FURSA IN LENT: Day One by Paul Wallis


From Be Thou My Breastplate

May the yoke of the Law of God be upon this shoulder.
(Fursa’s Breastplate)

Of all the things mankind has made, few inventions have ever surpassed the phenomenal importance of the humble yoke. Think of it: in the time before the yoke our distant ancestor was able to plow just enough land for himself. With an animal and a plow, perhaps this man could farm just enough for his family to make a living from their humble little strip of land. Bear in mind that if the family ever outgrew the men’s ability to farm, the family would become scattered – its members disconnected from the land and dispersed to a life of serving others as serfs or wandering the country as nomads. Thus scattered, the family’s ownership of and connection with the land would be severed and in those distant days such a serious misfortune would leave them one critical link further down the social food chain.

But the invention of the yoke enabled our ancestors to subdue and farm an area maybe ten times the size of his former little strip of land. With cooperation, a small cluster of families with a pair of oxen, an iron plow, and a yoke to share among them, would be able to live at a much higher level. Now they could eat enough to grow bigger and stronger, to be fruitful and multiply in number. Aided by the yoke, our ancestors could cultivate enough to store for uncertain times ahead, the more surely to survive any lean years to come, and also to enter into trade with their neighbors.

With the coming of the yoke, the family can become a tribe, the tribe a trading post, and the trading post a township, where people can specialize according to their gifts and so enrich the whole life of the community.

It is strange but true mathematics that when two beasts are yoked together their effectiveness is more than doubled. An ox-master can set his sights on higher goals and a better life.

When Fursa first prayed to be yoked with the Law of God, he was praying that through Christ’s law – his words and ways – he would become connected together with God in a fruitful partnership of common purpose. He knew that without God maybe he could just survive (though not outlast) his poor earthly life, but that tied shoulder-to-shoulder with God he could live on an entirely different level. Yoked with God he could set his sights on higher goals and a better life, the abundant life of Christ. Daily accepting God’s yoke through the words of his lorica, its earliest speakers would more consciously remember the sweetness of their attachment to God’s Earth and the joy of working in connection with Heaven. Fursa’s prayer begins by calling out to God for this connection to be made real.

A Breastplate Prayer is intended as a daily act of self-offering, so Fursa’s prayer is extremely democratic. What I mean is that it does nothing to discriminate between the person who has been a believer in Christ for 30 years and the one who has been a believer for 30 minutes. It simply offers a form of words to anyone who would look to God and say, “God be near to me,” “God be bound to me,” “I offer you my shoulders.”

So, whatever your age or stage in the journey of faith, if you have lately felt unconnected with God or ineffective, lacking in purpose, or sensing that you are merely eking out a life that is too bare and shallow, then Fursa’s prayer begins with words to express your fundamental heart cry. If you are hungry for a sense of meaning, desperate to bear some fruit and multiply, or wanting in whatever way to raise your sights to something better, then take your stand with Fursa and cry out for the yoke of the Law of God to rest on your shoulder.

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