Putting on the Breastplate of St. Patrick: A 21-Day Challenge


Today is the Feast of Saint Patrick—or Lá Fhéile Pádraig, “the Day of the Festival of Patrick.” It’s a time many around the world celebrate by wearing green, eating and drinking terribly-dyed green things.

But on a deeper level, it’s a time of celebrating the gifts of the Irish people and the quasi-legendary Saint Patrick, a fifth-century Briton who was captured as a teenager and taken to Ireland as a slave—only to escape! Only to return to his former captors’ land later in life, perhaps running away from something (we know not what). Patrick (along with St. Brigid) are storied for “driving the serpents out” of Ireland, sometimes taken literally, sometimes understood to be a casting-out of dehumanizing influences in favor of a more just, loving culture. While not without his faults, Patrick is famous for offering the message of Christ to the Celts in ways that honored and blessed the life-giving aspects of their culture, bringing faith without imperialism and creating a communal, nature-attuned spirituality that blesses the planet to this day.

Patrick means many things to many people (we’ll dive into some of these meanings in the Recommended Resources below), but he has a very personal meaning for me—and not only because of the Scotch-Irish side of my ancestral heritage. Probably the closest person I have to a spiritual director is Chris Dierkes, Anglican priest-turned-energy worker. Several years ago, I was in a particularly challenging season of life, and he prescribed for me a 21-day prayer regimen—a kind of ‘energetic cleansing’ to shake off some embedded life-elements I wanted to release. As we worked together, I realized that his regimen was effective but incomplete. I wanted to ground his excellent guidance more firmly within God as I experienced (and hoped to experience) God—One, Triune and powerful.

It was then that we realized The Breastplate of Saint Patrick would be a potent prayer for a person under siege.

What’s this?

“Put on the whole armor of God,” Paul pens in his letter to the Ephesian assembly in the first century CE…

…so that you can make a stand against the tricks of the devil.
We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens.
Therefore, pick up the full armor of God so that you can stand your ground on the evil day and after you have done everything possible to still stand.
Stand with the belt of truth around your waist, justice as your breastplate, and put shoes on your feet so that you are ready to spread the good news of peace.
Above all, carry the shield of faith so that you can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one.
Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word.Offer prayers and petitions in the Spirit all the time.
Stay alert by hanging in there and praying for all believers.
(Ephesians 6:11-18, CEB)

(c) Sudley House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Saint Patrick’s Breastplate, also known as The Deer’s Cry, is attributed to Patrick in the fifth century, though its precise origins are unknown. It’s a fierce prayer of abandonment to God, creation, and the lineage of faith, entrusting Divine power for personal protection. It has been adapted many times over the centuries for individuals and whole communities seeking strength amid difficulty. What follows is my gentle adaptation, bringing in an expanded appreciation for Jesus’ life, the sacred feminine, and attention to the particular forces that vex us today.

The Breastplate of Saint Patrick

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity;
Through trust in the threeness,
Through confessing the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of Christ’s healing with his laughter,
Through the strength of Christ’s teaching with his feasting,
Through the strength of Christ’s crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of Christ’s resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of Christ’s descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward;
In mediations of matriarchs,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In virtues done unto the Lord
In the purity of generous souls.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

I arise today:
Through God’s strength to pilot 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 way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.

I summon today the Supreme power standing between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul:
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of fallen principalities,
Against false patterns of powers,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of politicians, marketers and would-be gurus,
Against every misdirecting gnosis that corrupts body and soul.

Christ to shield me today:
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.

Christ beside me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ within 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 arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity;
Through trust in the threeness,
Through confessing the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

☘ ☘ ☘ ☘ ☘ ☘ ☘

I’m going to pray The Deer’s Cry—or Breastplate—for the next 21 days. Even engaged slowly, heart-fully, it takes all of about five minutes.

If you’re feeling under attack, spread thin, or un-grounded right now—and in today’s turbulent social and political climate, who among us doesn’t feel one of these to at least some degree?—would you join me?

Why 21 days? It’s the amount of time many behaviorists say it takes to establish a new habit, a new way of being.

I didn’t grow up in a tradition that took advantage of written prayers; in the faith communities I was raised in, monotony was the enemy—we wanted to keep things fresh! But I avoid what Jesus chastises as vain repetition by keeping my engagement with it fresh each day, visualizing different aspects of this very evocative prayer. I engage my mind, heart, and imagination. And I feel free to close out my time of its use with more spontaneous spoken prayer, or contemplative silence in God’s unconditional presence.

If you join me in this, feel free to keep us updated in the comments below! Share any insights, challenges, or questions you’re facing. I’ll try to do the same. Life is a journey, we’re fond of saying. But sometimes, if we’re honest, we recognize that it’s a perilous one. Patrick knew this, and reflected life’s turbulent possibilities in this prayer. May we find ourselves so found in the fierce and tender strength of God, reflected in each other and our world.

áiméan!

Recommended Resources

During the next 21 days, here are contemporary treasures from the living Celtic Christian lineage that can enrich your life, whatever your spiritual path:

Christ of the Celts: The Healing of Creation by John Philip Newell

Heart and Mind: The Four-Gospel Journey for Radical Transformation by Alexander John Shaia 

Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community by Pádraig Ó Tuama

An Invitation to Celtic Wisdom: A Little Guide to Mystery, Spirit, and Compassion by Carl McColman

…and consider taking an Ireland Retreat with Gareth Higgins!

I leave you with two awesome renditions of the Breastplate: The first by Vineyard Canada worship leader David Ruis, capturing much of the fierceness I hear in the prayer…

…and the second filmed on-location in Northern Ireland, featuring Jean Watson and cast members and crew from Game of Thrones!

4 Responses to Putting on the Breastplate of St. Patrick: A 21-Day Challenge

  1. sara March 17, 2019 at 3:04 pm #

    Love this, thank you for sharing your version of the prayer and the resources too. I’ll be joining with you!

  2. Chaplain Z, BCC March 17, 2019 at 3:17 pm #

    Lovingly important to “stand against”, not the violent ideology of waging war. Word. Especially in a world full of violence against “the other”.

  3. Amaranth Rose March 21, 2019 at 8:40 am #

    Wow, the power of the Christ in all, arising within the interconnected web of life which is God, which is us. How little we realize the immensity of that, why faith as small as a mustard seed is sufficient because the Oneness permeates and resonates to faith’s frequency. I’ve been speaking this poem out loud on the roof of my house. I’ve been speaking it over the fishing village that is below our farm in Mexico, speaking it over the machinations of the warring cartels, over the sons of the fishermen, the addicts who rob to get high and feel a counterfeit aliveness that this poem hints of. I speak it to the full moon, that perfect roundness of reflected Light which is like us, a hologram of Christ The Christ armor is not so much an outer protection but a cellular truth of what we are already wired to be – radiators of glory.

  4. Patricia Valentyn March 28, 2019 at 9:49 am #

    Hi Mike,
    I started praying this prayer and find it changing me in several ways. The trust in the Trinity to shield me through the current national and world transitions calms my fears. I fell more immersed in the sacred dance than ever. I celebrate the Creation around me and throughout this planet and universe. I am grateful that you shared this part of your journey. More another time.
    I am Patricia – how beautiful is that!

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