Sunday, March 17 2019
It's Saint Patrick's Day—we all know what that means: parades. I hate parades, whether for Saint Patrick, Columbus, or Thanksgiving; I've participated in all of them; I marched as a cub scout, a boy scout, the chaplain of a day school, an officer in a local organization—more than a mile, uphill, both ways. Yet, I'm not really an old curmudgeon. As far as this particular day is concerned, I like corned beef, potatoes, carrots, (not so much the cabbage), Irish soda bread, tea biscuits and scones, the Three Tenors, songs with a nationalistic flavor and history. Just not parades.
However, I am a huge fan of Saint Patrick himself, or, at least, of the hymn attributed to him. It's #370 in The Hymnal 1982; it's in ink in my funeral service as the opening hymn; it's a celebration of the Trinity, of a binding to oneself the strong name of the “Three in One and One in Three”; it's a tour through the Creed; IT IS LONG. When I mentioned my funeral plans to my children, my son said to me, “Dad, we're not singing all those verses.” I responded, “If you omit any, I'll rise out of that casket and call you to account.”
What I did not know, however, until 1993, was that another translation of the Gaelic preceded the one in our hymnal. This earlier version is not set to music; rather, it is written as a caim, as an encircling prayer with which to begin one's day:
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.
Nearly every morning since 26 October 1993 I have begun my day with these words. It's not merely a matter of flinging myself out of bed in a cheery manner, but, as Fr. David Adam points out in his book on this hymn, of arising in the power of God. Sometimes I remember the words as a matter of habit; sometimes I forget all too quickly what they mean; but most of the time, at the least for part of the day, I remember that the Trinity is the integral part of all that I do. In one very important sense, this opening verse combines with a metaphor supplied by John Donne and George Herbert in their poetry as I arise and “tune the instrument of my heart.” Do I then always remain in tune? I wish. I strike discordant notes all the time and when I do my life becomes chaotic, much like a third grader having his first go at a violin: a tempest of noise in a very small teapot. Nonetheless, this is the way for me to begin the day—in the presence of the Triune God who loves me, who died for me, who calls me to be one with him. In the remembrance of this awesome fact, I am renewed, restored, healed, forgiven.
So have a blessed, holy, happy Saint Patrick's Day; delight in the parade, the food, the music, the memories; but remember that the day is more than mere revelry, that it is anchored in the eternal love and presence of the One, Holy, and Living God revealed to us in his crucified and risen Son.