Tag Archives: Ireland

St. Patrick

St_Patrick1St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is one of Christianity’s most widely known figures. But for all his celebrity, his life remains somewhat of a mystery. Many of the stories traditionally associated with St. Patrick, including the famous account of his banishing all the snakes from Ireland, are false, the products of hundreds of years of exaggerated storytelling.

It is known that St. Patrick was born in Britain to wealthy parents near the end of the fourth century. He is believed to have died on March 17, around 460 A.D. Although his father was a Christian deacon, it has been suggested that he probably took on the role because of tax incentives and there is no evidence that Patrick came from a particularly religious family. At the age of 16, Patrick was taken prisoner by a group of Irish raiders who were attacking his family’s estate. They transported him to Ireland where he spent six years in captivity. (There is some dispute over where this captivity took place. Although many believe he was taken to live in Mount Slemish in County Antrim, it is more likely that he was held in County Mayo near Killala.) During this time, he worked as a shepherd, outdoors and away from people. Lonely and afraid, he turned to his religion for solace, becoming a devout Christian. (It is also believed that Patrick first began to dream of converting the Irish people to Christianity during his captivity.)

After more than six years as a prisoner, Patrick escaped. According to his writing, a voice—which he believed to be God’s—spoke to him in a dream, telling him it was time to leave Ireland.

To do so, Patrick walked nearly 200 miles from County Mayo, where it is believed he was held, to the Irish coast. After escaping to Britain, Patrick reported that he experienced a second revelation—an angel in a dream tells him to return to Ireland as a missionary. Soon after, Patrick began religious training, a course of study that lasted more than 15 years. After his ordination as a priest, he was sent to Ireland with a dual mission: to minister to Christians already living in Ireland and to begin to convert the Irish. (Interestingly, this mission contradicts the widely held notion that Patrick introduced Christianity to Ireland.)

Familiar with the Irish language and culture, Patrick chose to incorporate traditional ritual into his lessons of Christianity instead of attempting to eradicate native Irish beliefs. For instance, he used bonfires to celebrate Easter since the Irish were used to honoring their gods with fire. He also superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross, so that veneration of the symbol would seem more natural to the Irish. Although there were a small number of Christians on the island when Patrick arrived, most Irish practiced a nature-based pagan religion. The Irish culture centered around a rich tradition of oral legend and myth. When this is considered, it is no surprise that the story of Patrick’s life became exaggerated over the centuries—spinning exciting tales to remember history has always been a part of the Irish way of life.

HAPPY ST. PATICK’S DAY

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Thin Places Part 1

Conceptually, I have known of “thin places” for a number of years but never really gave it a whole lot of thought. Thin places, like many other Celtic traditions, hold a certain mystical fascination for me. The Celts developed this sort of thinking long before the long arm of western Christianity invaded their world. Simply put, a thin place was and is just that, a physical location where the separation between the divine and the earth is thin. I believe we can expand that beyond the borders of Ireland and Scotland and say that we have all experienced thin places in our lives – those mystical, unexplainable touches with the divine that both test and strengthen our faith. Contemplative Franciscan Richard Rhor calls this place “the edge “, and suggests we should cultivate being there. “The edge is a holy place, or as the Celts called it, “a thin place” and you have to be taught how to live there. To take your position on the spiritual edge of things is to learn how to move safely in and out, back and forth, across and return.” So, how can we find a thin place in our world? Do we get on a plane and fly to Ireland, or can we just go around the block? Let’s do a little background first.

Thin Places GraphicA thin place is any place of transition: a doorway, a gate, the sea shore, these are all places where very little movement will take you from one place to another. My grandfather had a practice of going “visiting” the neighbors where he would always stand on the porch on the outside of the doorway and never go into the house. In spite of that, everyone would say that that Frank had come over to their house that day. The thin places of spirituality are the same way, we are present in both worlds.

Thin Places in the Bible

I will narrow the list down a little by picking three.

The first is the thin place of God in the Exodus from Egypt. “For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, before the eyes of all the house of Israel at each stage of their journey.” (Exodus 40:38 NRSV) Perhaps this is the most graphic of all thin places in the Bible because it had a very graphic signpost of God’s nearness. God traveled with them and they saw it, they knew and were blessed by experiencing the thin place.

The second is the thin place of any miracle. I’ll pick the Hebrew Scripture story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were local officials of the occupation government of King Nebuchadnezzar. The king had statue of himself built and decreed all subjects to offer worship to it. These men refused saying that they could only worship the true God, Yahweh. He ordered them burned in an especially hot furnace, but they did not perish in the flames. “Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up quickly. He said to his counselors, “Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?” They answered the king, “True, O king.” He replied, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god.”(Daniel 3:24-25 NRSV) Not only were they saved from the execution but God was walking with them in the fire. Not only Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego but all those present around the furnace were standing on holy ground – a thin place.

I chose for the third reference the thinnest place that ever existed, the hill of Golgotha. Many would say that this was a place of the melding of heaven and earth. The place where Jesus, God in the flesh, died for the salvation of all. Picture the scene: “It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last.” (Luke 23:44-46 NRSV)There were so many ways that this scene had become a thin place that I could spend pages talking about it, but instead I just want to say the veil between the celestial and the earthly was extraordinarily thin.

Next installment: Relishing your thin places.

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