Celtic Spiritual Poetry (17)
May Christ be with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ to my right, Christ to my left,
Christ where I lie down, Christ where I sit, Christ where I stand,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in the eye of every eye which looks on me,
Christ in the ear of every ear which hears me.
- Anonymous, “Patrick’s Breastplate,” Irish, 8thcentury
“…He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’”
- Acts 17.27, 28
The unbelieving philosophers of ancient Greece, careful observers of the world in all its parts, could not escape the conclusion that they were surrounded and sustained by God. Their philosophers insisted on it, and Paul quoted those philosophers to his audience on Mars Hill.
God, Paul agreed, was an “all-around” God. You don’t have to look too hard to find Him. Even those unbelieving philosophers would have agreed with that.
That doesn’t mean they knew God; Paul said they worshiped ignorantly. But they could not help sensing Him in the world, since they were made in His image, had the works of His Law written on their hearts, and lived in a world where God is, indeed, everywhere present and making Himself known (Rom. 1.18-21; 2.14, 15).
They knew that they lived and had their being in Him. Do we know this as well? And do make the best possible use of this knowledge?
The ancient loricaor “breastplate” prayer, mistakenly ascribed to Patrick (although certainly reflective of his own outlook), captures that sense, shared by many Celtic Christians, of continuous awareness of the presence of the Lord, and complete dependence on Him. Singing or reciting such poems as one went about his daily business would help to make thefact of Jesus’ promise to be with us always real in our experience.
Jesus has promised to be with us always, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28.20). Do we really appreciate the intimacy and certainty of that great promise? Do we see Him Who “plays in 10,000 places” (Hopkins), with us always, never failing nor forsaking us? Do we shelter in Him, rest in Him, rely on Him, and live in the strength of His protecting and providing grace? Do we know the joy and pleasure of His presence at every moment, in every situation?
Or do we give mere lip-service to His providential presence and care, while we fret or grumble our way through the daily trials and travails of life, clinging merely to our own resources, wits, and skills for survival? Perhaps we should take up more consistently the request of those ancient Greeks who said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (Jn. 12.21).
Moreover, while Jesus is with us where we are, we must remember also that we are with Him where He is (Eph. 2.1-6), seated at the right hand of God in heavenly places. As He looks out on our lives from the infinite vision and capacity of His eternal Kingdom, we, seated with Him, must learn to do so as well.
Do we experience His presence with us – and our presence with Him – as real and true? As the Breastplate and Shield for our daily walk with and work for Him?
We can, and the entrance to that closer and more constant experience of the Lord is in prayer.
Call upon Jesus to come into the moments and spaces, the responsibilities and relationships, the fears and troubles, of your everyday life. Then rest in Him there, and in the promises of His Word. This is how Celtic Christians used poems like “Patrick’s Breastplate.” By singing or reciting such verses, they realized the presence of our all-around God, and lived boldly, confidently, and joyously in His immanent care.
Set times throughout the day to meet with Jesus in prayer, and let Him refresh your weariness and remove your doubts. Trust Him in every situation, at every moment, to show you His continuous Kingdom care over every facet of your life, past, present, and future. Let everything about your daily life be a summons to give thanks to the Lord. Pray frequently throughout the day, “Father, I wish to see Jesus.”
Immerse yourself in the Lord Jesus Christ. Put Him on. Shelter in His wings. Glory in His strength. Rejoice in His provision and protection. Live toward His promises. Walk in His Spirit. Trust in His all-powerful, all-wise, all-sustaining-and-upholding Word. Sing to His glory and of His all-surrounding grace and truth.
Know Jesus with you, our all-around God, and live boldly in His Presence, promise, and power.
Questions for Reflection
1. What will you do to realize more consistently throughout the day the presence of Christ in you?
2. What can you do to help a fellow believer experience God’s “all-aroundness”?
Psalm 132.8-10 (Finlandia: Be Still, My Soul)
Arise O Lord! Come to Your resting place! Your holy presence meet with us in might.
Clothe us with righteousness in Jesus’ grace, and we will shout to Your divine delight!
For Jesus’ sake, turn not away Your face, but look upon us in Your holy light.
Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ all around me, Christ before me and behind me: Lord, let these not be merely words! Let them be for me the true envelope of my daily life. Arise, O Lord, and come to rest with me, and help me to…
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All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Carey, p. 134.