Revd Dr Jeff Lake

The first word I say

Written by
The Revd Dr Jeff Lake
Associate Priest of St Bride's
Sunday 6th February, 2022

Listen to Sermon

I would like to share a poem with you this evening that includes an invocation of St Bride from what is known at the black book of Carmarthen. Now that might sound like it’s the creation of Dylan Thomas but no, it’s actually the earliest surviving manuscript written solely in Welsh dating from the mid-13th century and is thought to have been made, and bound with a black binding, at the Priory of St. John the Evangelist and Teulyddog, a Celtic Saint, in Carmarthenshire. The works it includes are believed to have been written between the 9th and 12th Centuries and they include poems that speak to us of mediaeval Celtic Monasticism.

It includes a poem about pilgrimage that opens ‘Cyntaf Gair a Ddywedaf’ – The first word I say. In the Celtic Monastic tradition a prayer of protection would be said first thing in the morning to invoke God’s power as a safeguard against evil.

In the second stanza of the poem there is mention of a sneeze, very relevant to our time, and which certainly would have been regarded as an ominous sign at the start of a journey in the middle ages calling for a salutation to ward off evil. Indeed this survives today in our use of ‘bless you’ in response to someone sneezing.

The poem goes on to include reference to other hazards of pilgrimage such as thickets of thorns and excessive consumption of mead. Three stanzas concern a short haired bay coloured horse with white nostrils, an easy gait, an ambling pace, a long leap and an eagerness to run reminding us of the importance of animals to medieval travellers.

It goes like this:

The first word I say
In the morning, when I arise;
May Christ’s cross be my armour about me.

I shall put on the Lord’s protection today,
A sneeze I hear.
It is not my God; I will not believe in it.

I shall arm myself splendidly,
And not believe any superstition, for it is not right.
He who created me shall give me strength.

My mind is set on a journey,
My intent is to put to sea.
A beneficial plan, a gift it will be.

My mind is set on a plan,
My intent is to put to sea.
A beneficial plan, O Lord, it will be.

A crow shall raise its wing,
Intending to go far.
A beneficial plan, it will be better.

A crow shall raise its wing,
Intending to go to Rome.
A beneficial plan, it will be fine.

Saddle the bay with white nostrils,
Eager to run, with a rough coat.
King of heaven, we would need God’s aid.

Saddle the short haired bay,
With easy gait and ambling pace.
Where there is a nose, there will be a sneeze.

Saddle the bay with a long leap,
With easy gait and keen pace.
An unlucky sneeze shall not check the brave.

Earth’s company is burdensome, and thick the briar’s leaves,
Bitter the drinking-horn of sweet mead.
Lord of Heaven, smooth the way of my journey.

O royal offspring, victorious redeemer,
Peter, head of every nation,
St Brigid, bless our journey.

Sun of intercession, Lord of petition,
Christ of heaven, pillar of grace,
May I atone for my sin by my deed.

The recovery of Celtic Christianity has generated a great deal of enthusiasm in recent decades and I’m convinced is a significant opportunity for growth in this community of St bride. In addition to pilgrimage, one of the traditions I think that it is useful to recover from the Celtic Traditions is the use of prayers of protection. That certainly resonates with our New Testament lesson this evening where we read the instruction to put on, as if like armour – mercy, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, charity, that is love, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts.

I’ll close with a prayer for St Bride from the Northumbrian community’s book of Celtic daily prayer. It’s a blessing for a son or daughter but it can apply to us all.

Son of my breast/daughter of my heart
the joy of God be in thy face
joy to all who see thee
the circle of God around thee
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
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 son of my breast/thou beloved daughter of my heart.


congregation sitting for service


Subscribe to our newsletter to receive alerts for
events and advance information about seasonal services.

We protect your data and never overwhelm your inbox.