Monday, March 15, 2010

The genius of St. Patrick

St. Patrick's day is just around the corner. And yes, we celebrate St. Patrick's Dat, even on Oahu. Patrick has been on my mind of late. I attended a St. Patrick's dinner Saturday night, having the most delicious corned beef, cabbage, and potatoe salad. Man, was that good! At Church on Sunday, I turned my attention to the life of St. Patrick. From time to time I like to preach on the lives of the Celtic saints, as it reminds us our of important Celtic tradition. Let me share with you some of what I said.

Patrick was born in the fourth century, although scholars are not sure exactly where; some say England, while other mention Scotland or Wales. We do know Patrick came from a family where religion played an important part. His father was a deacon, and his grandfather was a priest. As a youngster, Patrick was kidnapped by pirates and taken to Ireland where he was a slave for six years. This must have been a traumatic experience for the young lad, being taken from persons and places he held dear. To get through this time of crisis, Patrick began praying, and this is what he said in his own words:

"Tending flocks was my daily work, and I would pray constantly during the daylight hours. The love of God and the fear of him surrounded me more and more-and faith grew and the Spirit was roused, so that in one day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and afte dark, nearly as many again".

Patrick has numerous dreams his whole life (see my article on Jung and dreams for more) which he took seriously. One night Patrick was guided in a dream to escape and return to Britain. Mysteriously and providentially, Patrick was able to locate a boat and sail back to Britain.

The next phase in Patrick's life centered around his theological training and education. Here too, scholars are not clear just how long a period we are talking about here. In my studies, I've seem estimates as much as 20 and 30 years. Fortunately theological studies are not quite as comprehensive these days!! During this time, Patrick met and befriended a holy man (who also happened to be a Bishop in the Church) named Germanus. Patrick was taken with Germanus's learning and piety, and as many would do, remained with his friend, soaking up his wisdom and piety. It was a formative time, one of Patrick's defining moments. Germanus was Patrick's soufriend, a key element in Celtic Christianity. And then again through a dream, Patrick was invited to move on and return to Ireland to "come back and walk amogst us once more". And Patrick did go, to a country far out of the mainstream of European life. His friends and contemporaries must have thought he had lost his mind.

I won't go into the many miracles that Patrick was involved in. Many others have done that. And you should read those accounts yourselves. I recommend Celtic Spirituality (1999) which contains the main texts in the Patrick Tradition, including Confessio and The Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus. Personally, I am attracked to Patrick because of his wonderful personality which STILL comes through the pages of his writings. His personality seems larger than life, and there seems to be nothing he cannot do. He's God's man, so what else do you expect? Moreover, Patrick wisely immersed himself in Irish culture, learning the language, soaking up the stories, and thought forms, and used these to help spread the saving message of the Christian faith. Like so many others, Patrick could have in a paternalistic way stuck to what he was familiar and comfortable with, but he wisely chose not to. By becoming "Irish" Patrick was able to have an impact in a foreign land that is unparalled anywhere by anyone.

So on Wednesday, St. Patrick's Day, pause for a moment and think about what Patrick means to you.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A hole in one

The Britons, including the Celts, love to play games. And during my time in Britain, I often marveled at just the number of games that they invented. Cricket, soccer, tennis, and of course golf. There may be more, I just can't think of them of this late hour. I started playing golf for the very first time, when I was at St. Andrews. "Playing" would be the right word as for the first few years  I simply was going out to the course and trying to hit the ball as hard as I could, with little success. I have fond memories of playing at St. Andrews. The choice course was the Eden or the Jubilee as the Royal and Ancient course was just too expensive. Several of us would often sneak out about three in the afternoon just when the course attendent would be leaving. To this day, I recall the wonderful views of St. Andrews in the distance, as we would be standing near the shoreline, ready to launch our next golf balls into the nearby bay.

Golf has grown on me over the years. I began "playing" on a regular basis when I came to Hawaii ten years ago. There are some amazing courses here. My home course, some four miles or so from my home, is called the Pali course. The course is nestled against volcanic mountains with wonderful views of the ocean. Seems a bargain to pay only $9.50 for nine holes. Lost many a ball there.

A few weeks back, something amazing happened. The day the tsnami was supposed to hit, a buddy and I played golf at the Bayview, another golf course in Kaneohe. On the fourth hole, I teed off with a seven iron at a hole about 150 yards away. To my amazement, it went in for a hole in one.  I still can't believe it.

These are lessons in persistence to me. It's no secret. If you want to be good at anything, your job, prayer, write, understand theology, or golf, you've got to get out there and get in the game. Even when you stink up the course-as I did in my next game of golf-one must tame the will to see things through. And when you do, it's amazing what you can accomplish. I may never again hit another hole in one, but by continually playing, I'll get better and better. This is one of the reasons I love golf and football so much. They are  parables of life.    

Monday, March 8, 2010

To Skype or not to Skype!

I've had the zaniest month of "blog interrupted"! Work projects, outside activities, church stuff-you name it. I've missed  dearly the opportunity to offer postings and promise to be a better blogger, one day at a time.
Of the many events over the last month of which I could blog, I decided just to focus on one. "Skype". That's right I said "Skype". I had heard about Skype from some friends and finally decided to break down, purchase a better webcam than the one on my Dell, and well, begin Skyping. This has been a wonderful decision, bringing me great joy. I can't tell you how much I enjoy speaking and seeing my wife  who is six thousand miles away. Best of all, Skype is a free telephone and webcam service that allows you to speak and see persons all over the planet. I don't know how they do, but it is an amazing service, perhaps being a glimpse into what telephone service in the future might become.

My entry into the world of blogging, Facebook, and now Skype, are a indication of just how much technology is becoming part of one's everyday experience. And I am not geekie by any means. What amazes me is just commonplace all of this social networking has become. It's simply the way people do things these days. For example, I recently learned about a "Twestival", translation "a Twitter festival" will be taking place in several weeks. And I only know this because I made a decision to throw myself into the world of social networking.

Most of all, this is a great lesson in adaptability, of being open to change, and of new possibilities for growth. And it's here where something from the Celtic tradition can be of help. Deep at the very core of Celtic spirituality lies a sense of mystery, and creativity. The Celts were not fundamentalists (like the ones we see on TV today). Their Orthodox roots of the Desert Fathers and Mothers reminded them that it is folly to think that one is ever in "possession" of the Truth. As my spiritual director would remind me "you don't have spirituality, spirituality has you". It feels good to grow, to learn something new, to be in a place now, that one was not in the past. If one falsely imagines that "have it", what incentive is there to grow?

It could be Skype, it could be a book, or a new friendship. These are the gateways to personal growth and development. They are symbols in a sense, that it is important to progress in life, take on new ideas and projects, and learn to see things in a different way. Such a perspective also must apply to Scripture. Who could ever be arrogant enough to say that they know the full meaning of a given text? Years ago,  I recall reading John Henry Newman's great autobiography, Apologia Pro Vita Sua. In the opening chapters, Newman quotes one of the classical authors of old, which I will paraphrase. Change is an evidence of life, and that hopefully in one's life, one can make many changes.