Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Saint Patrick and Modern Exile

Today is the feast day of Saint Patrick.  But as with Mardi Gras and Valentine's Day, the secular aspects of these days almost completely overshadow the religious origins.

All these centuries later, I still find Saint Patrick fascinating.  What surprises me lately is how I find different aspects of his life fascinating at different points of my life.

This year, I find myself thinking about his years as a slave.  Patrick was born to a high ranking Roman family in England, but when he was approximately 16, he was kidnapped and spent 6 or 7 years as a slave in Ireland. While there, he learned the language and the non-Christian customs of the land.

This knowledge would come in handy when he was sent back to Ireland in the 5th century to solidify the Christianity of the country. There are many stories about Patrick's vanquishing force, complete with Druid spells and Christian counterspells. I suspect the real story was perhaps more tame.

Later scholars have suggested that Patrick and his compatriots were sent to minister to the Christians who were already there, not to conquer the natives. Other scholars have speculated that one of the reasons that Christianity was so successful in Ireland was because Patrick took the parts of pagan religions that appealed most to its followers and showed how those elements were also present in Christianity--or perhaps incorporated them into Christianity as practiced in Ireland.

All scholars seem to agree: Patrick was essential in establishing Christianity in Ireland. And he wouldn't have been so effective, had he not spent time there as a slave, which meant he learned the language and the customs of the country.

I have been beating myself up lately over all the ways I haven't achieved what I think I should have achieved by now.  I'm surrounded by people who have book contracts.  I see people younger than I am who have the accolades that the world can heap on the chosen few.  I have been worrying that I am wasting my life.

Those Celtic monks must have surely felt that way too.  Ireland and Scotland must have felt like distant outposts, a tough exile.  And yet, what they had to offer was exactly what was needed to keep the faith going.

The community that they created helped them with their mission.  Lately I've been wondering if my various local communities are fraying a bit.  I'm especially thinking of my creative communities.  I've been thinking back to a time when I had more of a quilting group.  I still do, but we just don't meet as often.  Once we met once a month to quilt, and we created much more fabulous pieces of fiber/fabric art than we would have if we had stayed on our own.  I'm missing that group, and I can't exactly get it back, because our lives have changed so much.

I'm trying not to spend too much time mired in this kind of regret.  That time is gone, and I am trying to wait patiently for what is next.

In the lives of these ancient saints, we don't hear about these down times, which they surely must have had.  They seem to have been ever charging onward.  But there must have been times when they felt used up, unsure of what to do next.

The lives of the Celtic monks remind us that even in a distant exile, wondrous things can happen if we stay open to all of the possibilities.  During our times of exile, it's good to remember that basic truth.

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