5 Lessons on Wonder from St. Patrick
How to Celebrate Wonder on St. Patrick’s Day and Beyond
Saint Patrick is one of the world’s most beloved saints. The popular St. Patrick’s Day holiday that Patrick inspired is a time for celebration not just in Ireland (where he is the national patron saint), but throughout the world. Many people love to party on St. Patrick’s Day without really thinking about why they’re celebrating. If Patrick himself were here with us, I think he would say that we should appreciate and celebrate life’s wonder.
This St. Patrick’s Day, let Patrick’s life inspire you to notice and celebrate the wonder around you — as he did. Here are 5 lessons on wonder from St. Patrick:
1. Spend time in nature. Patrick loved the outdoors and spent as much time as possible surrounded by nature. He took frequent hikes through forests, climbed mountains, and sailed seas. He worked on grasslands as a shepherd for sheep and cattle for six years. After becoming a priest, he used water wells and fire during his religious rituals. Patrick used shamrocks (clover) as visual aids when teaching people in Ireland how God could be one living spirit in three persons (the Trinity: God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit). He famously explained that just as the shamrock has one stem but three leaves (four-leaf clovers are the exception), God was one spirit who expressed himself in three ways. Patrick believed that nature reflected many of God’s qualities, so he often encouraged people to seek wonder in creation that would inspire them to think about a Creator. In a famous prayer called “Saint Patrick’s Breastplate,” Patrick wrote: “I arise today through the strength of heaven: Light of sun, radiance of moon, splendor of fire, speed of lightning, swiftness of wind, depth of sea, stability of earth, firmness of rock.”
2. Pay attention to messages in dreams. Dreams can also be powerful tools for discovering wonder, Patrick said. He had a dramatic vision of his guardian angel (whom he named Victor) in a dream that motivated Patrick to leave his family in his home country (Britain) and return to Ireland (where he had been enslaved as a teen by Irish raiders) to help the people there. Patrick recorded in one of his letters: “… there, in a vision of the night, I saw the man whose name was Victor coming from Ireland with innumerable letters, and he gave me one of them, and I read the beginning of the letter: ‘The Voice of the Irish,’ and as I was reading the beginning of the letter I seemed at that moment to hear the voices of those who were beside the forest of Foclut which is near the western sea, and they were crying as if with one voice: ‘We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk again among us.’ And I was stung intensely in my heart so that I could read no more, and thus I awoke. Thanks be to God because after so many years the Lord bestowed on them according to their cry.”
3. Look for possibilities in problems. Patrick endured many hardships and overcome many challenges in his life by holding onto hope. When faced with a problem — from feeling tired or hungry, to dealing with slavery and people who wanted to kill him — Patrick took a positive approach to negativity. Rather than let problems stop him from moving forward, Patrick made a habit of looking for the possibilities that existed within the problems. He always searched for more wisdom to navigate the difficulties he encountered. After Patrick was kidnapped from his home in Britain and forced to work as a slave shepherd for an Irish chieftain, he never gave up hope that he would find freedom again. Patrick kept looking after the sheep and cattle, but as he did so, he developed his prayer life. “I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn,” he wrote. “I felt no hurt from snow or ice or rain.” Six years into his predicament, Patrick met an angel who gave him the guidance he needed to break free and return to his family in Britain.
4. Take risks with courage. One of the qualities that Patrick was most known for was his courage. He took whatever risks he believed God was calling him to take in order to help people. Patrick boldly discussed faith with everyone he met, and he didn’t compromise his convictions even under intense pressure. Some tribal leaders in Ireland threw Patrick into prison and tried to kill him, because they saw Patrick’s message as a threat to their power. Yet Patrick continued to do the work he said God had led him to do in Ireland. In his Breastplate prayer, Patrick wrote: “I arise today through God’s strength to pilot me: God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to look before me, God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me, God’s way to lie before me, God’s shield to protect me…”.
5. Keep learning and growing. Patrick never stopped seeking to learn something new. During the more than 30 years that he worked in Ireland, his reputation grew — and eventually he became renowned as a leader. Yet Patrick maintained attitudes of humility, curiosity, and gratitude that helped him keep learning and growing. He wrote that, “I know for certain, that before I was humbled I was like a stone lying in deep mire, and he that is mighty [God] came and in his mercy raised me up and, indeed, lifted me high up and placed me on top of the wall. And from there I ought to shout out in gratitude to the Lord for his great favors in this world and forever, that the mind of man cannot measure.”
By noticing and appreciating the wonder that exists around you — as Patrick did — you can continue your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations every day of the year. There’s always something to celebrate!
Whitney Hopler works as Communications Coordinator at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being and has written for many media organizations, from About.com to the Washington Post. Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.