When St. Patrick was 16, he was taken from his home city in Britain and taken to Ireland, working as a slave taking care of animals for 6 years. He escaped when he was 23 and made it back home to Britain. A few years later, when he was a cleric, he felt the call to go back to Ireland – the country where he was enslaved and preach the gospel to the people there.
What does it mean to be called back to a land where you were enslaved? What does it mean to preach to those who enslaved you? I can only think that this is a great example of engagement across difference. When he returned to Ireland he went to Tara –the home of the Celtic Druid Kings. He talked with the druid Kings. Yes, at times yelled loudly. Yes, there was tests and confrontations with the Druids at Tara. It has always amazed me that he would feel called to go back to a land in which he was enslaved and abused to convert the people to Christianity. Why?
Patrick had a deep conversion experience when he was a slave in Ireland. That marked his life forever. Perhaps his deep desire to return is imbedded in the words of his “Breastplate” which seem to have been formed out of that conversion experience and Patrick’s living into his faith – “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.” In my heart and mind when I hear these words I see a Celtic knot – with no visible beginning or end. A knot forged out of God’s love for all of us.
Patrick understood that we are all connected – one to each other and all to God. In that connection, the weakest part of the knot that holds us together is made up of those who are made to feel as though they are not understood nor do they “belong”. Our conversations, our reaching out to engage those who feel marginalized in any way is our work to do to strength the knot which binds us all together.
How are you on this Feast Day of St. Patrick engaging with those who are different from you, whom you may not understand, or whom you may never have noticed?
Today’s reflection is offered by the Right Reverend Diane M. Jardine Bruce, Bishop Suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.