Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
This Thursday is the Feast of St. Patrick. After two years without St. Patrick’s Day parades in Ireland, they are returning this year to great celebration.
We are so delighted to be welcoming Irish poet and musician Mícheál ‘Moley’ Ó Súilleabháin who will be offering a free online event for our community to celebrate the Feast of St. Patrick through poetry, storytelling, and song. He is the author of Early Music.
This excerpt about St. Patrick is from my book The Soul’s Slow Ripening: 12 Celtic Practices for Seeking the Sacred.
The Call of St. Patrick
Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, and the most well-known of all the Irish saints. He was born in 390 near England’s west coast or in Wales. When he was young, about sixteen years old, he was captured by pirates and taken to Ireland where he lived as a slave for six years. He endured many hardships including hunger, thirst, and cold under the rule of a cruel pagan king.
It was during his enslavement, while spending long hours in solitude tending sheep, that he had a spiritual awakening. Through the prompting of dreams and other voices, Patrick was able to escape and return back home again. He set out for Gaul for many years to learn theology and prepare himself for his future ministry. After many years passed, he had another dream where he heard the Irish people calling out to him to return to the land of his enslavement.
Patrick’s name actually means “one who frees hostages,” and when he returns he is very vocal in his opposition to slavery, including women.
He returned to Ireland in 432 and spent the rest of his life preaching the message of Christianity and helping to establish the Christian church in Ireland. There is a great deal of evidence that Patrick was not the one to bring Christianity to Ireland, that it had already begun to flower, certainly he was instrumental in this role.
He traveled first to Tara, the home of the Irish kings. He prepared for the celebration of Easter and kindled the fire and blessed it on the Hill of Slane, which could be seen from Tara. It was an act of defiance, and angered the king greatly. The legends say there were some great battles where Patrick prevailed.
I find his story intriguing. Here was a man enslaved, who escaped by divine intervention, and then hears the call to return to the land of his slavery and he goes willingly. He must have experienced more than his share of discomfort and strangeness at the thought.
Seeking out this “strangeness” and “exile” was at the heart of the monastic call. In going to the places which make us feel uncomfortable and staying with our experience, rather than running away, they cracked themselves open to receive the Spirit in new ways.
But in this seeking out of strangeness and risk, one does long for a sense of protection or safety within the arms of the divine. . . . St. Patrick’s lorica prayer was one type of prayer to invoke this protection and a reminder of the sacred presence always with us already.
Join us on Thursday! Please consider supporting Mícheál by purchasing a copy of his book Early Music in advance, either directly from him or through your local or online bookseller. It promises to be a really rich time of creative celebration together.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
PS My most recent book Breath Prayer: An Ancient Practice for the Everyday Sacred was named one the best spiritual books of 2021 by Spirituality & Practice!
Image credit © Marcy Hall