St. Patrick’s Breastplate – Invocation

https://youtu.be/l6kofAqPPLo

Today I gird myself with a mighty power,
Invocation of the Trinity.
Belief in the threeness, affirmation of the oneness.
In the Creator’s presence.

As the Celt prays this caim, she physically turns in a circle, so that her body joins her voice and mind in prayer. A Caim is a way of centering our whole person in prayer. Sometimes it is easy to forget that prayer is not simply limited to our mind but is actually infused into our body.

We often pray silently, so not even our mouths participate in the prayer. This habit may cause prayer to seem limited to our mind. We think prayers toward God. Unfortunately, this can make our spiritual life rather abstract: just another idea among many other ideas.

Christianity is centered upon the story of God taking human form. The Word of God entering human history. In other words, it is a faith that is not simply an idea, it is embodied.  We read the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles to see the reality of God’s presence embodied fully in Jesus and then through his collective body: the church.

We see people walking to the Temple, eating meals together, laying hands on one another, baptizing in water, healing the sick. We see a faith that is not simply ideas but ideas taking form through human bodies. Christianity is an earthy, incarnated, historical religion. This might help us to understand the Celtic Caim. It is an encircling prayer that we pray with our whole body: our mind, our mouths, our hands, our legs, and our hearts.

So a breath prayer or a Caim transforms our prayers from simply an activity of the mind to an activity of the whole person. David Adam says the “Caim works, not as a charm but to re-tune us to the reality of the love and presence of God.”[1] The Celt considered our body like a five stringed harp: representing each of the five senses. This harp needs continually tuning. A Caim gives us the opportunity to pause and retune or refocus our whole person upon God’s presence.

We gird each of our senses with a mighty power: the Presence of God. We acknowledge his kindness and sustenance in our hands and feet and eyes and mouths and noses. He has blessed and continues to bless us in a range of ways that we continually fail to acknowledge or grasp. Sometimes, simply pausing to reflect on His kindness revealed in every aspect of our physical body is a helpful exercise in redirecting our thoughts toward Him. This simple act is a powerful reminder of His Presence and His Good Providence in our lives.

Exercise: Here is one tool that might be helpful in cultivating an awareness of God’s presence in the midst of your life.

Create a Celtic Caim. Draw a circle. Around the edge of the outer circle write the prayer:

Today I gird myself with a mighty power,
Invocation of the Trinity.
Belief in the threeness, affirmation of the oneness.
In the Creator’s presence.

Inside the circle, draw pictures (even stick figures) of what your typical day looks like. As you’re drawing, visualize each element of your day. Think about the Presence of God surrounding you, encircling you in all you do.

Much like the typical day of the Celtic lady we reviewed, you might also write our your daily schedule on a calendar. Then write prayers for each event on your schedule: from showering to eating breakfast, to traffic prayers and so on. As you write the prayer, think about each activity. How can the outward action help you focus on an inward grace? (Like the stirring fire prayer above)

We may not be able to cancel all the events and things from our schedule right away, but we can begin to live in each event more intentionally centered in the presence of God. And by His grace, we may learn the secret of simplifying our life and commitments.


[1] David Adam, The Cry of the Deer, SPCK, 1987, p. 14.

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