Tuesday in the Fourth Week of Lent
March 21, 2023

Today’s online Lenten reflection is a prayer from the Scottish tradition of the Outer Hebrides, recorded by Alexander Carmichael, a traveling folklorist who visited these islands and translated the prayer into the kind of English that may be found in the King James Version of the Bible (e.g., using “thou” and “thee” and “thy”). In her book, The Celtic Vision: Prayers and Blessing from the Outer Hebrides, Esther de Waal notes that “[w]hat they [the Hebridean islanders] said and sung – for these prayers were also hymns and poetry, the two cannot be separated – grew out of their sense of the presence of God as the most immediate reality in their lives. Religion permeated everything they did. They made no distinction between the secular and the sacred. They were unable to discern boundaries of where religion began and ended and thus found it natural to assume that God was lovingly concerned in everything they did. They felt totally at home with God” (de Waal, 4-5). Often it was the responsibility of women to pass down traditional prayers, blessings, and hymns from one generation to the next. As one woman, Catherine McLennan, explained, “My mother taught us what we should ask for in the prayer, as she heard it from her own mother, and as she again heard it from the one who was before her” (de Waal, 5). This blessing would have been sung to a baby or small child as a kind of lullaby at night, or perhaps as a soothing song during the day, but it also would have been prayed over an older youth who might be leaving the island community to find work far from home on the mainland.

The mother’s blessing

The joy of God be in thy face,
Joy to all who see thee,
The circle of God around thy neck,
Angels of God shielding thee,
Angels of God shielding thee.

Joy of night and day be thine,
Joy of sun and moon be thine,
Joy of men and women be thine,
Each land and sea thou goest,
Each land and sea thou goest.

Be every season happy for thee,
Be every season bright for thee,
Be every season glad for thee,
And the Son of Mary at peace with thee,
The Son of Mary at peace with thee.

Be thine the compassing of the God of life,
Be thine the compassing of the Christ of love,
Be thine the compassing of the Spirit of grace,
To befriend thee and to aid thee,
Thou beloved one of my breast.

Oh! To befriend thee and to aid thee, oh,
Thou beloved one of my heart.