On March 17, 1762, fourteen years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, New York held its inaugural St. Patrick’s Day parade.
Today the largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the world has been halted by something so small it can only be detected under an electron microscope. COVID-19 has single handedly silenced the revelry of approximately 150,000 marchers and 5th Avenue in Manhattan is quiet. Quite an unexpected turn of events.
St. Patrick, the Patron Saint of St. Patrick’s Day, knew first hand about the unexpected turn of events. Born in Britain, Patrick at the age of 16 was captured by slave traders and sent to work in Ireland on a farm. His escape involved making a 200-mile journey on foot to the coast. Patrick arrived just as a cargo ship with hounds on board was departing. He talked his way onto the ship as caretaker of the hounds. Patrick returned to Britain by way of France and the Mediterranean. So the story goes Patrick was haunted by dreams in which Irish children implored him to “Come and walk among us.”
“Come and walk among them” he did. Patrick returned to “The Emerald Isle” of green grasses and rolling hills. Shaped by the crucible of slavery on Irish soil, he was able to relate to the people. He started 300 churches and baptized 120,000 people.
Peacefully, “The Emerald Isle” transitioned from pagan to Christian; and the church in Ireland preserved documents that might have been lost as the Roman Empire chaotically fragmented and passed down a legacy of lovely music.
Tradition has it that “Be Thou My Vision” is an ancient poem written by the Irish Poet, St. Dallan within 100 years of St. Patrick’s death. The poem was first translated to English by Mary Byrne from Ireland. The most well known verses are written by Eleanor Hull and set to the Irish folk tune “Slane."
Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Nought be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thou presence my light.
Be Thou my wisdom and Thou my true word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my vision, O Ruler of all.
May this musical prayer with deep Irish roots encourage and comfort us during the unexpected twists and turns of these COVID-19 days. God’s presence is our light, waking or sleeping.
Hope and Peace,
Rev. Dr. Doris Chandler