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.
I arise today
Through God’s strength to lead me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me.
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 when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I rise,
Christ in the heart of all who think of me,
Christ in the mouth of all who speak of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
The Breastplate of St. Patrick of Ireland
I attended my very first YES trip when I was thirteen years old, eleven years ago in Kansas City. On Friday night, we served a meal, and all were welcome. Members of the community, many of whom were without housing, attended this dinner, and we had the opportunity to serve them food. To successfully serve the dinner, we needed different people serving in different capacities. Some people needed to prepare the food in the kitchen, while others served the food to our guests and ate with those we served. I don’t remember many of the logistics of that trip, as it was so long ago, but I remember how I felt.
I remember feeling safe and comfortable preparing food in the kitchen with some of my church friends. I remember telling myself, “Yeah, okay. This is service. I’m doing what I need to be doing.”
And I was right. It absolutely is service, and completely valid, to prepare the food. The work that gets done behind the scenes is just as important as the front-line work. But when a few members of our group came back into the kitchen from the dining area, suggesting a rotation of the roles, I felt a bit nervous.
Me, go serve food? Go talk with strangers? Homeless strangers? What would I say? What if I say the wrong thing, what if I mess it up?
These are the questions that fill your brain when you’re presented with an opportunity to step outside of your comfort zone into the work that God calls you to. It’s different from a sense of real danger; instead, this is a sense of unease. This unease is the result of being confronted with the unknown experience, the unknown stranger.
I say “unknown” because I imagine that is how most of us feel when we think about the poor. Their experience, and their personhood, feels foreign to us, and therefore scary or intimidating. It is moments and thoughts like these where the Breastplate of St. Patrick of Ireland comes in handy (Happy belated St. Patrick’s day, by the way!)
This prayer is longer, so I’ve excerpted it for the purposes of this blog post. In this prayer, St. Patrick acknowledges, in beautiful language, the source of his strength. It is the strength of the Trinity that allows him to stand on his feet. It’s God’s eye looking before him, and God’s wisdom to guide him. Guide St. Patrick where? To Christ, who is in our midst when we meet the stranger.
The last part of this prayer is my favorite, and it has one simple message: Christ is here, with me. I love that this prayer doesn’t say just once. It makes sure that, as the person praying, we really understand the gravity of that statement. Christ is in the person to my left — whoever that may be. Christ is in the person to my right — whoever that may be. Each and every person who thinks of me, speaks of me, sees me, hears me, bears the image of Christ. Each of these people is, as St. Paul says, “the one for whom Christ died” (1 Corinthians 8:11).
A few Sundays ago, we heard the parable of the Last Judgment. In this parable, the Son of Man sits on His throne and separates the sheep from the goats. The sheep are heaven-bound; the goats are condemned. The sheep will inherit the Kingdom because “I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me” (Matthew 21:35-36). The sheep and goats are both perplexed; when did we do all of these things for you, Lord? He replies, “inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matt 25:40).
Inasmuch as we do this for the person on our right, on our left, or right before us.
Inasmuch as we do this for those we encounter as we sit down, as we arise, as we lie down.
Inasmuch as we do this for those that think of us, speak of us, see us, hear us.
Inasmuch as we do these things for Christ, in every person, here, now.
Every person in that dining room on that YES trip in 2011 was Christ for me, and for all of us. I didn’t have these thoughts as a thirteen-year-old. I didn’t yet know of this prayer. But I felt something stir in me, something that called me to lean into this unease and go out, beyond the safety of the kitchen, and meet Christ.
I can’t recall a single particular moment from that evening beyond this one. I can’t recall any conversations I had, though I know I had a fair few, with people who were different from me, who I had never met before. But I was transformed by that experience. YES gave me an opportunity to lean into my unease and seek Christ wherever He may be found — in the stranger, yes, but also in those closest to me, whose familiarity and constant presence in my life may cause me to forget Christ’s presence in them.
This prayer of St. Patrick, and my experience with YES, remind me to arise with a mighty strength, leaning into unease and discomfort, to meet Christ. May this prayer do the same for you, as you encounter Christ today in whoever it may be.