Updated: Mar 25, 2019
Parades, shamrocks and beer, oh my!
St. Patrick is well known as the patron saint of green beer and parties. On March 17th, we remember that wearing green magically hides us from the pinches of those pesky leprechauns. While on this day few others recall that Patrick was the teen kidnapped into slavery for six years before his escape to France at age twenty-two.
A simple google search will center around Patrick's birth in Briton, his abduction by Irish raiders and his being sold into bondage during the fourth century. Of course, most of us love a great myth and any reason to drink, so we don our green T-shirts while the dollar stores of America make a quick fortune on green bowlers, top hats and tabletop shamrocks. We tip the green beer along with our best attempts at shenanigans, malarkey and an accent like Colin Farrell while laughing about how St. Patrick drove all the snakes from Ireland into U.S. politics, as we kick our knees up in dance with shamrocks painted on our cheeks.
But what if we were to consider one more detail of St. Patrick's story? While the religious understandably applaud his love of God and his heroic desire to reach his former captors with the love of Christ, few dwell upon how and why he came to understand this love: Suffering and Pain.
In his Confessios, Patrick wrote:
I am first of all a simple country person, a refugee, and unlearned. I do not know how to provide for the future. But this I know for certain, that before I was brought low, I was like a stone lying deep in the mud. [emphasis mine] Then he who is powerful came and in his mercy pulled me out... Who was it who called one as foolish as I am from the middle of those who are seen to be wise and experienced in law and powerful in speech and in everything? [12-13].
Patrick nearly froze from cold and hunger in the six years he suffered as a shepherd slave. During this time, in harsh elements which make up the beauty of the Irish landscape, he likely mourned his fate and doubted hope for a normal future. It was during and within this state of suffering that he grew to know the true universe of Love, the divine nature of God that speaks into pain with something beyond words, with strength for another day and hope for escape from the chains of suffering.
Many individuals and our religious institutions seek the transformation that Patrick experienced but are not willing to walk the journey of suffering he was forced to endure. We would rather pray saintly prayers, pay for missionaries to say the right words and numb our suffering in green beer (or green shamrock cakes) and laughter rather than rest in the agony of our personal and corporate pain, feel it and allow God to truly sit with us there. While God is all around us, in each of us and completely available to any one of us--Patrick and so many have attested--most often we cannot see this without the lens of suffering. We numb the entryway of pain with our compulsions, addictions and anti-depressants. We experience the false security of saying the right things rather than the transformation available to us in experiencing true union with our Source and Being. Patrick's vision was so changed, his heart so filled, he not only loved the people who caused his suffering, but devoted his life to loving them in return. Patrick's life attests to the paradox often involved in truly experiencing God, for his change of heart came at the hands of suffering.