Prayer of Protection – from the Celtic Tradition

First shared during Women’s Week in the United Church of Christ, March 5-11, 2017

Lorica—Prayer of Protection– from the Celtic Tradition
With thanks for inspiration to the Rev. Dr. Heather Murray Elkins,
Frederick Watson Hannen Professor of Worship, Preaching and the Arts at Drew Theological School, and the members of the Feminist Liturgy Seminar at the North American Academy of Liturgy

Public witness is being called for these days in many different settings. How may we go forth spiritually prepared to confront contentious situations? The Celtic Church offers some models in their tradition of “Lorica”.

“Lorica” is a Latin word meaning “body armor”; literally a protective garment. Celtic Christianity developed a prayer genre of loricae, calling on the Trinity and all of Creation to protect body and soul from harm. The scriptural inspiration for a lorica is Ephesians 6:14, where Paul exhorts the community to “put on the breast-plate of righteousness.”

A lorica may have the feel of a chant or litany, with repetition establishing a steadying, heartening rhythm. A lorica may be prayed by an individual, or a community may pray it in a call-and-response format. A lorica may be used to center oneself for action; it may be used as an energetic “warm up” prayer for community action. It is a flexible form, and can draw on all kinds of sources for inspiration.

The most famous Celtic lorica is St Patrick’s Breastplate (5th Century). .
St Patrick’s prayer calls on the power of God’s natural world along with the Holy Trinity; excerpts below:

I arise today
through a mighty strength,
the invocation of the Trinity…
I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun, Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire, Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind, Depth of 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,….

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in voice of friend and stranger.

How do you envision a breastplate of strength and protection? The lorica is a wonderfully flexible form to use, and not difficult to create. Below are three models; may they spark creativity, confidence and joy—and more loricas going forth!

Create a lorica from images which offer you strength and hope:

City Lorica
I arise today
Through a mighty strength,
The invocation of the Three in One:
Creator, Wisdom, Spirit

I bind unto myself today the strength of the City,
Where Wisdom dwells—God with Us:
Energy of children, memory of elders,
Courage of homeless, aspirations of workers,
Generosity of neighbors, welcome of strangers,
Poetry of youth, sunshine shared in city park,
Community formed on subway cars;
Urgency of sirens, diligence of public servants,
Voices seeking justice, hands building common good,
Grace of confrontations leading to peace…

Create a lorica modelled on the Litany of the Saints:

A Lorica Invoking Strong Women
I bind unto myself today
the strength of Women who empower hope:
Maya Angelou’s eloquence
Dorothy Day’s advocacy
Mothers of the Disappeared’s constancy
Shirley Chisholm’s strategy
Hildegard of Bingen’s vision
Harriet Tubman’s courage
Eleanor Roosevelt’s energy….

Holy Wisdom be with me, Wisdom within me,
Wisdom behind me, Wisdom before me,
Wisdom beside me, Wisdom to win me,
Wisdom to comfort and restore me.
Wisdom beneath me, Wisdom above me,
Wisdom in quiet, Wisdom in danger,
Wisdom in hearts of all that love me,
Wisdom in voice of friend and stranger.

Create a Lorica of Laughter and Hope
One modern-day lorica is proposed by Heather Murray Elkins, and it is less of a chant and more of an action of radical whimsy undergirding hope:

A group of women gathers to pray for protective strength for each other. Their source for the prayer is very ordinary, their own stories and everyday items. They have before them a “breastplate”—sash, vest, or very large brassiere (large enough to fit most women over their regular clothes), and a collection of single earrings (most women have their own collection of odd earrings!) A leader establishes the occasion, and invites people to come forward and add an earring to the Breastplate, along with a prayer, a name, a source of strength. The breastplate/lorica begins to glitter and jingle with its new adornment, and takes on as well the protective strength of hope and laughter that this simple ritual invites.

Loricas for Women’s Week, 2017 was compiled by the Rev. Susan A. Blain, Minister for Faith Formation: Curator for Worship and Liturgical Arts, Local Church Ministries.

Copyright 2017 Local Church Ministries, Congregational Vitality and Discipleship Ministry Team, United Church of Christ, 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115-1100. Permission granted to reproduce or adapt this material for use in services of worship or church education. All publishing rights reserved.

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