A Caim

"Christ, as a light

illumine and guide me.

Christ, as a shield

overshadow me.

Christ under me; 

Christ over me;

Christ beside me

on my left and my right. 

This day be within and without me,

lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.

Be in the heart of each to whom I speak;

in the mouth of each who speaks unto me.

This day be within and without me,

lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.

Christ as a light;

Christ as a shield;

Christ beside me

on my left and my right.[i]

The Celtic Christian tradition calls this prayer a Caim. Caim is a Gaelic word that means "to surround." In the days before followers of Jesus made inroads into the region of Ireland, Scotland, and northern England a caim was considered to be an evil spirit that lurked all around. But as was the common evangelistic methodology of the day, people like Patrick in the 5th century, would take the pagan images and bring Light to them for the Gospel. In essence he would let Jesus redeem these images. 

The Caim prayer would be poetic word picture images of being surrounded by God. They were prayers inviting God to encircle them.  As they would go about their day they did so with a sense of God's protective Presence. They invited that Presence to be with them and it would train them to recognize the Presence throughout their day.  

In the 17th  century a poor Carmelite brother in Paris became a much sought after spiritual guide because he had learned to sense the Presence of God in the everyday labor he was assigned. We know him today as Brother Lawrence. Brother Lawrence had trained himself to recognize and enjoy God's gracious Presence in the hustle and bustle of his daily tasks. He was convinced anyone could learn to do this, regardless of the task or work before them. His method for learning was, in part, to pray a prayer much like the Caim. 

For us who earnestly desire to follow Jesus, to be transformed into the image of Christ, learning to recognize the Presence of God is our instinctive want and desire. Brother Lawrence made no grandiose proclamation about the process. He said it would take a long time.  It wouldn't happen by adding a lot of things onto our already full plates for God, but by doing what we already do, as unto the Lord. 

What the Celtic tradition taught beginning in the 5th century and what Brother Lawrence advised in the 17th century is what we're trying to live out in the 21stcentury. We are learning to follow Jesus and be transformed into the instinctive ways of loving as Jesus loved. But it takes practice as both of these traditions would suggest. 

The encouragement is to begin reclaiming the surroundings in which we live, affirming that God's love is present in these surroundings, be they circumstance or relationships. In the reclaiming them for God's redemptive purposes we begin to be transformed as we pay attention to how the Spirit points to places within us that do not love as Jesus loved. There in that moment of sweet awareness we lay down the old way and follow Jesus. The great transformations occur, not necessarily in the circumstance or relationship, but within us.

If you want to practice, pray this Caim daily. I've been doing it now for fifteen years. I have found that these words, when I pray them with awareness (because sometimes I admit I merely mouth them) they center me back to a place of my instinctive desire. Not that the words are magical, they are not, but they draw my imagination to see Jesus surrounding me, and provide a spark of trust and faith to go into the day looking for the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

I write this in hopes that it will be a blessing upon you. 

Craig Babb

[i] Words of St Patrick's Breastplate Prayer, arranged by J. Michael Talbot © Birdwing Music, as printed in Celtic Daily Prayer; Prayers and Readings from the Northumbria Community, HarperSanFrancisco, 2002.