle of God’s love, knowing that wherever we are – and whatever happens – God will be with us – in life and death and beyond. Let us go forth using our agency for the common good and healing the soul of the nation and our planet, with the God of process and Patrick as our companion and guide.
I arise today Through the strength of heaven; Light of the sun, Splendor of fire, Speed of lightning, Swiftness of the wind, Depth of the sea, Stability of the earth, Firmness of the rock. I arise today Through God’s strength 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 protect me, God’s hosts to save me Far and near, Alone or in a multitude.
+++ Bruce Epperly is a Cape Cod pastor, professor, and author of over sixty books, including the Pandemic Trilogy published by Energion (“Faith in a Time of Pandemic,” “Hope Beyond Pandemic,” and “Love in a Time of Crisis and Pandemic”), “Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God,” “Walking with Francis of Assisi: From Privilege to Activism,” (Franciscan Media) and “Mystics in Action: Twelve Saints for Today” (Orbis)