From Be Thou My Breastplate, by Paul Wallis
And let this person belong entirely to God. (Fursa’s Breastplate)
Fursa belonged entirely to God in a monastic kind of way. He lived a celibate life in the close community of monastery farms. His days were given over to reclusion with God and frugal living, to farming and the apostolic ministry: preaching, teaching, bringing spiritual relief, and healing. All these avenues of service are still available to believers today. When those elements are combined we call them “monastic.” Today new generations of Christians are appropriating those elements of service in fresh ways and new combinations.
Monastic or not, all of us live days that are marked by a sequence of parts; a liturgy of elements:
- waking up, washing, dressing, eating, blessing, traveling, greeting;
- physical work, mental work, talking, listening, and thinking;
- reading, writing, gathering supplies, preparing meals;
- keeping house, keeping company, playing, praying, resting, and sleeping.
Part of the monastic liturgy of life is to give oneself to one activity at a time and to pause at the boundaries between each part of the day. When a Celtic monk entered or departed a chapel, he would pause and be still for a moment, to sanctify to God what had gone before and what was to come next. I know believers today who observe a similar discipline whenever leaving or re-entering their home – so dedicating to God their goings out and their comings in.
When the Celtic monk paused at the chapel doorway, it was not because chapel time mattered to God and what came before and after did not. For Fursa and his contemporaries every element of the daily liturgy was sacred. They believed that every moment and activity in their lives could be sanctified by the will of God and encircled by the power of his presence. This is the holistic vision we hear echoed in the poems and prayers of those ancient Celtic believers.
The mother nursing her baby, the plowman turning the earth, the dairyman milking his cattle, the daughter lighting the fire in the kitchen, the father garnering supplies for the family, the son feeding the livestock in the field, the brother copying the gospel in his cell – all knew that if they gave themselves to their duty and rendered it as service to Christ, giving to their chore – as the Apostle Paul instructed in Colossians – their whole heart and attention, with faith in the one who sees and rewards what is done in secret, then they were working as God’s yokefellows and worshipers, charged with all the potential that comes from loving and being loved by God their maker. We know from their prayers that this was the Celtic vision of things. It is exactly that wholeness of self-dedication that makes Fursa’s prayer so compelling.
In his prayer and in his story we can easily perceive that Fursa’s faith was not one that subtracted him from society, or abstracted him from truly living his life, nor yet distracted him from serving those around him. No; Fursa’s faith was one that filled his life with new senses, new meanings, and new potentials, and, moreover, made that life fruitful. That is the essence of Fursa’s longing summarized so powerfully in the words of his breastplate prayer. Living the whole of our life in self-offering to our maker: that is the way in which Fursa calls us to “belong entirely to God.”