Saturday, March 17, 2012

St. Patrick and the art of talking to God

This post is based on my faith as a Christian and a storyteller. If faith offends you, don't read this post. Or read it in the spirit it is offered, as full disclosure of some of the "me" that sits behind the rest of what I write and teach.

I love the story of St. Patrick, and the prayer attributed to him.  Do you know the story of St. Patrick? He was taken from his home in Britain, enslaved, and sent into the hills of Ireland as a shepherd, with only a flock of sheep as companions.  He talked to his sheep. He talked to himself. And then he talked to God. 

One day, God replied.  And Patrick followed his instructions and walked to a beach where a ship was waiting. He made his way back to home and safety (several miracles later). But he had been changed forever by his days in the hills with sheep and God. He went back to Ireland, and drove away the snakes, and explained the Holy Trinity using a shamrock. Or so they say.

There are two Patricks: the one alone in the hills and the one who wrote in the Breastplate of a life where God was all around him, all the time. They are the same Patrick. I know this in my own life too. The self that is so very alone is also the self surrounded by God.

I know this other thing too: I know the Jesus who looked at Peter and three times told him "Feed my sheep."  Of all of scripture (and I have read the whole of the bible and much of it more than once), these three words give me hope and direction.  There is much I do not understand and much more I cannot hope to do. There are two things that I can do: I can keep talking to God through all the days and nights when it seems like nonsense to talk at all. And I can feed sheep.

Like Patrick, I live in an uncertain world where this small certainty is a comfort and a comfort that others try to shake in me. Sometimes, it takes all of my art, all the practices I teach for state management and goal setting and resourcefulness, just to hold onto this small certainty that I can keep talking to God and keep feeding sheep.

Maybe you're not sure what I mean by feeding sheep. That's okay. I'm not always sure either.

I am sure that doesn't let me off the hook. I am sure that the fact that sheep are silly, wayward creatures who have not an ounce of thankfulness in them is also not the point. Jesus didn't say "feed my sheep as long as you're getting something out of it." He just said "feed my sheep."

I do it because when I find myself alone in the hills and I run out of things to say to the sheep and myself, I can talk to God.  And I can listen. And when I listen, what I hear is "feed my sheep."

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