Thursday, November 12, 2015

What's in a Name? Patrick Ryan

Dear Patrick,

I am sure that the story of your namesake is one you will hear many times during your life.  I write it down here for you to read, and others in case anyone is interested.  I kind of have this idea that I’d love to name my boys after historical figures and my girls after literary characters, with the caveat that I also like the names’ meanings... and that Daddy likes them too.   So far it’s worked out.  Your sister's name, "Eowyn Grace" is from Tolkien’s The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings), and we named your big brother "William Christopher" after your Poppy (my father-in-law) and your daddy’s good friend, as well as history’s William the Conqueror and Christopher Columbus, who at the very least had vision and initiative whatever their faults.  His name means “strong protector, bearer of Christ.”  So when I thought of names I’d love to give a second son, top of the list was Patrick.  As for your middle name… I think that one’s pretty obvious:  your daddy’s name.  I happen to think carrying that name is an honor any son will be glad to have.  it’s the name of a smart, compassionate man who works diligently to provide for his family, serve his church, be a faithful friend, and fight sin.  He is one who consistently befriends the least of these yet is unafraid to converse with those society calls great, and who genuinely cares about both.  He is brave and adventurous, a gifted writer and an innovative businessman.  He also happens to be able to make me laugh like no one else and is incredibly good-looking.  :)  Id love it if you, my boy, grew up to be "just like Daddy."

Both “Patrick” and “Ryan” have connotations of nobility, of royalty.  I hope to raise a son who carries himself as though he is of noble blood, in every positive sense of the word, with none of the arrogance.

So, Patrick…who was he?  Some Catholic saint?  Someone who loved to drink and looked for leprechaun gold?  Did he even exist?  I’m happy to say that yes, there really was a man named Patrick, and he had nothing to do with leprechauns or searches for treasure at the end of rainbows.  He probably loved a good drink like any shivering Briton of the 5th century, and as for Catholicism, he was a Christian—and that was the only kind of Church there was before the East-West Schism.  But the historical Patrick, originally named Sucat, was passionate for the Gospel; brave, compassionate, effective pastor, smart, poetic and a gifted evangelist.  (I think of him as his day’s William Carey, Tim Keller and John Piper rolled into one.) 

Most do not know his true history, so I’ll give my own biography of him here:  Sucat grew up on what is now the coast of England, son of a deacon, loved and well-taught in Scripture but unbelieving.  As a teenager he was kidnapped out his bedroom window by Scottish raiders (“scotti” means “pirate”), taken to Ireland and sold as a slave.  While there he was a shepherd, alone for most of each day in the wild green hills.  He had a lot of thinking time, just him and the animals.  All the lessons and prayers from his childhood came back to him, and he turned to the God he had long ignored.  Amidst the fear-filled druidic paganism and untamed beauty around him, he Believed and began to find joy in communion with the one Friend for sinners.  The other servants jokingly dubbed him “Holy Boy” as he began to spend each day in prayer and speak to them all of this kind God.  One night he had a dream that led him to escape.  Miraculously he made it home to England, where he was reunited with his overjoyed parents.  Years later he had another dream, this time of a man crying out in Irish “we beg you, “Holy Boy, come back and walk among us!” and awoke with the weight of thousands of souls on his conscience.  He began to realize "who better to take the Good News to the Lost of Ireland than one who knew their ways and spoke their language?"  After receiving seminary training and being ordained and commissioned as a minister of the Gospel, Patrick set out for the land where he had been enslaved, despite knowing that his escape from slavery would mean his old master could legally kill him.

What happened next was nothing short of miraculous.  Patrick’s simple teaching and faithful preaching began a complete upheaval in Ireland.  Hundreds, both wealthy –even nobility—and simple, left their old religion of fear and appeasement and turned to the One True God whose love cast out all fear, and whose wrath had already been appeased by His Own Son’s sacrifice.  The Good News spread through the network of bards God had sovereignly put in place over the centuries, both traveling singers and the officials who were responsible for keeping record of each lord & clan’s history and feats in song. Poetry and songs as only the Celts can write began to be sung in the praise of Jesus from one end of the island to the other.  Even the bard of the High King converted, and the man who once had been sent to diplomatically secure magical talismans from rival lords instead used his talent with words to compose the hymn we sing today as “Be Thou My Vision.”  Hundreds of young men and women came to Patrick desiring to become nuns and monks in devotion to God’s work for life.  All this occurred despite constant death threats against him from druids who did not appreciate the incursion into “their” territory.  Patrick refused any financial gifts, knowing these would tie him to a lord and a clan.  This left him essentially without legal protection, yet he fearlessly continued to teach and preach, believing he would only die when the Lord’s work for him was done.  By the time the Lord took him Home, the Irish church had been well established, with a rich Celtic liturgy all its own, quite distinct from that of the rest of Europe's, as Patrick encouraged his congregants and disciples to use their talents to write their own songs and hymns.  (Unfortunately under English oppression this liturgy was nearly completely lost.  Several tunes survived through oral tradition as well as a few prayers and hymns; however all record of the system the Irish Celts once used to notate their music was lost forever.)

Very few of Patrick’s own words survive to this day, however two documents do remain—his “Confession” and an open letter which he wrote—and several pieces of poetry are also attributed him by tradition.  The writings show a courageous, humble man passionate for God’s glory and deeply compassionate for his fellow man, especially those in Ireland. 

I am Patrick, yes a sinner and indeed untaught; yet I am established here in Ireland where I profess myself bishop. I am certain in my heart that "all that I am," I have received from God. So I live among barbarous tribes, a stranger and exile for the love of God. […] If I have any worth, it is live my life for God so as to teach these people; even though some of them still look down on me.”

How is it that in Ireland, where they never had any knowledge of God but, always, until now, cherished idols and unclean things, they are lately become a people of the Lord, and are called children of God; the sons of the Irish and the daughters of the chieftains are to be seen as monks and virgins of Christ.  […] I confess to my Lord and do not blush in His sight, because I am not lying; from the time when I came to know Him in my youth, the love of God and fear of Him increased in me, and right up until now, by God's favor, I have kept the faith.”

And one of my favorite bits of poetry, “the Lorica of St Patrick’” contains the verse:I arise today / Through the strength of Christ's birth and His baptism,/ Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial, / Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,/ Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.  Though we don’t know for certain that Patrick penned those words, they certainly fit in with the Gospel-centeredness of his life, to wake up every morning completely & intentionally in Christ.

Those are all words I would be glad to know my son could also honestly claim.

Patrick, my sleeping little son, you are awfully small to bear such big names.  I pray you grow into them and do them honor, "by God's almighty help and grace." 

St Patrick's Rune as used by Madeleine L'Engle
in A Swiftly Tilting Planet (one of my very favorite books)
With all my love,

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