Opening: 100 Days of Psalms and Prayers

Monday, July 5, 2021 (day 35)

Katie Snipes Lancaster

Psalm 35 (from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
Unprovoked they set their net-trap for me,
Unprovoked they dug a pit for my life.
Let disaster come upon that one unwitting
And the net that he set entrap him.
May he fall into it in disaster.
But I shall exult in the Lord.
I shall be glad in God’s rescue.

An Opening Word
Psalm 36 is not easy. It comes with the kind of language that we might want to espouse (Lord let bad things happen to my enemy), but the kind of thing, ultimately, we too despise. When the enemies draw round you can’t help but want them to be stopped in their track. But by verse 13 (not listed), the Psalmist draws back any wish for violence saying, “And I, when they were ill, my garment was sackcloth,” suggesting that the suffering of his persecutors became his own suffering, their sorrow his sorrow. This is the kind of back-and-forth oscillation we have come to love in the Psalms: we say one thing (Lord make my enemies suffer) and then sentences later unsay it (Lord their suffering was my greatest sorrow). It humanizes the Psalms on the one hand and gives us a literary form for our own enemy-relationships (or even our own frenemies).

Today’s mystic, St. Patrick, had his own frenemy situation. When he originally came to Ireland it was under duress as a prisoner. He was born in Britain, and raised by his wealthy father, with a grandfather who was a Christian pastor. He rejected his family’s Christian faith as a young adult, but when Irish raiders took over his family estate, imprisoned him and took him to Ireland as a slave, he found those dark years to be ones that put him deeply in touch with the divine. He was enslaved by a man who was a high priest of Druidism, so Patrick became well acquainted with the religious life of those in the region, and he spent most of his time serving as a shepherd, isolated from others.

Patrick is considered a mystic, in part because he had these vivid dreams that he attributed to God, the first of which occurred six years into his enslavement, when he had a dream that he should go back to his homeland. He ran away, found his way to a ship, and then ended up walking almost 200 miles on the last leg of his journey home. When he got home, he had a second dream in which God asked him to go back to Ireland. At that point he decided to become a priest, and it took another 15 years before he actually returned.

One scholar pointed out that this prayer is a prayer of protection, quite in line with the kinds of prayers that might be prayed by the native Druid religious tradition. While Patrick was well trained as a Christian religious leader, he took a culturally attentive approach to evangelism, and incorporated elements of native religion into the Christian tradition, maybe akin to what Paul does when he preaches on Mars Hill in Acts chapter 17 (check it out!).

Prayer from the Mystics: Patrick of Ireland (387–463)
Christ be with me, Christ within me
Christ behind me, Christ before me
Christ beside me, Christ to win me
Christ to comfort me 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 or stranger.

July 5, 2021

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