Today was a joyous day.
The rain came this week, finally, drenching our parched hills and turning them March green. It was for the most part a week of steady downpour, sometimes weakening to drizzle, occasionally pushed by gusty and surprising winds.
But this morning the skies brightened, and an icy wind blew, clearing out the rain, at least for a day. We trundled to church pulling our jackets tight about us, reminding ourselves that yes, California is sometimes cold. There was no snow capping Mt. Diablo to the east, but it sure felt like there should be.
Perhaps I imagined that I was in a bit of Ireland, with the cold and the rain and the green hills, and St. Patrick’s Day having been yesterday. So of course today we celebrated St. Patrick, singing the hymn he is said to have written about the Holy Trinity, St. Patrick’s Breastplate: I bind unto myself today the strong Name of the Trinity… The tune is a strong one, reminding me of a march, and indeed it was part of a collection used for travelers embarking on a journey. But the music shifts at the end to the part I have always loved, a lyrical chant: Christ be with me, Christ behind me, Christ before me… Christ in quiet, Christ in danger… For the great mystery of the Christian God is just this, that he loves us so, that he wants to be with us always, outside and inside, in and around, as Father, Son and Spirit.
The organ showered golden notes over our substantial congregation and we sang with gusto. Soon the children processed up the red carpet for their blessing at the altar, having had their annual sleepover in the parish hall the night before (God bless those teachers). We, the rest of their family of God, stepped to the altar rail, pulled by the Blessed Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit. We received that which he promised. We became His Body, one with him and one with each other.
Sunlight danced through the stained glass, playing with shadows, dappling the nave, and purer sunlight poured through skylights over the altar, illuminating the medieval crucifix. Time was suspended in that hour of worship. I wanted to hold the moment in my palm as I would a precious jewel. I wanted to own it. In a way, I thought, I did, for my life was a necklace of such moments, worn close to my heart. I was baptized. I was confirmed. I was a member of this mysterious Body of Christ, breathed upon by the Holy Spirit, created by God the Father.
We gathered downstairs to feast on Irish corned beef and cabbage and many many other things and cake and brownies and champagne too. The children landed at their own table, now clubby and grown-up and good friends, having weathered a cold night in sleeping bags, having prayed together, and having sang together in the candlelit chapel. We women of gentler years held the babies, holding them close, rocking them, watching a child’s enchantment with her world.
In addition to celebrating St. Patrick, we feted our good vicar, Father Mautner, who would be leaving us after Easter. A stirring and poetic preacher and a heartfelt celebrant of the Mass, we shall miss him terribly. But his home parish is in Napa, and alas, he must go home.
I was glad we sang St. Patrick’s Breastplate, this hymn to the Trinity on this day of leave-taking. The Trinity will keep us together, comfort us, guide us, lead us as we too travel into the next hours and days and weeks and months of our life as a parish. We bind unto ourselves, like a breastplate of armor, God himself, no less, a God who waters our parched souls and makes us Irish green.