From the eighth stanza of the Prayer of St. Patrick, 5th Century missionary to Ireland, come the words, “Christ in Danger.” I have meditated on this stanza of Patrick’s prayer over the past month, along with Marilyn Chandler McEntyre’s book “Christ, My Companion,” a wonderful reflection on this portion of the ancient prayer. Of all the prepositional phrases in the stanza, “Christ in Danger” reminds me of my all-time favorite description of Jesus found in 1 Peter 2: 25, where Peter calls Jesus the “keeper and guardian of your souls.”
When I think about this image, I imagine an armed sentinel standing guard over my soul, fending off anything that could do harm to the essence of my being…that part of me that communes with the Almighty.
Danger comes in many forms. In 2 Corinthians 11 and Philippians 4 Paul wrote of the many difficulties he had experienced, from which God did not rescue him physically but certainly protected him spiritually and, I think, emotionally. I would add lingering illness and chronic pain to this list of potential life challenges that threaten us (think of Paul’s description in 2 Corinthians 12 of his prayer dialog with God, three times requesting healing from some physical infirmary, to which God responded, “No, My grace is sufficient”). While we tend to view physical struggles of various sorts as our worst possible plight in life, I suggest that it is the effect these struggles cast on our souls that is the real danger. Resentment, bitterness, anger, fear, self-pity, distrust and disbelief (the list goes on), rooted in our souls, destroy the essence of who we are. When our souls are intact and spiritually connected to our Maker, suffering yields perspective. When our souls disintegrate under pressure by these crippling emotions, the whole world is our nemesis.
Biblical examples from Paul’s life, along with our own experiences, teach us that there is more to our existence than creature comforts. Truly, Christ’s kingdom is one where suffering and injustice are conquered once and for all…but remember what Jesus taught His disciples to pray? “Thy kingdom come.” While we see inklings of it, God’s kingdom is not yet fully manifested in our present reality. In the meantime, by God’s grace our faith is stretched and strengthened through the hardships we face. We learn to say with Paul, “Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (Romans 14:8). Our lives are meant to be all about HIM, not the other way around.
In summing up a section of her chapter titled Christ in Danger, McEntyre states: “God, who acts in mysterious, sometimes baffling, sometimes frustrating ways, may summon us to faith precisely in situations of danger. … What came to [the saints of old] in times of danger appears to have been a gift of faith enlarged by crisis, tried in fire that turned it to gold.”
Indeed, God places a high value on faith…so high that the means by which it is attained – even suffering that exacts a heavy toll on our physical existence – seems to be justified in the heavenly economy. Think about this as you face your own terribly difficult circumstances. What depths of faith might God be drawing you into, through your troubles? On your pilgrim road, may the “Keeper and Guardian of our souls” sustain you, always!