From Be Thou My Breastplate
Let the vision that the people of Heaven have be in these eyes. (Fursa’s Breastplate)
This line of Fursa’s prayer has me approach God with a bold request indeed. Today I am to ask God to enable me to see all things – my own life, the lives of others, the life of the world – differently. It is surely impossible that I should pray these words without expecting God’s answer to do far more than merely alter my perspectives in some academic kind of way. If God answers he will surely upset my very understanding of things, overturning my own order of priorities and values.
In the letter to the Romans, I am told that it is through seeing things differently – having a “new mind” – that my whole life will be transformed (“metamorphosed,” to use the Apostle Paul’s word). In another place the holy apostle says that if anyone is “in Christ” he is thereby re-created: “Behold old things have passed away and new things have come.”
If my mind is truly opened to such a vision, I can fully expect everything about myself to change as a result. What I want in life will be altered, how I choose to live; what I believe, what I will be willing to suffer for and what I will not suffer for; what I consider right or wrong, good or bad.
Such a change of view has to lie at the heart of my ongoing life of repentance, for unless I see things differently why should I live any differently? The motivation will not be there.
Fursa’s beliefs and his actions in life reveal his understanding of things to be rooted in the timeless revelation of God. His work is the work of one who sees himself as an ambassador of Heaven. In that sense Fursa wants his vision, his culture, and allegiance to be heavenly, not earthbound. He is certainly not one to satisfy himself with a parochial worldview that says: “Because I was born at this place in this time, and was schooled in this way, and grew up in this family, and was brought up in this society, I see things in such and such a way.” No: Fursa’s heart, voiced in these words of prayer bespeaks a longing to be enlightened by God’s own wisdom from eternity – spoken through the ages to the prophets of the Old Covenant and, supremely, through the words of him who came down from Heaven. The messiah’s words were spoken to apostles 600 years before his time, but they were heard and encountered afresh by Fursa with every sunrise vigil. It is in passing on those freshly encountered words to others that our Celtic brother will discharge his call as an ambassador of eternity, speaking timeless truths, transcending every age and culture.
In our day, by contrast, we often try to recreate the messiah in our own image. We say, “If Jesus had come today he would surely say something like this,” and then we give what truly is our own perspective. But this is no path to God’s revelation. If Jesus had been born where I was born, had been schooled where I was schooled; if he had been raised in my family, grown up in my hometown and country, and watched and enjoyed all the same television programs that I watched, then it might be reasonable to expect him to believe exactly what I grew up to believe. But that is simply not what happened. That is not the story of the word made flesh. The real messiah, the Jesus Christ of history, was born in Bethlehem and was raised the son of Mary of the tribe of Judah.
Celtic believers loved to call him that: MacMhuire – the son of Mary – because that was the story of the word made flesh. The name rooted their understanding of Christ in time, in history, on Earth, in a place, with a family. Heritage, Earth, place, and family were things of importance to the Celtic mind. Emphasizing their place in Christ’s story meant that to the Celts their savior was not an idealized concept of divinity, but a real man who was God. The name underlined that their messiah had come into their flesh-and-blood world. This Christ, the messiah of history, grew up and lived in Nazareth, then preached throughout Judea, dying and rising again on Calvary Hill in Jerusalem.
The great prophets of the Old Testament anticipated it, and the holy apostles reported it: that the messiah, son of God and son of Mary, came into the world at an appointed time to an appointed place, and to the people on Earth gave appointed teachings whose source was not earthly at all, but heavenly.
In one place Jesus says, “My father tells me what to say and how to say it,” and in another the Apostle John declares, “No one has ever seen God, but God, the one and only begotten, who is at the father’s side; he has made him known.”
In that light Fursa now prays. The teaching of Christ was both from Heaven and from history. Both points meant that, in Fursa’s mind, Christ’s revelation was firm and unchanging. With that clarity he daily asks that God’s revelation will transform him rather than the other way round.
Likewise, if I am to pray with Fursa, I must pray anticipating a change in myself. I must pray, prepared for familiar and old perspectives, selfish priorities, and wrong values to be gradually purged away. I will pray, ready and hoping for a heavenly vision to inspire me henceforward to want what my God and savior wants and do what he desires and loves. When this is our motivation we find ourselves truly seeing eye-to-eye with the very people of Heaven.