I hope this note finds you well and strong, full of trust and hope. And if not, I wish it for you and for those who need it most.
This post is about protection. It is just one glimpse of what protection looks like in real life. It is not a lecture or slide presentation, and it is not a treatise or dissertation covering the entire scope of what protection can mean and how it can manifest. Instead, this is an invitation to consider ways you protect yourself and your loved ones in your daily life.
Perhaps you practice yoga to help protect yourself from the negative effects of toxic stress. Or, maybe you pray the Lorica of St. Patrick or the Lord’s prayer to protect, guard, or strengthen yourself & your loved ones for the challenges of the day ahead. Beyond yoga and prayer, we study, teach, learn, and practice other types of protection, as well, such as creating strong passwords for our digital lives, locking our car doors before heading into the store, washing our hands before eating, even tossing on a coat and popping open an umbrella to shield the rain.
We all have practices of protection. Depending on our race, sexuality, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion, culture, identity (or identities) those practices can look, feel, and function differently.
I am learning about ways protection for Black families is different from the forms of protection I am familiar with as a white person. And I’m offering this post as a way for you to learn along with me.
I’d like to speak specifically to my white friends and readers now. I invite you to think of any time you have taught a young person how to stay safe out in the world. Maybe you are in the midst of child rearing right now. Perhaps you have raised many children and the memories are flooding back to you. Maybe you have cared for your nieces or nephews, your neighbors’ children or your friends’. And if you’re a teacher, a coach, an art or music instructor, or are in service to children and teenagers in any way, most likely you have shared advice or teachings with your youth that would serve them in their lives, not just in the activity and training you provide.
I invite you now, my white friends and readers, to please listen to this story. Please do not read it, but click on the play button so that you can hear the voice. This is a story from our current time. It is not fiction. It is not magical realism. It is not memoir. It is not historical fiction. It is real, lived experience, and it is fact.
I love to put on yoga. There’s power here. The practice is sacred ground. It’s the place I pause, and notice, acknowledge, and welcome, and the place where I decide. The power lies in the ridiculous amount of choice I have access to when I pause, breathe, and feel my feet. I love stepping into Mountain, reaching into Half Moon, slipping into Warrior III. I am the Mountain. I am the Half Moon. I am the Warrior. I love putting on stillness, wrapping myself in concentration, and painting my face with rest and joy. In this I am the lake, the eagle’s eye, the lotus and the alleluia.
This all comes with me into my day.
I love to practice yoga anytime of day or night, but I’ve found it to be especially sweet and effective in the morning. It’s a beautiful invocation of blessing and offering for the day ahead. I don’t wear the yoga as armor to keep people out or keep myself in; it’s more like armor to sustain whatever is present, armor as a set of tools I need to do my work in the world, the work of loving and being loved.
Where there’s yoga, there’s prayer, and when I’m practicing at home, and my mind comes into the same space and time as my body, my spirit wakes up, and I recognize God’s presence within and around me. So, when I can wake and walk into the practice, I have an opportunity to make a connection to myself, situate myself in God’s presence and invoke All the Good.
And, where there’s yoga, there’s power. No matter what kind of sequence I’m practicing: downdog, warrior III, downdog, side plank to wild thing, or: forward fold, sleeping big toe pose, reclined twist, supported bridge to legs up the wall, by savasana I have all the power I need for the day ahead. Regardless of when I practice, I walk into the rest of my day shod with peace boots, grounded, connected, and steadfast. Whether I’ve followed a peaceful, invigorating, or restorative arc, I always leave my mat with strength, spaciousness, and power, the perfect set of equipment to be able to serve, to observe, resist, or engage whatever comes.
Yoga is my morning prayer of peace, protection, and power.
Saint Patrick’s Breastplate, also known as The Deer’s Cry or The Lorica, is a traditional Celtic morning prayer of peace, protection, and power. It is attributed to St. Patrick around the year 377, though exact authorship and date is unknown. It is “written as a hymn calling on Christ to surround the supplicant in all bodily directions and invokes God for protection against [all forms of evil.]”* The Breastplate is a thoroughly beautiful prayer. And even though there are parts of it that I shy away from, and sections I modify or leave out when I recite it, like the patriarchs, holy virgins, black laws of heathenry, and false laws of heretics, other verses resonate deep in my bones, especially these:
Christ be with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise, Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.
Meditation 1: A Reading of the Breastplate of Patrick
This is my own variation of the prayer. I took out and added, adjusted, and embraced. I love the rhythms, the repetitions, and the all-encompassing affirmation of Christ’s universality. This prayer came into my mind during a yoga teacher training when my mentor teacher, Michele Vinbury, began our session with her own invocation:
“I allow nothing within or around me that does not serve the highest good.”
I love the level of trust and confidence inherent in both my teacher’s prayer, as well as in the Lorica. Prayers like these don’t just invoke protection, they are protection: the same way I prayed the Hail Mary for protection as a young child when I was scared, the same way I pray the Hail Mary now, when life and death are both before me. These kinds of prayers are something you can put on, something you can cover yourself with. You feel them in your bones. They have the weight and heft of armor and the precision of a sharpened sword. They get to the very heart of the matter, and in fine detail. These kinds of prayers come to us. Our openness to Divine Flow, Intervention, and Providence allows for it. And the yoga practices have a way of grounding and opening us so that we can be receptive to this kind of experience.
You can find a transcript of this and other variations here.
Meditation 2: The Deers’ Cry
There is a legend telling the story of Saint Patrick who, knowing that he and his accompanying monks were being ambushed and likely to be killed, led his men through the woods reciting this prayer. The enemies saw them in the woods — as a mother deer with calves — and this is how Saint Patrick and his men were saved.
Listen to this beautiful mixed choir acapella arrangement of The Deers’ Cry by the Arvo Part Centre.
An Invitation for your Practice
I invite you to notice what parts of the Lorica speak to you, which words resonate in your bones? Memorize, recite, and chant them deep in your heart so much that your heart chants them always. In this, you will pray without ceasing. You will have an awareness of God as a constant in your life, the God of Presence, Protection, and Power.
Remember, too, that your yoga practice is a prayer. Notice which movements and breathing practices speak to you and resonate in your bones. Memorize and repeat them so that they work their way deep into your neurobiology, your nervous system, your blood. In this way you will be practicing yoga always. You will have with you a sense of deep ground from which to draw your power and a spaciousness surrounding you that allows the essence of others to float through you without disturbance. In this way you will experience the steadiness of the mountain and the spaciousness of freedom.
For your enjoyment, I’ve posted just a few Irish blessings. I think there are millions! Please share your favorites in the comments. The more blessings we share, the better! But first, I’d like to leave you with one of my favorites. It’s my own, so, it’s an Irish-English-German-Polish-Croatian blessing:
May you be blessed like crazy, And may you have the strength to bear it
May the power of protection abide within all the hearts who dwell inside.
Bless you and yours, as well as the cottage you live in — may the roof overhead be well thatched, and those inside be well matched. May that roof overhead never fall in, and those within never fall out.
Health & Prosperity Blessings
May you live as long as you want, And never want as long as you live.
May your troubles be less and your blessings be more and nothing but happiness come through your door.
Celtic Rune of Hospitality
We saw a stranger yesterday.
We put food in the eating place,
Drink in the drinking place,
Music in the listening place,
and with the sacred name of the triune God
he blessed us and our house,
our cattle and our dear ones.
As the lark says in her song:
Often, often, often, goes the CHRIST
In the stranger’s guise.
*“Saint Patrick’s Breastplate” Philip Freeman;www.oxfordscholarship.com