March 1 is St. David’s Day. It’s a very big day in Wales.
Of course, most of us are not in Wales. If we were I would be saying, “Dydd Gwyl Dewi Sant hapus.”
That’s “Happy St. David’s Day” in Welsh.
Oh, and I’d probably be saying it over a bowl of cawl, a stew made of lamb and leeks.
And I’d be wearing a leek on my shirt — not because it slipped out of my cawl, but because in Wales you pin a leek to your shirt on St. David’s Day to honor the patron saint of Wales. I’m guessing it has something to do with the time St. David counseled the Welsh armies to wear leeks on their hats when they went to battle against the Saxons as a way of distinguishing themselves from their enemies — a sort of primitive uniform. It worked well enough that today wearing a leek on your shirt on St. David’s Day is a little like gearing up in your team’s colors on Game Day. Only instead of a Nike swoosh on your chest, there’s, you know, a leek.
To be honest, we don’t really know a lot about St. David. It's not known when he was born, but it's accepted that he died on March 1 somewhere between A.D. 569 and 601. We know he was a teacher and a cleric who traveled around setting up churches and monasteries wherever he went. It is said that one time when he was preaching he caused the ground to rise beneath him so everyone could see him better, which is why most of the artistic representations of St. David show him standing on a little hill with a dove on his shoulder.
As opposed to a leek.
One of the things many scholars agree on is the last words of St. David. While there are some variances according to translation, it seems that the elderly future saint — according to some accounts, well over 100 years old — said to the tearful monks who were attending him: “Brothers, be ye constant. The yoke which with single mind ye have taken, bear ye to the end, and whatsoever ye have seen with me and heard, keep and fulfill.”
The notion of constancy was obviously important to St. David (which sort of makes you wonder how he would feel, as one who taught and practiced abstinence from alcohol, about all the Welsh breweries that make special St. David’s Day ales, including at least one lamb-flavored beer). But it’s a notion that sometimes seems foreign to modern sensibilities. Indeed, there are those today who would consider the single-mindedness of which St. David spoke in his dying utterance, as well as other shades of the constancy palette such as being relentless and unchangeable and enduring to the end, as negative attributes, reflecting an unwillingness to grow in our ever-changing world.
While it’s true there are times when we need to adapt, I’m thankful there are still people like my neighbor and friend David — not quite a saint … yet — who live lives of constancy, clarity and harmonious purpose. David is a religious man, a lay leader in our church congregation, who preaches a fine and entertaining sermon on Sunday and then goes out and practices what he preaches the rest of the week. As I write this, he is in some developing nation — I can’t remember which one it is this time — cheerfully giving of his time and resources to impoverished people who desperately need the medical ministry he and the team of benevolent medical professionals he accompanies offer.
To David, it is the most logical and natural thing in the world to spend his annual vacation time this way — better than a cruise or a visit to a fancy resort. But that’s because of the constancy of his life and the consistency of the way he chooses to live it. It’s like the two-time British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said: “The secret of success is constancy to purpose.”
Whether or not leek-wearing is involved.
To read more by Joseph B. Walker, visit josephbwalker.com. Twitter: JoeWalkerSr