Friday, March 14, 2014

The real St. Patrick

Our New England coastline is evocative of the emerald isle.

In observance of St. Patrick’s Day, we wear green clothing, eat corned beef and cabbage; and some of us will even tip a few pints of green ale.

But why do we honor the patron saint of Ireland?

Patrick was born around 385, but biographers are unsure of the site of his birth in Britain, perhaps near Dumbarton on the Clyde, in Cumberland to the south of Hadrian’s Wall or at the mouth of the Severn.

In his spiritual autobiography, the “Confessio,” Patrick tells us that he was of Roman and British ancestry; and his father, Calpurnius, was a municipal official.

When he was a teen, Patrick was carried off by Irish raiders, who took him somewhere in County Mayo.

A slave, Patrick worked as a shepherd. He tells us he was lonely and afraid and that he turned to his religion for help.

“The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was raised so that in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night nearly the same,” he wrote.

Six years in captivity, Patrick said he heard God’s voice in his sleep, telling him to leave Ireland.

According to his biographers, he ran away walking 200 miles, found free passage on a ship and spent three days before reaching land in some uninhabited country. But eventually he returned to his family.

When he was 23 years old, Patrick saw a vision of an angel in a dream beckoning him to return to the western isle as a missionary.

He also heard voices saying, “We beg you, holy youth, to come and walk among us once more.”

After studying for the priesthood, Patrick decided to dedicate himself to the spread of Christianity in the places of his slavery.

He spent the next 30 years, traveling throughout Ireland founding schools, churches and monasteries.

Using native beliefs to teach Christianity, he superimposed a sun, a powerful pagan symbol, on the Christian cross, which became the Celtic cross; and he used the three-leafed shamrock to represent the Trinity: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Patrick died on March 17, 461 and was buried at Saul on Strangford Lough.

One thousand, five hundred and fifty-three years later, we celebrate the saint’s day; and he continues to teach us:

“Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.
―St. Patrick

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Spring is on the way

Peeking out the back door, I notice that the temperature gauge on the deck reads zero again.

Rock-hard snow still covers the yard, and the driveway and brick path to our front door are caked in layers of ice treacherous to drive or walk on.

Blinding snow squalls appear out of nowhere, and flurries are as commonplace as rain, while yet another winter storm watch has been posted with six inches to a foot of the white stuff in the forecast.

By all appearances we are in the throes of one of the coldest, snowiest seasons in memory. But no matter what Mother Nature throws at us now, we duck and know her fury is short-lived. March may come in as a lion, but in three weeks it will be springtime – and that changes everything.

“We often have a real blizzard in March; but even so, we have seen the earth again and felt the wind of spring,” said New England author Gladys Taber, who wrote from her seventeenth-century farmhouse in rural Connecticut. “It is just another removal sale on Nature’s part.”

A few hours later I am sitting in the Ram watching a hardy soul walk the beach. I should venture out, but instead I remain in the warmth of the truck cabin and dream about spring.

Not long from now the sand will soften, balmy breezes will blow, this deserted shoreline will fill with beach-goers and the Sakonnet will buoy a fleet of pleasure boats.

Ah, springtime…

At the summer house, we drive into the back yard; and I try to imagine that this Arctic tundra is a thick, springy bed of green grass.

Surveying the snow-covered roof of the house, we unlock the front door and step into the cold, musty confines of the dwelling. After checking each of the rooms, we thank God that they are intact, just the way we left them last fall.

A few years ago, we arrived to find a pile of rumble in the living room, where the ceiling had caved in.

I smile. In my mind I have already moved back. I am home.

So let the storms rage on...

“It doesn’t matter if a few shingles fall off in the hurrying wind,” said Taber. “It isn’t important that the yard is going to be an inland lake for some time. It doesn’t matter too much if a falling branch cuts off the electric. Spring is on the way.”