I have many reasons to love St. Patrick’s Day. Although my strongest ethnic identity comes from my Finnish grandfather who blessed us with Saunas and Kropsu and loose familial ties to the “Flying Finn” Paavo Nurmi, I can celebrate this day whole-heartedly because I’m about one-quarter Irish. I love beer, corned beef and cabbage. I love the color green. And if it were possible for an annoying little red-haired leprechaun to give me a pot of gold, I would be in favor of that. I do have a kitchen to remodel.
I also love the nerdy and sacred historical basis for this celebration. The exact details are sketchy, but it’s widely accepted that teenage Patrick was kidnapped from his home in Scotland and taken captive to tend sheep for a druid master in Ireland in the 400’s. In the six years (My God! I whine about much shorter trials nearly every day!) of his slavery, he gave his heart over to God in prayer and was so intimately connected to the Lord that he recounted praying at least one hundred times a day in all weather and all circumstances. These circumstances were pretty awful, being kidnapped to live outdoors as a shepherd and enslaved to a druid master. In his sixth year of captivity, God led him to run away from his captors and he escaped to be with his family again. Happy ending? Not yet. He was then trained as a priest and called to go back to spread Christianity in Ireland. Legend says he dreamed of the people of Ireland calling him to come and preach to them. (This wasn’t the first time someone heard their call to mission in a dream…) He brought the gospel to the country of Ireland and ministered effectively throughout the land for 28 years, inestimably blessed by a full knowledge of their language and religious customs. He is famous for lighting a fire on Slane Hill the night before Easter to represent the light of Christ – this against the direct commands of the pagan rulers celebrating a Spring Equinox festival. The fire burned brightly and incited a showdown with the pagan ruler and his men, but by the power of God, Patrick preached the gospel to the whole pagan army on Easter morning.
The Irish tune Slane is named after the memory of Slane Hill where Patrick shone the light of Christ and proclaimed his death and resurrection on Easter Sunday. We often sing it with the words of the song Be Thou My Vision. It’s a wonderful hymn, and I especially love the “hidden” verse you almost never hear sung in church:
Be Thou my battle-shield, sword for my fight
Be Thou my dignity, Be my delight!
Thou my soul’s shelter, Thou my high tower
Raise Thou me heavenward, O power of my power.
(Be Thou My Vision, English translation by Eleanor Hull)
We also have a prayer from St. Patrick which includes the following stanzas:
I bind unto myself today:
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, his shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself the Name:
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
So. If you think of all this when celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, you will see that drinking beer can be a very spiritual experience.