As we journey through life, we each come to, and through, seasons of great challenge and often despair. From the time we are children, we face the fears of monsters-real and imaginary-and the dark. We come up against the things that cause us to cringe and curl away from our castles in the air. And we are reminded that in many ways, we are very much like Max, the cajoling, contrary little boy in Maurice Sendak's story Where the Wild Things Are.
In this tale, through a sequence of events that tend to happen to parents of young children between the hours of 4:00-6:00pm, our protagonist, Max, finds himself sent away to his room without supper. That night, a forest grew up in his room, and an ocean roared by, and Max boarded a boat and "sailed off through night and day and in and out of weeks...to where the wild things are." These wild things "gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws," but Max tamed and ruled over them, becoming their king. Ultimately, it is clear to Max that it was time to return home. He sailed back over the same vast ocean, in the same little boat, reappearing in his same childhood home...only he found that he was immeasurably changed, even as he ate his hot supper.
Our journeys will not be without trial and darkness. What we have marked as a pilgrimage will most definitely bring us to-but always through!-turbulent oceans of fear and doubt. Just this week, popular author and pilgrim, Phil Cousineau tweeted, "When you're following your passion, threshold guardians will try to hold you back. Getting past them depends on how deep your passion goes." The image of the labyrinth is an ancient symbol for the meandering path of the soul that goes from light into darkness and emerges once again into light. The soul emanates transformed. This darkness (the wilderness) is the heart of the pilgrimage and always involves an element of inner conflict or struggle. It is the time spent within the wilderness where you meet your fears and confront them-where you come up against whatever prevents you from hearing the voice of God or living a life of compassion and generosity.[i]
We may have not be sent to our room, but we have been sent on a soulful sojourn with the promise of sacred encounters along the way and a bounty beyond belief upon our homecoming. But these "threshold guardians," these wild things, will do their best to frighten and influence us away from our goal. Young Max was wise to use power to command his fears. As we progress through the pitchy places of our pilgrimage, we find St. Patrick's timely prayer, The Lorica, and use it as a lantern to light our way.
The Lorica is also known as St. Patrick's "Breastplate" Prayer. These powerful words call out to God to protect those parts of the soul and body that would be preyed upon by evil throughout the day's ventures. These words become likened to the necessary armor that guards, but they also provide guidance as one explores their private seas. Inevitably darkness and dismay will descend on your journey. It has been said that “patience, silence, trust, and faith are venerable qualities of the pilgrim, but more important is the practice of them.” Along with these virtues, this strengthening prayer becomes the light that will illuminate the darkness and reveal that which is at your sacred center. Godspeed!
The Lorica (St. Patrick's 'Breastplate' Prayer)
I bind unto myself today The strong Name of the Trinity, By invocation of the same, The Three in One and One in Three.
I bind this day to me forever. By power of faith, Christ's incarnation; His baptism in the Jordan river; His death on Cross for my salvation; His bursting from the spicèd tomb; His riding up the heavenly way; His coming at the day of doom;* I bind unto myself today.
I bind unto myself the power Of the great love of the cherubim; The sweet 'well done' in judgment hour, The service of the seraphim, Confessors' faith, Apostles' word, The Patriarchs' prayers, the Prophets' scrolls, All good deeds done unto the Lord, And purity of virgin souls.
I bind unto myself today The virtues of the starlit heaven, The glorious sun's life-giving ray, The whiteness of the moon at even, The flashing of the lightning free, The whirling wind's tempestuous shocks, The stable earth, the deep salt sea, Around the old eternal rocks.
I bind unto myself today The power of God to hold and lead, His eye to watch, His might to stay, His ear to hearken to my need. The wisdom of my God to teach, His hand to guide, His shield to ward, The word of God to give me speech, His heavenly host to be my guard.
Against the demon snares of sin, The vice that gives temptation force, The natural lusts that war within, The hostile men that mar my course; Or few or many, far or nigh, In every place and in all hours, Against their fierce hostility, I bind to me these holy powers.
Against all Satan's spells and wiles, Against false words of heresy, Against the knowledge that defiles, Against the heart's idolatry, Against the wizard's evil craft, Against the death wound and the burning, The choking wave and the poisoned shaft, Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.
Christ be with me, 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.
I bind unto myself the Name, The strong Name of the Trinity; By invocation of the same. The Three in One, and One in Three, Of Whom all nature hath creation, Eternal Father, Spirit, Word: Praise to the Lord of my salvation, Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
Sarah York, Pilgrim Heart: The Inner Journey Home, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001),12.
Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are, (Harper Collins Publishers), Copyright 1963 by Maurice Sendak.
St. Patrick's Breastplate is traditionally attributed to Saint Patrick during his Irish ministry in the 5th century.