What parent doesn't want to keep their vulnerable child safe? When I was a young mother, reading all those books on baby and child care, I often felt overwhelmed at the number of dangers that my reading unveiled to me. These days, the media only seems to add to our preoccupation with safety. Have you watched any of those recent scary insurance ads on TV?
Did you know that the bible talks about protection, as well? The longest extended metaphor in scripture about protective armor is found in the New Testament letter to the persecuted Christian community in Ephesus.
Ephesians 6: 10-17
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
The Ephesians know all about armor. They see the soldiers of the Roman Empire on every street corner and in every marketplace. They know that their decision to follow Christ puts them at odds with Rome’s immense power, as well as with many of their own family and friends. Their faith puts them in a precarious and life-threatening position. I can understand the appeal of an equally solid and inviolable protective shield from God. Sometimes, I’d like to wear some armor myself and cover my children with it. Our world may not be full of Roman soldiers, but it is full of powers that are ready to destroy us: corrupt economies, conniving politicians, earth-destroying systems of greed and industry, personal demons, crazy family systems … The hurt from these “powers and principalities” seeps into our lives through the very ground in which we are planted. We don’t need to believe in little horned demons in order to feel helpless before the power of the forces that threaten our flourishing as human beings.
Some tell us that we can to protect ourselves with guns, steel-clad weapons to carry around everywhere we go. We hear how we need to protect ourselves from terrorists with harsh security measures and strong government. We hear how we need to protect ourselves from foreigners with walls and airtight immigration laws. The media tells us that we need all kinds of gadgets and insurance policies to protect our families: burglar alarms to protect our possessions; security cameras to protect our children; antibacterial cleansers and loads of vitamin pills to protect our bodies.
Look again at the armor described in Ephesians. The armor that God gives us against these powers and principalities isn’t the steel-plated, gun-slinging, sword-swinging, world-separating armor that we might be asking for, is it? It is not an armor made of concrete walls or of barbed-wire, real or imaginary. It is an armor that seems to make us more, rather than less, vulnerable.
Rather than the false armor of protective lies that we wrap around ourselves, God wraps our vulnerable, naked souls in Truth. God gives us God’s Word with which we can cut through the foolishness of our lives. Taking away the armor of perfectionism, God puts us in right relationship with others and with our deepest selves. Removing the armor of anxiety, God grounds us in peace and saves us with Christ’s healing touch. So protected, we gain the strength not to disparage others, but to pray for one another: to pray at all times, in all places. God doesn’t give us armor that we can hide in. God’s armor paradoxically opens us up to relationship with God and with one another—relationship that is sewed tight by the threads of continuous prayer.
Each morning this month, before beginning your day, stand straight and tall in the middle of your bedroom and recite aloud the “breastplate” prayer, often attributed to St. Patrick. (See below) In the italicized section, touch each part of your body as you speak. On the refrain of “Christ before me …” hold out your arms in front of you, over your head, behind you, etc. Don’t worry about “looking silly”—no one is looking but God, and God is busy answering your prayer for just the kind of “protection” that you will need as you go about the day.
Prayer of St. Patrick
I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Radiance of moon
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the 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 temptation of vices,
From everyone who wishes me ill,
Afar and nearby.
I summon Christ to shield me today:
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in 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 in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.
With preschool children: As you help your children dress in the morning, tell them that they are going to “put on Jesus’ love” after they have on their other clothes. Pretend to put a robe over their heads, or pants on their legs. Tell them that their “Jesus clothes” will keep Jesus with them all day long, loving them and looking after them. Pretend to put “Jesus shoes” on their feet, telling them that Jesus will direct their feet to make good choices.
With elementary school children: Teach them the italicized portion (or a piece of it) of the “Breastplate of St. Patrick” prayer. Say it with them before they leave for school in the morning: standing and holding out their arms in all of the directions. Explain that Jesus wants to be with us each day, guiding us to make good choices and helping us when we need strength and courage.
With teens: the “Breastplate” prayer is also good for teens. While they won’t want to say it with you, share it with them after you have been using it for a few days and tell them how much it helps you (only if it does!) when you are afraid or have to make difficult choices. Give them a copy and invite them to try it, too. Don’t nag them, but after a few days, casually ask if they have tried it and if they found it helpful.