Presence

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works. - from this Sunday’s collect

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My favorite hymn is called “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.” It is about binding ourselves to Christ and the “strong name of the Trinity.” We usually sing it on Trinity Sunday. We sang it at my ordination.

A section of the hymn is from St. Patrick’s famous prayer:

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

In the Celtic tradition, there’s a sense of God being as close as our own breath, surrounding us on every side - found in, among and between us all. I hear an echo of this ancient Celtic tradition in this Sunday’s collect. But only an echo. To me, our collect seems quite thin in comparison.

The collect seems to be saying that unless God’s grace precedes and follows us, we may not be given to good works. But it seems to me to be a petition to God to please be before and behind us, as if God is not already there. Patrick’s prayer, on the other hand, seems to be proclaiming that it is not up to us to ask God to be with us or not - God’s grace already completely surrounds us all the time. It is the very air we breath. The bread we eat. The earth we walk on. The Celtic Christian tradition celebrates the presence of God in every single part of God’s creation.

Perhaps we are naturally given to good works. Perhaps that is exactly what God created us for. Of course sadly, we seem to have the ability to turn our backs on God and ignore God’s presence all around us. But perhaps all we need to do is to rest in God’s presence and put our whole trust in it, so that we can unfold into the children of God we were created to be.

This Sunday’s readings are HERE. In Ordinary time we are using the readings in “Track 2.”