Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Compass Point #5 St.Patrick, Following Jesus, and being a Disciple Today

With St. Patrick's Day quickly approaching; visions of green beer, corned beef and cabbage and shamrocks fill the imagination and stoke the appetite. At my church's Lenten Study on "Learning/Living Jesus" tonight, we'll share in some great corned beef and cabbage by one of the church's premier cooks. Did you get stuck with that job? she was asked. "No", she replied, "I want to do it!" This wonderful woman considers her gift of cooking for others to be a way she shares in the church's life of hospitality. And I can't wait to benefit !

As a centering prayer tonight, we'll pray the prayer of St. Patrick. I love this prayer like many others do, particularly for its earthiness and concrete imagery of the Trinity. So often our prayers seem so light that they float in a pool of warm maple syrup, not grounded in the tough, sinewy realties of life. Our prayers sometimes feel like "chicken soup for the soul", minus all the chicken and rice and vegetables. Just a thin watery stuff.

That's why St. Patrick's so appealing in his life and prayer. The opening section of the famous St. Patrick prayer starts with a bold affirmation: "I bind unto myself today." That binding action signifies an almost physical action to claim, hold, and hang on for dear life to the presence of God in all circumstances. There's none of that tepid, Christ in "my heart" kind of spirituality, that reduces Jesus to a kind of warm, fuzzy feeling that wouldn't say boo to a danger threatening close at hand, or to a bold adventure in living faith out in the world. Here's how St. Patrick prays:

"I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
God's eye to watch, God's might to stay,
God's ear to hearken to my need,
the wisdom of my God to teach,
God's hand to guide, God's shield to ward,
the word of God to give me speech,
God's heavenly host to be my guard."

Now a God like that can be counted on to face dangers, and wild animals, and lurking enemies.
A God like that is worth trusting and following into the wild world, like the missionaries trained by St. Patrick to face all manner of threats in service of Christ to the world.

Glenn McDonald trenchantly observes what we've done to earthy spirituality and discipleship in his book The Disciplemaking Church:

"The earliest Christian heresies were Gnostic in flavor- that is, the mind was excessively valued above the body. Physicality was assumed to be a secondary arena for God's work, if indeed God cared at all for "that awful thing", my body. The church's first theological giants joined to state the case that embodiment is the gift of God, who created the earth and our own bodies and pronounced them "good".

"The spirit of our times alive with Gnostic sensibilities. "True spirituality" concerns my inner life, not how I do the laundry. Progress in my life with God is attitudinal, emotional, ecstatic, or cerebral- not whether I happen to help my neighbor clean out his garage.

"Contemporary spirituality, in other words, is assumed to be an invisible, personal, and
internal experience."

"A number of Christians have falsely concluded that, if we give our intellectual assent to Jesus then what we do "on our own time"-- commercially, physically, socially- is entirely up to us."

St. Patrick's prayer grabs hold of our whole lives and being:
"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 in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger"

This kind of Christ leads us out into the world.

Glenn McDonald catches the spirit of earthy spirituality in ways that St. Patrick would gladly say yes to:

"We can invite Jesus to take a walk with us, asking him to come alongside us during our routine visits to all our routine places.

Invite Jesus to look through your stock porfolio. Are your investments consistent with a kingdom perspective?

Ride with Jesus to your office. What does he think about your strategies to pull ahead of business competitors?

Walk with him through your neighborhood, asking Jesus to let you see the people on your street through his eyes. What relationships need to be repaired? What acts of kindness have been deferred?"

Tonight, I'll pray St. Patrick's prayer. I'll eat some wonderful corned beef and cabbage, and thank God (minus the green beer!) for a saint who took Jesus with him into the world, and all the time discovered "Christ beside him....Christ beneath him...Christ in danger...Christ in mouth of friend and stranger."


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