Song Book: Christ Be All Around Me

We’ve been singing “Christ Be All Around Me” by All Sons and Daughters and Leeland at Hiawatha Church for awhile now. It’s a great song with great words and a great story behind it. Many of the lyrics in the song are adapted from a prayer of St. Patrick. Being that St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th) is right around the corner, let’s explore the history of these words and the amazing story of St. Patrick himself.

 St. Patrick

St. Patrick

Patrick was born in Great Britain sometime in the late 4th or early 5th century. He was raised in the early Catholic church there, but around the age of 14, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken back to Ireland. There, he was enslaved and put to hard labor by his captors. During his time in slavery, he turned his heart fully to God. He wrote:

The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was roused, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same.  I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn. I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain.

Six years into his captivity, he made his escape. He wrote that he had had a dream in which a voice told him it was time for him to go home and that a ship was waiting to take him there. He fled his captors and ventured into the countryside heading for the coast. After a long journey, he arrived to find a ship there and petitioned the sailors to take him with them to Britain. After a 3 day voyage, the ship made it to Britain. Patrick disembarked and began the next leg of his journey home: a 28 day walk through rough territory where he nearly starved and had to rely on hunting wild boar. Finally, now in his early 20’s, he arrived home to his family. It must have seemed like they had received their son back from the dead!

Patrick then devoted himself to the study of scripture to become a minister. As he was studying, he had another dream in which a voice called to him from Ireland saying, “We beg you, holy youth, to come and walk among us once more.” It’s somewhat reminiscent of Jonah’s call from God to go to Ninevah and preach the Gospel to the dangerous people there. Patrick had been kidnapped and enslaved by these people in Ireland and now God was calling him to go back and bring the good news of Jesus to them. Patrick heeded the call and, after he was ordained as a Bishop of the church, made preparations to return to Ireland.

Once there, he immediately set about preaching to the people and many believed and were baptized into Christianity. At this time, Ireland was replete with pagans and violent tribal religions. Patrick confronted these forces head on and even some tribal chiefs who tried to kill Patrick went on to believe his message. There are many stories, or maybe legends, about miraculous events associated with Patrick’s ministry. One story is that a pagan witch doctor was about to kill Patrick but found he could not raise his arm in violence while Patrick preached. He heard the gospel message and believed. While some of these stories may be exaggerated, it is certainly historically true that Patrick had a hand in raising many Irish Christian leaders and planting many churches throughout the country.

St. Patrick was famous for using the image of a shamrock to preach about the Trinity, pointing out that three leaves are all part of one plant. Object lessons like this resonated well with the people of Ireland and this image has now been associated with St. Patrick for thousands of years.

Patrick traveled all over Ireland preaching and planting churches for 40 years, which amounted to the rest of his life. He lived much of that time in poverty, asking very little from the congregations he established and enduring persecution from those who were hard-hearted. He eventually died on March 17, 461, in the village of Saul where he had planted Ireland’s first church.

In the song “Christ Be All Around Me”, we hear echoes of St. Patrick’s “Breastplate”, a prayer often read/recited in the morning throughout church history. It is a prayer that is intended to set the tone for the day ahead, asking God to bind us to himself and to his power displayed in the person of Jesus Christ. How amazing that St. Patrick, who for much of his formative years was bound against his will by evil slave masters, willingly prayed that God would bind him again. Bind him not to slave labor, but to joyful life as a slave to the Gospel and the work of Jesus Christ displayed in him (the apostle Paul calls himself a slave of Christ Jesus in Romans 1). Just as he was once surrounded by the bonds of forced labor for evil men, he asks God to surround him inside and out with the person of Christ and his comfort and restoration.

How beautiful to read and sing these words with the knowledge of St. Patrick’s story of physical and spiritual redemption. Patrick endured much suffering at the hands of men who hated him and then turned around to preach the gospel to those same people with love in his heart. How much more amazing is the love of Christ, who endured rejection, suffering and death and yet offers all sinners forgiveness and redemption through his sacrifice and resurrection!

Read a version (there are a few) of the full text of St. Patrick’s Breastplate here and listen to the song “Christ Be All Around Me” below.

PETER CARLSON / WORSHIP LEADER

St. Patrick’s Breastplate

I bind unto myself today

The strong Name of the Trinity,

By invocation of the same

The Three in One and One in Three.

 

I bind this today to me forever

By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;

His baptism in Jordan river,

His death on Cross for my salvation;

His bursting from the spiced tomb,

His riding up the heavenly way,

His coming at the day of doom

I bind unto myself today.

 

I bind unto myself the power

Of the great love of cherubim;

The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour,

The service of the seraphim,

Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,

The Patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls,

All good deeds done unto the Lord

And purity of virgin souls.

 

I bind unto myself today

The virtues of the star lit heaven,

The glorious sun’s life giving ray,

The whiteness of the moon at even,

The flashing of the lightning free,

The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,

The stable earth, the deep salt sea

Around the old eternal rocks.

 

I bind unto myself today

The power of God to hold and lead,

His eye to watch, His might to stay,

His ear to hearken to my need.

The wisdom of my God to teach,

His hand to guide, His shield to ward;

The word of God to give me speech,

His heavenly host to be my guard.

 

Against the demon snares of sin,

The vice that gives temptation force,

The natural lusts that war within,

The hostile men that mar my course;

Or few or many, far or nigh,

In every place and in all hours,

Against their fierce hostility

I bind to me these holy powers.

 

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,

Against false words of heresy,

Against the knowledge that defiles,

Against the heart’s idolatry,

Against the wizard’s evil craft,

Against the death wound and the burning,

The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,

Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

 

Christ be with me, Christ within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me,

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

 

I bind unto myself the Name,

The strong Name of the Trinity,

By invocation of the same,

The Three in One and One in Three.

By Whom all nature hath creation,

Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:

Praise to the Lord of my salvation,

Salvation is of Christ the Lord.