Among the Celts of ancient Scotland and Ireland, whenever a traveler began her or his day’s journey, he or she drew a circle around the place where they stood, and said a prayer, such as, “God guide my steps today, keep me on a holy path, protect me from all evils, and lead me to your healing and salvation.” For these pilgrims, each day was an adventure, filled with danger, and the encircling prayer reminded them that God surrounded them every step of the journey – they were always in God’s circle of love.
Put on the whole armor of God! Put yourself in God’s care in all the events of your life, in every thought and action, so writes the author of Ephesians.
My dear friend Patricia had just come out of what appeared to be successful surgery. As she was waking up and conversing with the nurses, suddenly and without warning, she began to bleed. The nurses rushed her back to the operating room and the physician began to work on her before they could administer pain relief. My friend was panic-stricken. She feared for her life. And then she remembered a verse from scripture, “Nothing can separate me from the love of God.” She repeated it over and over again, and experienced waves of peace. She was still at risk, but now she knew she was in God’s care and God would take care of her.
With a few words from scripture, she created a spiritual armor that protected her from her own panic and placed her life in God’s circle of love.
We need the whole armor of God to protect us from dangers within and dangers outside ourselves. Life is challenging, we can be hurt deeply by others, and we can become agents of destruction ourselves. While God’s love remains sovereign, in day to day life, we face forces beyond our control that threaten to undermine our sense of peace, personal integrity, and overall well-being. The apostle Paul speaks of demonic forces, and whether or not we believe in evil spirits, we know that there are powers in our world – including the unconscious forces within – that can harm us. We need a love, wisdom, and power greater than ourselves to get us through life’s darkest moral, relational, and spiritual valleys.
We need to circle ourselves in love, when the powers of evil assail us. We need Christ as our companion, and an armor of light and love to keep us on the path.
While the armor of God seems militaristic at first glance, it is in fact a spiritual and moral armor. The philosopher William James speaks of the moral equivalent of war; of our calling to seek justice, wholeness, and integrity with the same fervor that others go to war. The author of Ephesians sees the armor of God as our moral and spiritual protection in times of uncertainty and threat:
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Life can be difficult and in times of personal or relational conflict, we can sacrifice our integrity to make a point, win an argument, or go along with the crowd. We often can’t change life’s externals and we may have to live with inner demons of depression, anxiety, and trauma. But, as Dostoyevsky noted, we need to be worthy of our suffering. Life’s difficulties don’t excuse us from seeking to be our highest, noblest, most loving selves. In fact, our moral and spiritual character is revealed and grows in times of threat, when we can choose love rather than hate, world-loyalty rather than self-interest, and forgiveness rather than vengeance. As Auschwitz survivor Victor Frankl asserts, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
A price was on his head. A local chieftain sent his soldiers out to get Patrick the Irish evangelist. He could hear their galloping horses in the distance; they were closing the gap. As legend has it, he said a prayer, “Christ above me, Christ beneath me, Christ in front of me, Christ behind me, Christ to my right, Christ to my left.” When the soldiers passed by the place Patrick hid, all they could see was a deer running along the path. Patrick had been hidden safely in the circle of God’s love. Threat was real, but God’s love was stronger.
Let us put on the whole armor of God. Let us surround ourselves in light and love, and regardless of life’s circumstances, let us circle ourselves in God’s care and share the love we have, in good times and bad, in abundance, and scarcity, in living and dying, to bless this good earth, be faithful to God, and bring healing to those we love and the world beyond.