Tree of Life (Herbert)

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Albert Herbert (1925-2008) was an artist with a powerful and original poetic vision. For five decades he consistently painted surprising and dream-like images-these seemingly naïve yet sophisticated paintings were the result of his life-long journey exploring ‘what lies beneath the surface of the mind’.

Clive James suggested that Herbert “always dealt in that trickiest of artistic qualities, enchantment. The danger of enchantment is that it can quickly cloy, but Herbert’s version of it never did. His exquisite balancing of the areas in the painting, a poise which would be convincing even if the pictures were abstracts, depends on an infallible sense of color.”

It was while studying at the British School, Rome, in the 1950s that the painter, who had no religious background, was drawn towards Catholicism. “I was a bit like someone who is gay, but doesn’t consciously know it,” he observed. “I’m not gay, but I am religious. There’s nothing I can do about it.” It was the beginning of a spiritual journey that lasted a lifetime and produced hundreds of serious meditations on the meaning of his faith.

Albert was a maverick, liked but seldom taken seriously by the art establishment.  His one major public commission – 14 Stations of the Cross, at the behest of an Anglican vicar – was abandoned. His paintings were “too disturbing” said the parochial church council.

So here’s “Tree of Life.” It is quirky and thoughtful beneath a deceptive childlikeness. On this Tree of Life there are no fruits to be plucked to gain knowledge of good and evil (according to the Genesis archetype). Their place is taken by variations on the theme of love. We see a couple embrace, kiss and meld into one figure (“It is not good for man to be alone“; “And the two shall become one“). There are smiles, inverted heads, leaves (presumably fig leaves) and the repeated words “glad, sad” which would seem to suggest a trajectory of emotions.

The smiles and warmth of the piece create a positive, optimistic ambience about the choice to be made. And there she is, a diminutive Eve on the bottom right, in contemporary dress with a shopping bag, with hand outstretched towards the Tree of Life and yet her face turned not towards the tree and her choice, but, as it were, towards the camera. She’s saying: “What will I choose?”

It’s not remotely sexual or erotic, but rather romantic. Oddly,  (and you need to work with me here), it made me think of the Doris Day song “Que Sera, Sera”

 “When I grew up and fell in love
I asked my sweetheart
What lies ahead
Will we have rainbows
Day after day
Here’s what my sweetheart said

Que sera, sera”…etc

It’s like a choice of romantic possibilities, and the Eve figure smiles, standing on the brink of her choice, like a schoolgirl doodling the name of her boyfriend on her schoolbag.

But to a Christian artist such as Herbert, the Biblical concept of  the “Tree of Life” has a deeper and darker side. It represents the archetypal human choice to exclude God and to demand autonomy, not realising that we are created for dependence and spiritual relationship. The choice to live without God is like the choice of a deep-sea diver to live without an air-tube.

There are other versions of “Tree of Life” that Herbert did, which include a serpent figure and darker elements. This one does not, except for the presence of the leaves which in the Biblical narrative becomes the cover-up for the “human error” of Genesis 3:

 “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realised that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.”

That is to say, the leaves represent a future loss of innocence, when Eve can no longer smile.

The other, possible,”darker” element is the patterning of the cross in the background.It’s the merest suggestion in the painting, but there is a strong connection in Biblical theology between the sin of the “First Adam” and the salvation offered by the “Second Adam”, Jesus on the cross. This is drawn from Genesis 3:15 and the prophetic announcement:

And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”

This is often called the “Protoevangelium” (“the first gospel”).

 

Because of the grave nature of the context, the fall of man, this passage describes more than just a man stepping on a snake’s head. In Romans 16:20, there is perhaps the clearest reference to the Protevangelium in the New Testament, “And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.” Here the seed of the woman is identified as “the God of peace” and yet the Church is identified as the feet that will bruise Satan’s head.  From the masculine singular Hebrew pronoun in Genesis 3:15, we see that the seed of the woman is a man, and yet in Roman’s 16:20 he is called the God of peace, which identifies him as the Lord Jesus Christ.

The reference to the seed of the woman as Christ is believed to relate to the Virgin birth of the Messiah, as well as the Hypostatic union of the Divine nature with the Human nature of Christ.

Old Testament scholar Derek Kidner describes the Protevangelium as “the first glimmer of the gospel.” Several of the early Church fathers, such as Justin Martyr (160 AD) and Irenaeus (180 AD) regarded this verse “as the Protoevangelium, the first messianic prophecy in the Old Testament.”

All this must be undesrtood by the title given to the painting, since, biblically, the “Tree of Life” is not only the fruit tree in Eden but also the cross at Golgotha. And the opportunity for life and choice offfered deceptively by the first, is supplied in truth by the second.

And we live and die in the moment of that choice.

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“At Tara in this fateful hour”

hilloftara.jpg

At Tara in this fateful hour,

I place all Heaven with its power,
And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with its whiteness,
And the fire with all the strength it hath,
And the lightning with its rapid wrath,
And the wind with its swiftness along its path,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness,
And the Earth with its starkness
All these I place
By God’s almighty help and grace

Between myself and the powers of darkness

(Madeline L’Engle)

Photo of Hill of Tara from http://www.hilloftara.com/blog/hill-of-tara-why-millions-of-tourists-are-so-attracted-to-it/

Reflecting on St Brigid’s Cross

brigids cross house

Over the lintels of many Irish houses you may notice the innocuous presence of a St Brigid’s Cross (Bogha Bríde ), a small cross usually woven from rushes. Typically it has four arms tied at the ends and a woven square in the middle. Many rituals are associated with their manufacture and traditionally they were set over doors and windows to protect the home from any kind of harm. Indeed, there’s a couple of them in our house here (in Dromod, Co.Leitrim), which we inherited from the previous tenants.

The two interwoven (Geddit?) stories of their origin forms a parable about the melding of ancient Christian hagiography and much older Celtic legend.

The Christian story is the one generally told.St Brigid and her cross are linked together by a story about her weaving this form of cross at the death bed of either her father or a pagan lord, who upon hearing what the cross meant, asked to be baptized. One version goes as follows:

“A pagan chieftain from the neighborhood of Kildare was dying. Christians in his household sent for Brigid to talk to him about Christ. When she arrived, the chieftain was raving. As it was impossible to instruct this delirious man, hopes for his conversion seemed doubtful. Brigid sat down at his bedside and began consoling him. As was customary, the dirt floor was strewn with rushes both for warmth and cleanliness. Brigid stooped down and started to weave them into a cross, fastening the points together. The sick man asked what she was doing. She began to explain the cross, and as she talked, his delirium quieted and he questioned her with growing interest. Through her weaving, he converted and was baptized at the point of death.”

This is from Wikpedia, which seldom lies. In essence it reminds you of St Patrick, using the humble shamrock to teach about the Trinity. Just a couple of preachers then, grabbing what comes to hand to explain new concepts.

And to an extent, the Brigid’s cross has become one of the symbols of Ireland, along with the shamrock and harp. For much of the late 20th century it was used to represent  Raidió Teilifís Éireann, the Irish national broadcasting agency.

However, the Brigid’s cross is almost certainly far older than Christianity. The Goddess Brigid was one of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Her feast day was the feast of Imbolc, and the cross made of rushes today may well be the descendant of a pagan symbol whose original meaning may have been locally understood even into the early 20th century in rural Ireland. One remnant of that tradition in the meaning of the Brigid’s Cross today, is that it is said to protect a house from fire. This does not fit with any part of the Christian story of St Brigid, and so is likely a part of the older spiritual tradition behind the feast day.

The interplay of the two stories force the initial question: are we now dealing with spirituality or with superstition?

Or perhaps that’s unfair. It’s always both, after all!

Brighid can mean “the Exalted One” and is a figure of intense power in Irish mythological and religious imagination. A modern writer put it this way: “In Ireland the mythological, the pagan, the local, and the universal, the philosophical, the religious and the topographical are mixed up. Time is not lost but put aside or walked around as though it were laid out on a map, in an always continuing whole, allowing for Tír na nÓg and notions beyond usual physical laws to become mixed into the resources of Irish, Gaelic and Celtic thinking.”

This is not as overblown as it sounds at first reading. (Did you know that artists can claim tax exemption in Ireland? There’s an awareness of the importance of the imagination and creative expression here that is unusual (to say the least) among government officials!)

The Celtic story is of February 1st (or 2nd) as Imbolc, the celebration of Brígid  (Brid) in the form of cailleach-becoming-maiden who collects kindling to make fire in the winter that will warm the Spring and make her young again. Brigid is the fire-keeper of that flame of life that mothers tend to so that we don’t die in the winter, and so the lines of family are not broken by the trauma of the cold months. In the winter Brighid becomes the cailleach, the woman in agedness, and on Imbolc, she collected the kindling of the fires that get her to the Spring of regeneration.Brigids+Cross

Queen Maeve’s Cairn

mistymaeve

There is a massive cairn atop Knocknarea, above Sligo in the North-West of Ireland,  which is roughly 55 meters in diameter by 10 meters high. According to legend, it was built for Queen Maeve, whose father, the high king of Ireland, gave her Connacht as a gift (during a somewhat mythical Iron Age) . Archaeologists believe it may really date as far back as 3000 BC.

Locally, it still carries something of the feel of a place of pilgrimage, and It is considered bad luck to remove a stone from the cairn, and good luck to take one up the hill with you to deposit on it.

From the top, mist permitting, you gaze astonished at the circle of the wild Atlantic on three sides , the curve of Ben Bulben to the north and the spinal ridge of the Ox Mountains to the south, and satellite tombs (such as the one in the picture) at designed angles to a center. This is a place of mystery and magic.

It reminds me of the strength of the paganism with which St Patrick took issue, fifteen hundred years ago, and how his faith was tempered in both a love of creation and an awareness of spiritual warfare.

I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the starlit 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.

Reflecting on the Cross of the Scriptures at Clonmacnoise

clonmac crossThe High Cross at Clonmacnoise stands an impressive four metres tall, built of Clare sandstone around 900 AD.  The scenes depicted upon it are sometimes difficult to decipher and this has given rise to many alternative explanations.

There are two aspects, however, which are beyond dispute, and declare with a timeless eloquence the central paradox of Celtic Christology: that of the suffering and the glory of Christ.  On this face (above), the central figure is the crucified Christ. The usual explanation of the four roundels (at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock), are the four gospels, pictorialized as lion, ox, eagle and man as the various metaphors explaining aspects of  Christ’s life and ministry (and/or of the gospel writers).

Here’s a detail of the central scene:

clonmac cross detail

 

Peter Harbison writes “Christ, represented as if wearing a short trouser-like garment and with his legs bound, is shown with his outstretched arms falling at an angle and with his large hands bearing the nail heads in the centre of the palms.”  (Harbison 1992, 52)

There are other interesting features in this scene.  The figures to the left and right of Jesus are traditionally identified as Stephaton (left), who offers Jesus vinegar on a pole and  Longinus (right) who stabs Jesus with a lance.  Stephaton and Longinus appear (unnamed)  in the passion story in the Gospel of John 19:28-34.

clonmac cross detail 2

On the reverse face, the center of the head of the cross and the arms form one integrated scene.  This is clearly a portrayal of Christ in glory and judgement.

Harbison writes:  “Christ stands . . . carrying a sceptre  . . . over his right shoulder and a cross-staff over his left shoulder.”  (Harbison 1992, 49)

It’s as if the very emblems of his humiliation have become the badges of office as He rises, rules and reigns in power.

What is the sermon the High Cross is intending to preach?

It’s a declaration of the two sides of Christ and how one aspect teaches the other. If there was only a depiction of power and glory then one would be left with a triumphalist, omnipotent god bent on conquest and ruling in total authority.

That’s true, of course, but only partly so.

If there was only a depiction of suffering and death, then one might be left with the notion that pain and sorrow was the end of the story, or that they were somehow redemptive and valuable by themselves.

Again, there is a sliver of truth here, but both sides have to be brought together.

This is how the apostle John approached the paradox: he began his gospel with an account of the glory of God in creation and revelation but then said “And the word was made flesh and dwelt among us. And we beheld His glory.” We behold the glory of God “made flesh”.

Yet it was a strange sort of glory, and many who saw and heard him perceived no glory at all. What is striking about John`s presentation is that, although his glory was manifested powerfully in his miracles or “signs”, it was above all to be seen in his present human weakness, in the self-humiliation of his incarnation.

As He came in lowliness we have an example of the paradox that John uses so forcefully later in the Gospel, that the true glory is to be seen, not in outward splendour, but in the lowliness with which the Son of God lived for men and suffered for them.

This becomes especially clear from the way in which John links glory with the cross. We may not be as surprised at this as we should be, since our awareness of the splendour of Christ`s accomplishment at Calvary can cast over his cross a cloak of spurious sentiment and so obscure something of its horror. But a horror it was to the first century world, a place of unspeakable agony, and, above all, of shame and curse. To explain the paradox was, indeed, a great part of John`s purpose in writing the gospel. Part of his goal, in writing an evangelistic book for Jews and proselytes, is to make the notion of a crucified Messiah coherent. The intrinsic offense of the cross he cannot remove. What he can do is to show that the cross is at one and the same time nothing less than God`s astonishing plan to bring glory to himself by being glorified in his Messiah.

But what do we do with the paradox? What should our reaction be?

As we come to Easter, those two aspects come into their sharpest focus. The cross at Clonmacnoise reminds us that Good Friday and Easter Sunday belong together, to speak out the one gospel of the living Christ.

A Celtic Charismatic: Now Published

This book is a study of the spirituality of Patrick through his own writings, the Confession and the Letter. It is shaped as a series of thirty meditations which may be read in the course of a month, including the author’s own reflections upon Patrick’s use of Scripture, and songs from the Carmina Gadelica.

It is the author’s contention that Patrick can be fairly understood as A Celtic Charismatic, in his commitment to Scripture, his emphasis upon mission and in a lifestyle directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
This book is intended as a conversation-starter, perhaps mostly with the Christians of Ireland, towards the recovery of a vital faith and vigorous response to the challenges of our day.
“He who wants can laugh and jeer, but I shall not keep silent nor keep hidden the signs and wonders which have been shown to me by the Lord…”

"A Celtic Charismatic: Now Published

This book is a study of the spirituality of Patrick through his own writings, the Confession and the Letter. It is shaped as a series of thirty meditations which may be read in the course of a month, including the author’s own reflections upon Patrick’s use of Scripture, and songs from the Carmina Gadelica.
It is the author’s contention that Patrick can be fairly understood as A Celtic Charismatic, in his commitment to Scripture, his emphasis upon mission and in a lifestyle directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
This book is intended as a conversation-starter, perhaps mostly with the Christians of Ireland, towards the recovery of a vital faith and vigorous response to the challenges of our day. 
“He who wants can laugh and jeer, but I shall not keep silent nor keep hidden the signs and wonders which have been shown to me by the Lord…”"

Climbing the Reek

walking-croagh-patrick-clew-bay

 

Croagh Patrick is an impressive mountain in Mayo in the west of Ireland, where, according to legend, Patrick spent forty days and nights in a Lenten fast in 441 AD. Its name comes from the Irish Cruach Phádraig meaning “Patrick’s stack”. It is known locally as “the Reek”, a Hiberno-English word for a “rick” or “stack.”

On Reek Sunday ( Domhnach na Cruaiche)- the last Sunday in July-  there is an annual day of pilgrimage when pilgrims climb Ireland’s “holiest mountain,” some in their bare feet. The pilgrimage has been held yearly for about 1,500 years, but the Reek’s reputation as a holy place and a place of pilgrimage predates even that event and there have been archaeological finds there that suggest it had a ritual significance for centuries before that.

This melding of ancient Irish traditions with more recent Christian ones is not unusual. In their efforts to bring Christianity to Ireland, Patrick and those who followed him adopted a successful strategy of holding Christian celebrations in places that were already used for pre-Christian worship, thus easing the transition to a new religion; Croagh Patrick was one such place.

While it is not a high mountain, the tradition that pilgrims should make the climb barefoot is no mean feat since the slope is covered in rough loose shingle and sharp stones. The loose surface makes coming down again as hard as getting up.

There are a number of factors that make the climbing of Croagh Patrick a suitable metaphor for the pursuit of Patrick’s spirituality.

First, it is a journey into Ireland’s past, where legend and history seem to lose independent structure and cohesion. People speak of the “mists of time” and Croagh Patrick, with its endless swirls of fog and low cloud exemplifies both metaphor and geographical reality. The legends speak of the mountain as a place of confrontation between Patrick and the powers of paganism that threatened to overwhelm him.

Second, it’s a journey into Ireland’s present, with its overlay of “green beer” tourism, faux-culture and religious superstition across a deep sense of humility and God-consciousness.  Some find a value, a meaning for their lives which continues to sustain them. Others try on spiritualities like new clothes, and abandon them when they become tired of them.

Climbing Croagh Patrick indicates a different thing altogether – a spirituality which is very simple. It is a journey, and an unexpectedly arduous one. The majestic summit is clearly visible from a great distance but as one approaches, the summit vanishes and all we can see is the intervening slope. It requires grit and determination to succeed, and the way is often confused by the encroaching fog.

Patrick offered clarity in the confusion, and purpose for the lost. His sense of vocation was quite straightforward. He believed himself loved, blessed and called by God to Ireland, and to that sense of calling he responded. And he responded with a sense of loyalty and determination which made the most arduous journey possible.

It is an appropriate metaphor.

 

 

A shade art thou in the heat,
A shelter art thou in the cold,
Eyes art thou to the blind,
A staff art thou to the pilgrim,
An island art thou at sea,
A fortress art thou on land,
A well art thou in the desert,
Health art thou to the ailing.

Carmina Gadelica

The right way of Dying for Ireland

st alban

The Matrydom of St Alban

 The good God often freed me from slavery, and from twelve dangers which threatened my life, as well as from hidden dangers and from things which I have no words to express. I wouldn’t want to hurt my readers! God knows all things even before they are done, and I have him as my authority that he often gave me warnings in heavenly answers, – me, a wretched orphan! (35).

The word “often” is noteworthy. Apart from the six or seven years of his youth that he spent as a slave, there are two or three other periods of forced captivity mentioned offhandedly in Patrick’s Confession. But God often freed me (so why should I go on about it!).

We don’t know what the twelve life-threatening dangers were exactly, though, again, the Confession itself provides material for a numerated estimate. What is more interesting is mention of hidden dangers and from things which I have no words to express.  Elsewhere Patrick uses this kind of language to express satanic attack and forms of spiritual warfare, and that would seem to fit here too.  He displays an intelligent reticence (I wouldn’t want to hurt my readers!) rather than modesty. These things are not really that important (he seems to say), and, in any case, Patrick is driving towards a different point.

He does note, however, that God  often gave [him] warnings in heavenly answers. Spiritual attack was met by supernatural provision.

The real point comes up in section 37:

It was not by my own grace, but God who overcame it in me, and resisted them all so that I could come to the peoples of Ireland to preach the gospel. I bore insults from unbelievers, so that I would hear the hatred directed at me for travelling here. I bore many persecutions, even chains, so that I could give up my freeborn state for the sake of others. If I be worthy, I am ready even to give up my life most willingly here and now for his name. It is there that I wish to spend my life until I die, if the Lord should grant it to me.

The point is quite clear here. It is, if I can phrase it this way, that Patrick had found the right way to die for Ireland.

There is no way that this passage can be construed to say that Patrick was seeking martyrdom –even that wasn’t the real point. The point, the all-consuming point, was the mission to which Christ had summoned him.

That was worth dying for.

God had made a way for him (It was not by my own grace, but God who overcame it in me) against all odds and obstacles so that I could come to the peoples of Ireland to preach the gospel.

But if God had made the way, Patrick still had to walk it, and there seems to be a developing resistance in both missionary and mission-recipients.  I bore insults from unbelievers, so that I would hear the hatred directed at me for travelling here.  The progression is obvious: persecutions… chains… [slavery] leading on, logically to the possibility of death. And so he stakes his case quite straightforwardly: I am ready even to give up my life most willingly here and now for his name. It is there that I wish to spend my life until I die, if the Lord should grant it to me.

It is there I wish to spend my life.

God has called me, and thus far God has helped me. He has protected me from many dangers and supernaturally warned me about them. If I’m honest, I can expect to die –perhaps quite soon- in this place where God has called me to be, but that’s just it. This IS the place where God called me to be, and I am His, whether to live or die. I’m at his disposal.

A Holy Ambition: “The Land of My Captivity”

saint patrick

 

 I must take care not to hide the gift of God which he has generously given us in the land of my captivity. (33)

The double reference here is to Paul’s injunction to Timothy to “stir up the gift” within him (2 Timothy 1:6) and to the story that Jesus told about the “Talents” which one hapless recipient hid, rather than put to use (Matt 25:14-30).  In Patrick’s mind, both the gift (of apostolic mission) and the place of service are one and the same. They are the land of my captivity.

It’s an interesting way of putting it. Patrick had been enslaved as a boy, of course, during which captivity he turned to Christ. Now as an adult he has returned as a “slave of Christ” and may still fairly call Ireland the land of my captivity.

In the following section (Confession 34), he describes the holy and wonderful work to which he is committed.  In the casual and highly personal terms of someone testifying in a church meeting, he says:

 In this way I can imitate somewhat those whom the Lord foretold would announce his gospel in witness to all nations before the end of the world. This is what we see has been fulfilled. Look at us: we are witnesses that the gospel has been preached right out to where there is nobody else there!

One catches the excitement of Patrick’s understanding of the missionary work to which he has been called. Even though what he does is but a pale imitation (In this way I can imitate somewhat…), it is part of something long foretold would happen before the end of the world. That is, quite simply, that the gospel would be preached to the ends of the world, and, as far his geography lessons can teach him, that’s exactly where he stands:  Look at us: we are witnesses that the gospel has been preached right out to where there is nobody else there!

So Patrick stands at the end of the known world, preaching the gospel, as he believes, at the end of the age. Imagine having that sense of destiny and purpose.

And if our understanding of both geography and history have extended –it wasn’t the end of the world, and it wasn’t the time of Christ’s return- our perception of spiritual reality falls far short of Patrick’s. We preen ourselves on our scientific knowledge but have little notion of our place in God’s scheme of things.

Patrick knew, and he had a “holy ambition” to see it done, and done well.

 

Reflection

There is a strong connection between what I may call the “missionary heart” of both Patrick and Paul. It’s very evident in Paul’s declaration at the end of Romans (15:16-24), which reads thus:

For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named… but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.” … But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you,  I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain… (Rom 15:18-24)

Paul also possessed limitations in his own knowledge, but he understood “holy ambition” just as surely as did Patrick.

It’s there in v20: “And thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named….”

Paul, as Patrick, was driven by a holy ambition. He mentions being often hindered (v22) and yet longing to see the project through. That is to say, he was driven by his passion for mission. There was no way he could go to Rome until he had finished in the regions from Jerusalem to Illyricum. But finally, he says in v23, “I no longer have any room for work in these regions.” So: “I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain.” (v24)

Both Patrick and Paul had a holy ambition to see people from all the nations who had never heard of Jesus believe in Him and become obedient to Him.

When Paul came to Christ (Acts 9, 22, 26), he was told this: “I am sending you [to the Gentiles, the nations] to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18).

Where does holy ambition come from? It comes from a personal encounter with the living Christ shaped and informed by the written word of God and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

God doesn’t lead us into ambitions that are pointless—that you will regret at the end of your life. There is always a need to be met—not a need in God, but in the world—by a holy ambition. Holy ambitions are not about self-exaltation. They are always a form of love. They always meet someone’s need.

Now what is the need Paul refers to in this text? Verse 20: “Thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named.” That means that Paul has set his face like flint to preach the gospel to people who have never heard of Christ. They don’t even know his name.

So, we come to v19: “From Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ.” That’s from Jerusalem up through Syria, across Asia Minor (Turkey), down through Greece on the east side and up the west to northern Italy where Albania is today. Paul says he has fulfilled the gospel there. And he underlines that astonishing statement in verse 23 by saying, “I no longer have any room for work in these regions.” And then in verse 24 he says, “I go to Spain.”

What does that mean? Surely there was much to be done in those regions? How could he say his job was done? Simply that Paul was not a local evangelist, but a frontier missionary, a pioneer missionary. That is, his calling and his ambition was not to do evangelism where the church has been planted. The church should do that! No, his call was to go where they didn’t even know the name.

This was Paul’s ambition. And since the great commission to make disciples of all nations is still valid and there are peoples today who do not know the gospel, therefore every church should pray that God raise up many frontier missionaries, and make all of us evangelists.

And this, I believe, was the central hub of Patrick’s missionary heart. He felt the honour and privilege of his calling, just as he understood its immensity and his own inadequacy.

Patrick’s Take on Evangelism

go into

For that reason, therefore, we ought to fish well and diligently, as the Lord exhorts in advance and teaches, saying: Come  after me, and I will make you  fishers of men. And again He says through the prophets: Behold, I send many fishers and hunters, saith God, and so on. Hence it was most necessary to spread our nets so that a great multitude and throng might be caught for God. (17)

Patrick takes a rather loose translation of Jeremiah 16:16 (perhaps quoting from memory) to give the two sides of the issue: fishers and hunters. Fishers wait, and hunters pursue.

Here’s Jeremiah: “ But now I will send for many fishermen,’ declares the Lord, ‘and they will catch them. After that I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them down on every mountain and hill and from the crevices of the rocks.”

In the short  section, Patrick lists a kind of concordance of evangelism proof texts:

Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.(Mat 4.19)

Behold, I send many fishers and hunters, says God,(Jeremiah 16:16)

Go therefore now, teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world.(Matthew 28:19-20)

Go ye therefore into the whole world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be condemned.(Mark 16:15-16)

This Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a testimony to all nations, and then shall come the end.(Matthew 24:14)

And it shall come to pass, in the last days, says the Lord, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. And upon my servants indeed, and upon my handmaids will I pour out in those days of my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.(Joel 2:28-29)

`I will call that which was not my people, my people; … and her that had not obtained mercy, one that hath obtained mercy. And it shall be in the place where it was said: “You are not my people,” there they shall be called the sons of the living God.'(Hosea 1:10,2:23)

The seven quotations give us an idea of Patrick’s take on evangelism. If these texts formed the thread of a seminar on “Outreach to Ireland 101,” then what the outline be?

For example:

1.”Fishers” -Work with subtlety, patience, diligence.

2. “Fishers and Hunters”- We need different kinds of cooperating strategies to do the job properly.

3. “Into all the world” – Stress mobility, fluidity, and ‘travelling light.’

4. “Make disciples” – Stress the building of character, and interpersonal relatiosnhips.

5. “In the name of…” – Mission is a Trinitarian enterprise.

6. Importance of baptism

7. Time-frame of Christ’s reurn – Urgency.

8. Empowerment of the Holy Spirit

9. Building Christian Community.

Thoughts?