From Be Thou My Breastplate
And let this person belong entirely to God. (Fursa’s Breastplate)
To the contemporary mind, praying Fursa’s Breastplate may seem like a symbolic act. But although there is that level to it, we can pray it at a quite literal level. If I am to speak holy words it will be my mouth that does the speaking. If I am to visit the sick or sorrowing, it will be my feet that carry me. If I consider the needs of another person, it will be my head that has done some thinking.
The dedication of my body is no add-on to my service of God, because it is with my body that I will serve him. Without it, I am dead. In short, my act of worship must be physical because I am physical. That is why the scripture has said that I must offer my body.
According to Fursa’s understanding, a person is a body. Offering to God only my mind would be nonsense. To offer him only my soul would in effect be asking to die. It is precisely that mystical overlap of mind, soul, spirit, will, and body that makes us living human beings. When some poor survivor, stranded on his desert island etches on his beach the letters SOS – Save Our Souls – his plea is not for his soul only. In fact, his desperate desire is to keep body and soul together. He knows that it is the overlap that makes him alive. That is why the promise of God’s Spirit in scripture is to “give life to our mortal bodies.”
Fursa’s prayer intends that mind, body, and soul will together be sanctified. This is why he speaks of the head, the heart, and the person. By uniting the physical, mental, and spiritual, Fursa’s vision unites faith and action. His call is not just to the passive life of the hermit. As James says in his epistle, “I will show you my faith by what I do.” Solitude with God was therefore just one part of Fursa’s way of life.
Yet neither is Fursa’s call simply to the business of the activist. For Christ said, “Close the door of your room and pray to your father who is unseen.”
Fursa’s prayer and the example of his way of life unite these two paths and show us a more holistic vision. In him we see a balance of reclusion and social engagement; a balance of the enclosed life of the community and the scattered life of the missionary. Fursa’s balance of prayer, study, and manual work was the simple, daily rhythm of the monastic way of life.
Whatever my situation in life, I too must find such rhythm; balancing my time alone with God and my time in company; my time for work and my time for rest; my time in the Scriptures and my time befriending; my time in close community and my time in wider society. Like Fursa, I too must find the right time for letting his Spirit rest on my forehead in silent contemplation and the right time for going and serving the good of God and of neighbor.
Yet Fursa’s prayer is not complicated. It trains me in this balance of thinking, simply through inviting me to repeat its words and to allow the balance expressed through its simple, resonant words gradually to soak in to my mind.
I am not required to be clever or sophisticated to use Fursa’s Breastplate. If I cannot read well, I will soon be able to memorize the pattern of its poetic cadences. Neither does Fursa’s prayer require me to be on a spiritual high or full of devout feeling in order to pray it. Whether as part of an hour of prayer, or a day, or one minute, I can pray this prayer and mean it. All that Fursa implicitly requires is that I believe the words I am speaking, that they express something that I wish to say. That agreement is what will make it a true prayer.
Today Fursa bids me simply to repeat his prayer and agree with what I am saying. “Let this person belong entirely to God.”