Music for St. Patrick’s ancient words
Rolf Kobbeltvedt Mortensen
I don’t know what it is about Celtic music and me, if it’s some distant ancestry(wink) or something about the approximate longitude between the northern part of the British Isles and Denmark, but I’ve always liked it since my first encounter, which might have been the lovely song “Auld lang syne”, mainly used around New Year. I sense a warmth there and something well-known that makes me feel at home; on top of that there’s often a sing-along quality that makes me wanna join in.
The melody came sitting at the piano with St. Patrick’s prayer in front of me. As always, when something sounds right, it felt like a gift falling into my lab, but as I only had the first part, which pretty much is some of St. Patrick’s prayer, word for word and nothing else of the prayer really fitted into “the template” to extend for a whole song, I forgot about it and it ended up, as countless others, in my drawer of unfinished songs for a couple of years. A while later I listened back at my first recording of it and thought there was some quality there, not least because of St. Patrick’s words, so I ended changing his lyrics a little for the second part, so I had enough words for a full song.
It’s probably the best known part of the prayer that is in the song, but if you read the whole prayer, you’ll see that the song only just scratches the surface and there’s even some nature imagery there, which, I think, is a characteristic of the Celtic tradition. It maybe sounds a little foreign, heretic even, in modern ears, when he writes: “I bind to myself today, The power of Heaven, The light of the Sun, The whiteness of snow, The force of Fire, The flashing of lightning, The velocity of Wind, The depth of the Sea, The stability of the Earth, The hardness of Rocks”, but if you read everything else of the prayer there’s no question where St. Patrick takes his refuge, namely God, who created the same elements that he binds himself to. I think this really is more a question of St. Patrick feeling a kinship with God’s whole creation and that creation is good. Being a nature guy myself, that is really dear to me. I think God has revealed a lot about Himself in nature and communicates to us through His creation. It’s a wordless language though, but it’s like I sometimes sense a little bit of the inner workings of what life is really all about out there in the forest, at the sea or under the starlight with the wind whispering silently in the trees without being able to say what “that” is. There’s a grandeur and amazing strength in nature, but also something fragile, that I think, we’re called to protect.
St. Patrick’s breastplate, as it’s also known, is a prayer of protection and as a person who has struggled with depression and anxiety for years, I perhaps have felt this need of protection more strongly(sometimes maybe needlessly) than others, so that’s obviously appealing to me, but I also see it as a prayer of longing for what we as Christians were called to do, namely to manifest the presence of Christ into this world and to let His life live in us, so others might see His life in us. That’s the reason I turned around st. Patrick’s “Christ in every eye that sees me” etc. to “Christ in my eye to see you” etc. As I mentioned earlier, in my opinion that’s not only in relation to other human beings, but creation as a whole.
I think today more than ever before there’s a need for people who, without judgementalism, – which too often has has been a very sad companion in some fractions of Christianity, – in humility and care for creation become carriers of Christ’ presence and compassion into this beautiful, but battered world.
At first glance this with being like Christ sounds very difficult to me, not to say impossible, and like LOADS of pressure, but I think there really is amazing freedom and grace here; it’s not my righteousness and works, it’s the righteousness and works of Christ I put on; it’s His works, I walk in. This should also guard me from any reason for arrogance, pride and hypocrisy, so it’s also a lesson in humility on our part, which is pretty brilliant, but God is brilliant, that’s for sure.
So to me, my most important job is to stay very close to Jesus, which in itself can be very hard sometimes when life pulls at you from all sides, but I think, in reality is as simple as calling His name in prayer or song wherever we are. It’s my hope that these ancient words and this song can help someone out there experience His closeness and freedom, and the safety and blessings of being in Christ, and maybe the courage to pass it on.
Listen to the music here