Pause for Thought: Beginning the Day
St Patrick’s Breastplate
by Brian Radcliffe
Suitable for Whole School (Sec) - Church Schools
To encourage us to start each day in a good frame of mind.
Preparation and materials
- Optional: you may wish to have available a recording of St Patrick’s Breastplate and the means to play it during the assembly. A version is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CmXsOVh51Bg (3.22 minutes long)
The text of St Patrick’s Breastplate is available at: https://tinyurl.com/24zejm7b
The more accessible stanzas are 4, 5, 8 and 9. You may wish to display these or read them out loud.
- Note: in the ‘Assembly’, Step 5, the Bible passage about the armour of God can be found in Ephesians 6.11-18. In the ‘Time for reflection’ part of the assembly, the Bible passage about clothing ourselves can be found in Colossians 3.12.
- There are many beginnings in our lives. New Year’s Day is an obvious example. Did we stay up to hear the chimes of Big Ben as one year came to an end and a new one began? Did we make resolutions about how life was going to be different? I wonder how many resolutions have already been broken.
- The beginning of a new school term is another example. There will be significant events for many of us during this term. It starts in the depths of winter, but gradually opens up and becomes warmer as we move towards spring. It’s a term for looking forward positively.
- However, let’s focus on another beginning that we all share: the beginning of each new day. What are we like first thing in the morning? Do we leap up, full of energy and enthusiasm, or do we drag ourselves unwillingly from under the bedclothes? Are we excited about the day to come, or do we wake with a sense of dread about what has to be faced? As we put on our clothes, what thoughts fill our minds?
- St Patrick had a novel way of starting each day. He imagined that, as he was putting on his clothes, he was also dressing himself with his faith and a positive frame of mind. So, he imagined that he was covering himself with the power of God to protect him and that Jesus was not merely at his side, but also in front of, behind, above and below him. It meant that he was not alone.
This concept has become a poem that is known as St Patrick’s Breastplate.
Optional: you may wish to play the recording of St Patrick’s Breastplate.
- This prayer of St Patrick’s was not totally original. It’s an idea that he took from the Bible. St Paul wrote about putting on the armour of God before facing each day: this armour consisted of a belt, a breastplate, running shoes, a shield, a helmet and a sword. These represented truth, right judgement, alertness, faith, salvation and the word of God. The approaches of St Patrick and St Paul make daily life seem like a battle that has to be faced, full of challenges, temptations and attack. It is true that life can sometimes feel a little like this.
Time for reflection
However, St Paul also put forward another approach that was connected to getting dressed for the day ahead. He suggested that, to face the day-to-day world that greets us each morning, we should clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
These sound more like the kind of qualities that we could find useful when contemplating a day with family, friends, colleagues and students.
- Compassion speaks of looking out for the interests of others.
- Kindness is about actively engaging with the needs that we see around us.
- Humility means putting others first.
- Gentleness is about removing any aggression or bullying from how we respond to those we meet.
- Patience speaks of tolerance and avoiding knee-jerk reactions.
So, when we get dressed tomorrow morning (and the days after), why don’t we attach a word to each item of clothing that we put on? The words will probably vary depending on the day ahead and our personal hopes, fears and uncertainties.
Here’s a good song to listen to as you get dressed.
‘Lovely day’ by Bill Withers, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEeaS6fuUoA&t=5s (4.15 minutes long)
‘St Patrick’s Breastplate (prayer of St Patrick)’ by Jean Watson, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1OCffhjHYw (3.56 minutes long)
- Read St Patrick’s Breastplate and the Bible passages about the armour of God (Ephesians 6.11-18) and clothing ourselves (Colossians 3.12).
Using these as starting points, create a list of characteristics that you would like to start the day with. Make your list adaptable to different circumstances such as stress, confrontation, success, nervousness, pleasure and so on.
Develop a daily routine, linking a word to each item of clothing as you get dressed.