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The Deer's Cry


Mystics and the Margins

Richard Rohr*

On the margins of the Roman Empire, Ireland and Scotland helped hand down the Christian contemplative lineage. The Romans had conquered much of Europe by the time of Jesus’ birth; though they ruled Britain, the Romans never occupied Ireland or parts of Scotland. This allowed the Celtic culture and Christian monks the freedom to thrive independently. They weren’t controlled by Roman practicality or Greek thinking. When Christian missionaries arrived by the third century, the Celts blended their pagan or creation-based spirituality with Christian liturgy, practice, and structure. As a result, Celtic Christianity was still grounded in the natural world, and they had much easier access to a cosmic notion of the Christ.

Perhaps we can think of Celtic Christians as an alternative community on the edge of the inside of organized Christianity. Lacking the structure and support of the organized church, radical forms of Christianity never thrive for very long. Without the Irish monks, much of Celtic practice and thought would not have been passed on to us at all.

Like the Desert Fathers and Mothers who influenced them, Celtic mystics focused on rather different things than the mainstream church. The Celts drew on their own cultural symbols and experience to emphasize other values than the symbols of “Roman” Catholicism. For example, Celtic Christianity encouraged the practice of confession to an anam cara (soul friend) more than to an ordained priest.

They also saw God as a deep kind of listening and speaking presence, as in “The Deer’s Cry.” I invite you to read this excerpt of St. Patrick’s traditional prayer slowly, and to allow yourself, like the ancient Celts, to become aware of the presence of Christ surrounding you through all things.


The Lorica of St. Patrick (The Deer`s Cry) [1]


I arise to-day:

vast might, invocation of the Trinity,—

belief in a Threeness confession of Oneness meeting in the Creator. . . .


I arise to-day:

might of Heaven brightness of Sun whiteness of Snow splendour of Fire speed of Light swiftness of Wind depth of Sea stability of Earth firmness of Rock.


I arise to-day:

Might of God for my piloting Wisdom of God for my guidance Eye of God for my foresight Ear of God for my hearing Word of God for my utterance Hand of God for my guardianship Path of God for my precedence Shield of God for my protection Host of God for my salvation . . .


Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ under me, Christ over me, Christ to right of me, Christ to left of me, Christ in lying down, Christ in sitting, Christ in rising up Christ in the heart of every person, who may think of me! Christ in the mouth of every one, who may speak to me! Christ in every eye, which may look on me! Christ in every ear, which may hear me!


I arise to-day:

vast might, invocation of the Trinity belief in a Threeness confession of Oneness meeting in the Creator.


October 1, 2020


*The Fruitful Margins of the Empire, Wednesday, September 30, 2020


[1] Attributed to Saint Patrick (373?–463?). See The Irish Liber Hymnorum, vol. 2: Translations and Notes, ed. J. H. Bernard and R. Atkinson (Henry Bradshaw Society: 1898), 49, 50, 51.


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