I’ve been thinking about things and mulling over some of my go-to prayers and stories and saints as I move forward in my life a bit. (Hopefully. God, please, let’s be moving forward?)
This prayer is one of my favorites, ascribed to St. Brendan the Navigator, a man who lived in Ireland from 484-577.
As is the case with many saints, he accomplished many things in his life but is best known for one, and that is: sailing into THE OCEAN about 1,000 years before Columbus did, recording new discoveries of land and beasts and beings. He wrote a travel log and I believe National Geographic even completed a study or two based upon the records. ANYWAY. Maybe St. Brendan discovered the “New World,” maybe he didn’t. He did write a pretty slick prayer, though, and I’ve always really liked it.
Here goes (with commentary) (It’s how I do). Real lines in italics, my comments in regular.
One time I was invited to visit El Salvador on what ended up being an incredible, eye-opening explosion of wonder and sorrow and life.
Before I left I was eating strawberries from a Tupperware-knock-off at work because I really love strawberries. And, it was almost peak strawberry season which is a highlight in my life, not gonna lie. And I mentioned to my coworker that I was invited to go to El Salvador but, alas (and this is a stupid, embarrassing story to tell now) I was a bit sad to miss strawberry season.
Of all the stupid reasons, right?
She was kind and like, “Oh, but: experiences!”
And I went and met the best people and my heart was stretched so far and now half of my heart lives in El Salvador anyway.
Seriously, these two. Louise and Brandon.
To think I almost missed this because of some stupid strawberries.
Comfort is such a stupid idol.
But it’s still there.
Shall I turn my back on my native land, and turn my face towards the sea?
Sometimes (cough, often, cough) I feel like God says, “Hey, do this thing.”
And I’ll be like, “God. I CAN’T. I can’t do that thing.”
I feel like this is where St. Brendan is. Imagine it’s somewhere around 500 A.D. and everyone ever has said that, if you sail the ocean, you will either be eaten by a monster or you’ll sail off the edge OF THE WORLD.
That’s crazy-talk terrifying.
And St. Brendan hears God say, “Brendan, my child, I want you to build a boat and sail the ocean. And, find some friends for this, too.”
And St. Brendan is like, “The Ocean? The OCEAN? Really? And how, exactly, am I to persuade my friends to come along? And how does one build boat?”
Shall I put myself wholly at your mercy, without silver, without a horse, without fame, without honor?
This makes me think of: walking the Camino. Two and a half weeks in a far-off land where no one speaks your language as their native tongue. No car, no connections, only fifteen pounds of backpack with two-shirts-plus-the-one-on-your-back and some friends who don’t know what they’re doing, either, and no idea where you will sleep tonight and whether or not there’s gluten-free food in the next town…or even clean water.
I feel you, St. Brendan.
Shall I throw myself wholly upon You, without sword and shield, without food and drink, without a bed to lie on?
“Wholly upon You.”
Leaving everything else behind.
Shall I say farewell to my beautiful land, placing myself under Your yoke?
Because we’ve grown to love what you’ve already given us, God…and now you want us to leave?
Shall I pour out my heart to You, confessing my manifold sins and begging forgiveness, tears streaming down my cheeks?
= me. So aware that I’m not actually good at any of the things God asks me to do. I don’t know how to do them.
Plus, I FAIL AT THIS CHRISTIAN THING EVERY DAY OF MY STUPID EXISTENCE. Every time I kneel in the confessional I say THE SAME THINGS (mostly).
Why the crap would God pick the broken ones?
Because St. Brendan is pretty sure he’ll never come back since the Ocean is a place of mysterious death.
What a place to be.
He’s like, “I’ll kneel in prayer here, for the last time.”
Shall I then suffer every kind of wound that the sea can inflict?
This one is so easy for us. Here’s a game: imagine everything that can go wrong. And so we do.
“GOD, HERE ARE ALL THE REASONS I CAN’T DO THAT.”
I feel you, St. Brendan. The sea is dangerous.
Shall I take my tiny boat across the wide sparkling ocean?
I’ve been here, too.
“Wide, sparkling ocean.”
St. Brendan thinks it sounds exciting. It’s still terrifying, but it’s beautiful and exciting, too.
O King of the Glorious Heaven, shall I go of my own choice upon the sea?
It is our choice. Jesus is ever the gentleman.
Now he addresses his friend. Not the King of Glorious Heaven. Not the King of Mysteries. But rather, the man who joins us in love through adventure and suffering both. This is the man St. Brendan sighs to.
…will You help me on the wild waves?
I love this.
In this final sigh-to-heaven we hear, “Will you help me?” meaning, “I’ll do it, but I’ll need you. I’ll need you present at every moment because I cannot do this alone.”
Which is probably where God wanted us to be all along.
Here’s the totality, if you’d like to copy and paste everywhere sans my commentary:
Saint Brendan’s Prayer
Shall I abandon, O King of mysteries, the soft comforts of home? Shall I turn my back on my native land, and turn my face towards the sea?
Shall I put myself wholly at your mercy, without silver, without a horse, without fame, without honor? Shall I throw myself wholly upon You, without sword and shield, without food and drink, without a bed to lie on? Shall I say farewell to my beautiful land, placing myself under Your yoke?
Shall I pour out my heart to You, confessing my manifold sins and begging forgiveness, tears streaming down my cheeks? Shall I leave the prints of my knees on the sandy beach, a record of my final prayer in my native land?
Shall I then suffer every kind of wound that the sea can inflict? Shall I take my tiny boat across the wide sparkling ocean? O King of the Glorious Heaven, shall I go of my own choice upon the sea? O Christ, will You help me on the wild waves?
I’m posting this because God never ceases to request the terrifying. And the inspiration of the saints always help: St. Francis of Assisi and St. Francis Cabrini (new one! did you catch that?) and St. Maximilian Kolbe…and St. Brendan the Navigator.
Pray for me, holy men and women.
And, Jesus? Will you help me on the wild waves?
It’s a trick-question.
Because I know you will.
You’ve never let me down.