From Be Thou My Breastplate, by Paul Wallis
Let the speech of the people of Heaven be in this mouth. (Fursa’s Breastplate)
Jesus taught us to pray this way: with few words but forceful ones. The prayer that Christ taught comprises words and phrases so memorable and full of meaning that his prayer has spoken for men, women, boys, and girls in every generation since.
The Lord’s own prayer is a model of the power of brevity, leaving us with seven simple sentences to express the heart of whatever we may need to say. If our prayers are to follow its divine example then perhaps we might not want our words of prayer to be too much like the words of our everyday conversation, lest we fall into a way of praying which, rather than gather meaning, disperses it in the manner which Jesus associated with Gentile patterns of prayer. “They think they will be heard,” he said, “because of the multiplicity of their words.” Unlike some of the Celtic breastplate prayers, Fursa’s prayer follows the savior’s pattern.
When words are few and forceful, they have a power to remain in the memory for a long time. A succinct insult spoken in a moment’s vulnerability can leave a wound that time alone can never heal. A word of blessing,, love, or affirmation spoken to a ready heart can give joy and retain its power to do so for a lifetime. The Scriptures are true to life when they say that “the power of life and death are in the tongue.”
The messiah’s own teachings were often concluded with words that are hard to forget:
- Go therefore and do likewise.
- Now that you know these things you will be blessed if you do them.
- By this people will know that you are my disciples: that you love one another.
- As the father sent me so I send you.
- Let the children come to me, for the kingdom belongs to such as these.
- Whatever you did to the least of these my brethren you did to me.
- This is my body given for you. This is my blood of the New Covenant.
- I am the way, the truth, and the life.
- I and the father are one.
As they recorded these memorable phrases, we can gauge that the Lord’s disciples learned the art in their turn.
Among other things, Fursa was a teacher and was therefore dependent on the memory of his hearers. with such a ministry, learning to speak succinctly with words full of meaning and resonance is a matter of primary importance. That is why Fursa turns his attention to the speech of the people of Heaven, praying that what he speaks may be endowed with heavenly content and power.
Fourteen centuries after Fursa’s time we can vouch confidently that God listened to our brother’s prayer. The very fact that, one-and-a-half millennia later, you and I are meditating together on his words is more than proof enough that God breathed something through Fursa in answer to the words of his prayer: “May the speech of the people of God be in this mouth.”