Patrick was born and grew up in Britain until at sixteen he was captured by Irish slave-raiders and taken to Ireland where he was forced to serve as a shepherd, a hard scrabble job, not romantic at all.
Patrick was a slave and treated roughly often enduring long hours alone in all sorts of weather to tend sheep. In dark loneliness he prayed, somehow, like the biblical Joseph, never losing faith in exile.
He wrote in his memoir Confessio: "I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time." He said that he heard the voice of God telling him to escape from Ireland, and then to come back as a missionary.
At twenty-one Patrick escaped, returned to his native Britain, studied Christianity, became a bishop, and in time returned to Ireland inspired by the voice of God he had heard deep inside him in his moment of deepest need. He returned to the scene of the crime not for retribution but for healing. He spent thirty years in Ireland teaching Christian ways of love, justice and peace. He died there on March 17, 462.
It inspires me when I notice that in so many lives—saints ancient and modern, biblical ancestors, and plain folk like you and me— the voice of God is felt/heard from within in the darkest moments, moments that should give way to faithless despair but don't.
It is also evident that the realization of the action of Spirit is often catch-up ball. We realize later the full meaning and implications of what really happened long ago in the fields, on the street, in sleep, in a pew or in a kitchen.
I once felt the voice of God at a time in my life when I thought everything was just fine but was not letting myself in on my spiritual deadness. Everything was fine. I had followed life's prescriptions for a woman of my generation to the tee. My life was as it was supposed to be—marriage, nice house in suburbs, growing healthy kids I loved, husband working hard to support us well. But something was missing: me.
I wasn't even praying like Patrick. (I 'd given that up although I went to church and wished a lot.) I was instead in my kitchen baking chocolate chip cookies as I was supposed to do. That's when I heard the voice of God-in-me asking with candor but not scorn or annoyance: Why are you doing this?
That was all. Simply so. I had many confused feelings. I didn't know just what had happened only that something had shifted inside me that had to do with more than me. I began to use my new energy to make decisions and do thing differently. I followed. Eventually I would say like Patrick, the spirit, "as I now see" was simmering and sometimes boiling over in me. The question was resurrecting.
It took me the next twenty years to answer that question.
I use God's question to motivate me when I feel loose-ended, anxious or only half alive about what I'm doing or saying. "Why are you doing this?"
Patrick, not Irish born, was declared its patron saint anyway. He is important today as we try to think and act green, because Patrick used a tiny and rare bit of green grass, the three-leaf clover, to illustrate the three-ways-in-one nature of God to those who worshiped nature.