The Celtic Revival: Celtic Christian Culture (6)
O God, defend me everywhere
With Your impregnable power and protection.
- The Breastplate of Laidcenn, Irish, 8th-9th century
Make haste, O God, to deliver me!
Make haste to help me, O LORD!
Let them be ashamed and confounded
Who seek my life;
Let them be turned back and confused
Who desire my hurt.
- Psalm 70.1, 2
Surely one of the most precious of all God’s promises is that of Jesus Who said He will be with us always. Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, whomever we’re with, Jesus is with us, Immanuel, to guide, empower, protect, and transform ordinary situations into mountain tops of grace and glory.
But in our frenetic world, amid all the distractions of daily life, it can be a challenge to retain that sense of the imminence of Christ, of His being with us where we are. Since fullness of joy and holy pleasure are to be known in Jesus’ Presence (Ps. 16.11), maintaining that awareness should be a high priority in every believer’s life.
Celtic Christians cultivated an acute sense of the imminence of God, of His real and personal Presence with them, wherever they went. To remind themselves of this, and to enter it really and fully, they wrote songs, and sang them frequently.
A lorica or “breastplate” song invoked divine protection and sought the Presence of the Lord for a variety of situations. These poems were prayed or sung at various times of the day, to remind the singer of the Lord’s Presence and care, and so to encourage and embolden him in his journey or work.
There are several excellent examples of these lorica hymns from the literature of the Celtic Christian period. The best-known is probably “Patrick’s Breastplate,” also known as “The Cry of the Hart.” It is attributed to Patrick, but not by him, since it only appears in the literature of the period around 200 years after Patrick.
Lorica hymns resemble certain of the psalms – Psalm 70 is a good example – combining elements of complaint, imprecation, and supplication as they call on the help of God and angels for protection throughout the day, or for some journey or task.
The principle is sound: Our Lord will never fail us nor forsake us. He is with us always, and we have our very being and all our movement in Him. Our Shepherd is always caring for us and upholding us by His Word of power (Matt. 28.20; Heb. 1.3). So it can be a source of comfort and confidence to remind ourselves in song of all the ways the Lord Jesus protects our minds, affections, and bodies, and how He guards the path and even shapes the attitudes of those we might meet along the way.
A breastplate hymn was a lyrical confession of the sovereignty of God, as well as a declaration of trust in Him and an invocation of His Presence and grace. These old poems remind us of three important truths: First, God is with us and caring for us always, down to the smallest detail of our lives. Nothing about us is unimportant to our Lord.
Second, it is good and useful to acknowledge His Presence. It may not always seem as though the Lord is present and caring for us, but He is. Singing or praying such psalms and poems can remind us of God’s promises and renew our trust and confidence in Him.
And, third, singing can be an important discipline to engage us with God’s unfailing love and bring us into His sovereign Presence. God intends for us to benefit from singing, which is why we are commanded to sing and why singing is an indication of the Spirit’s filling (Eph. 5.18-21).
We should not confine our singing to services of worship with God’s people. Learn to sing psalms and hymns that can be beneficial for your daily walk with and work for the Lord. Seek out lorica psalms, such as Psalms 3, 23, 70, and others, and sing them over and over, until you know them by heart.
Then sing them throughout the day, letting their melodies and lyrics lift you above your everyday situation into the Presence of eternal glory. Linger there in meditation and prayer, waiting on the Lord, thanking and praising Him for all His abundant goodness to you.
In heaven, angels and departed saints sing continually to the Lord. All that prevents us from joining our voices with theirs is the will to do so.
Sing the Presence of the Lord, and you’ll realize more of the promise of His power.
1. Given the importance Scripture places on singing, why do you think Christians don’t sing any more than we do?
2. How might you expect to benefit from more singing?
Psalm 3.3, 4 (Eventide: Abide with Me)
You are a mercy shield about me, Lord,
Raising me by Your glory and Your Word.
Prayers fraught with tears stream from me like a fount,
Yet God will answer from His holy mount.
Father, You have given us songs from Your own hand, that we might sing our way into Your Presence at any moment. Give me the will to do so, Lord, and show me…
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T. M. Moore, Principal
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.
 Davies, p. 290.