“May the Road Rise Up to Meet You,” an Irish blessing often used as a prayer, has traveled throughout the centuries by musical composition, word of mouth, and even a popular cross-stitch pattern. Being of Irish decent, I once cross-stitched it, myself. I loved the way my Grandmother held onto her Irish roots, passing down traditions and tracing our family roots back to that first cobblestone street in Ireland. But more than roots of heritage, this blessing connects centuries of those who have faithfully hung onto hope through their faith.
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
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History of this Irish Blessing
The Irish blessing is a prayer, originally written in Gaelic. “May the road rise to meet you” is actually mistranslated quite a bit from the original Gaelic language it was written in. “Rise” actually translates more accurately to “succeed.” So the text means,“May you succeed on your road.”
The author of the prayer isn’t known for certain, although many attribute it to St. Patrick, as it is similar to his other writings.
The ancient Irish were said to have a deep appreciation for nature. Perhaps the beautiful scenery they were blessed to be surrounded by helped them connect with God and early Christianity. The wind, the sun, and the rain are included in this particular blessing. Celtic literature is famed for using images of nature and everyday life to speak of how God interacts with His people.
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What Does the Wind Symbolize?
Knowing that the first line wishes the prayer’s recipient success, the element of wind “at your back” in this passage could simply mean a lack of hardship to go up against or challenge to climb over. A flat road is easier to travel than one with hills or even gradual inclines.
But Christians know that it’s unrealistic to have zero obstacles because those are often the building blocks of character and faith that we experience that refine our hearts throughout our journey on earth. (1Peter 1:7)
One writer suggested that The "wind" can be likened to the Spirit of God, who came as a "mighty wind" at Pentecost.In this sense, the Holy Spirit is surely with us on our journey.
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What Does the Sun Symbolize?
“May the sun shine warm upon your face,”alludes to God’s Mercy, and many sources referenced Luke 1:78:
"Because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven.” (NIV)
The “sun will come,” in this verse has ancient roots, according to the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. It may reference Elijah’s preparation for the Lord, “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.” (Malachi 4:2 NIV).
Knowing that the exact translation of the word “rise” is actually “succeed,” what do Scriptures that refer to the rising sun mean? Perhaps, the sun rises and God’s purpose and love for us continue every day, regardless of what our perception of a successful road may be. Out of His great love, the sun continues to rise, and His Son’s victory gives us the hope we need to cling to on our journey.
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What Does the Rain Symbolize?
“The rains fall soft upon your fields,”for an ancient Irish farmer, was a symbol of God’s provision. The lush green landscape couldn’t exist without a steady amount of rain. In this prayer, it’s a reminder of God’s provisionfor us. We are watered through prayer and Scripture and provided for by a God who knows our needs before we realize them. The evidence of His provision is revealed in nature, His Creation.
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The Final Blessing
“May God hold you in the palm of His hand.” For a culture enriched by the beauty of nature that surrounded them, perhaps this ending sentiment brings us back to the notions repeated in Scripture so often, ‘Don’t be afraid,’ and ‘don’t worry.”
“See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?” Matthew 6:28b-29 NIV
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What is the History of Celtic Christianity?
The word “Celtic” originated with Edward Lhuydin 1707, who coined the word to denote those who spoke the language. The Celtic culture includedCornwall, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Brittany, Patagonia, Nova Scotia and the Isle of Man, with millions of people still speaking the four out of six native Celtic languages that have survived into modern day society.
Celtic Christianity “refers broadly to certain features of Christianity that were common, or held to be common, across the Celtic-speaking world during the Early Middle Ages,” spanning the 4th-7th centuries A.D.
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"St. Patrick’s “cities" grew a deep sense of community."
Early historians suggested they opposed the Roman Catholic Church. It’s suggested that the Celtic Church was less authoritarian, more spiritual, friendlier to women, and more connected with nature; but modern scholars state that the differences were less theological and based more in regional traditions and differences in ritual.
In Ireland, St. Patrick’s “cities" grew a deep sense of community. The monasteries, in which monks and married members of the community were welcome to live and work and minister to local people together, inspired beautiful creativity, evidenced by rich art and wonderful literary prayers and worship songs. One source suggests that this infused the prayer life of the early Celts, leaving behind inspirational words of camaraderie in their seeking God’s wisdom together. Another revealed that upon the arrival of St. Patrick more Latin roots and letters were integrated into the culture.
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How Does Celtic Christianity Resonate with Modern Christianity?
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations.” Matthew 24:14 NIV
The most impactful line of my research was this:“there were Christians in Ireland before Palladius arrived in 431.” (He was the well-knows St. Patrick’s predecessor.) No matter how we categorize the way they worshiped, the Gospel had already reached those ears, and still today continues to reach into the far corners of the world.
“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” Mark 16:15 NIV
This rich truth connects us with ancient Christians. The Celtic culture of worship regarded the connection of God and nature highly, much like we still read in Scripture today.
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"...this prayer that has spanned and survived the centuries...."
It’s both enlightening and extremely touching to know that despite the doctrinal differences that humanity has fought and battled over throughout the centuries, prayers like “May the Road Rise to Meet You” bring a common thread to the surface. Though technically author-less, our Author speaks clearly through this prayer that has spanned and survived the centuries, as a reminder that we all serve the same great God.
“Through Him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” John 1:3
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"We have all been saved by grace and thus awe at His creation around us."
We have all been saved by grace and thus awe at His creation around us. Be it be the 4th century Irish coastline or today’s unmistakable sunrise, we remain connected over the centuries by God’s unchanging majesty and love for us through nature. And the people have been moved by and ministered to through it over time.
“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” Job 12:7-10
Meg writes about everyday life within the love of Christ on her blog, https://sunnyand80.org. She is a stay-at-home mom, freelance writer, blogger, and preparing to release her first book, “Friends with Everyone.” She resides in Northern Ohio with her husband of eleven years, two daughters, and their Golden-doodle.
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