“I arise today Through a mighty strength: God’s power to guide me, God’s might to uphold me,
“I arise today Through a mighty strength: God’s power to guide me, God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to teach me, God’s eyes to watch over me, God’s ear to hear me, God’s Word to give me speech, God’s hand to guard me, God’s way to lie before me, God’s shield to shelter me, God’s host to secure me: Against the snares of devils, Against the seductions of vices, Against the lusts of nature, Against everyone who shall wish me ill, Whether far or near, many or few.”
—St. Patrick of Ireland, in The One Year Book of Personal Prayer, May 21st entry, (Tyndale:1991)
When I was growing up, I loved St. Patrick’s Day because I could truthfully tell people that my family is Irish… or at least one strand of it is.
I used to love hearing my Great-Grandma Haynes tell how her Grandma Meacham had come from Ireland as a child. Nancy Ann Foy was 12 years old when an older sister and her husband, a man named O’Donald, finally decided to emigrate to the United States. When another sister backed out of the journey, Nancy Ann was tapped to make the journey, and the move, with them.
Somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, Mrs. O’Donald fell ill and died. Some other Irish immigrants, named Sullivan and Cavanaugh, took Nancy Ann under their wing for the rest of the voyage. When they arrived in New York, the grief-stricken husband returned home to Ireland. Nancy Ann stayed in America with her new found “family” and moved with them to Potter County. She worked as a “domestic,” eventually married Franklin Meacham, raised a family, and was known as a “hard-working, witty, sharp-tongued, lovable Irishwoman.” She died in 1893 at age 51.
As we observe Lent more than a century later, I find myself looking to this branch of my family tree and still find it bearing “fruit” today.
First of all, even though she found herself alone by age 12 in a far off land, her faith was strong. Her upbringing in the Catholic Church in Ireland was deeply rooted, and family records tell how she, in a non-Catholic area, ended up getting every one of her ten children baptized in her faith. She was described as a “staunch Catholic” who was not easily dissuaded in her faith. In contrast, how often do we now-a-days look for any excuse to leave our “religion” behind? Any reason to get out of church seems to suffice.
Secondly, Grandma Meacham, once she set her mind on her goal, even as a young child, didn’t look back. Like the Biblical Daniel and Joseph, she didn’t set out to be left all alone in a foreign land and yet, like those two teens from the Bible, she didn’t pine away for what was lost or what “could-have-been.” Instead, she set her face towards the future and began to create a new chapter in her life. She lived almost 40 years after arriving here, yet, best as we can tell, she never reconnected with her former life across the sea. How often do we spend so much time looking backwards at our past and the glorious moments of yesteryear, that we stop moving forward towards the future?
As we continue celebrating Lent throughout this month, we are confronted with the same kind of questions and choices my Grandma Meacham faced.
First, will our faith in Christ be something left for church and religious times only… or will He be a constant guide and companion in whatever circumstances we face?
Second, can we move beyond our past into the present reality and look towards the future?
Our answers affect our future, in our daily lives and in our faith walk, as much as they did for my Grandma Meacham.
—from my pastor’s letter in the SOUND OF THE TRUMPET, FUMC, Reynoldsville, PA March 2007
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