Growing Edges
Dear Friends,

In this issue we are looking at Celtic Christian spirituality to see what we can learn about “how should we then live?” This vigorous expression of Christian life and witness flourished in the 4th to the 8th centuries in the rugged lands of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, and beyond. The evangelical passion and heroic exploits of Patrick and Brigid and Brendan and Columba and Aidan and Cuthbert and Chad and Cedd and Hilda and so many others should thrill us and fill us with gratitude for their faithfulness in bringing the gospel to the English speaking world. But even more importantly, we want to learn from them a faithfulness for our day and our time. Like us they lived in a transition period when culture was changing radically, and the ways they confronted those cultural changes—giving an alternate vision of life in the kingdom of God and ultimately turning culture toward Christ—have much to teach us.

Three Considerations
Because of the renewed interest today in all things Celtic there are things to consider when studying the spirituality that came from this time. I mention three.

Firstly, there is a tendency today to twist and turn Celtic spirituality into anything and everything people favor at the moment; from ecological passion to feminism to New Age magic-religion. But this simply cannot be done if we are to be true to the historical record. This was an explosion of Christian orthodoxy which was deeply Trinitarian in its expression. To be sure, they did have an extraordinary love of the natural world, but this was because they saw creation as a beautiful expression of the loving heart of the Creator. They did indeed have both women and men in all expressions of leadership, but this came only as the natural expression of their dealing severely with the human love of power in relationships. Once human power grabs were defeated through the love of Christ, then it really didn’t matter who was in any particular position of leadership and authority. And so forth. Celtic spirituality was throughly and authentically Christian.

Secondly, many today overly romanticize Celtic spirituality, as if these saints spent their days walking through flowering meadows and their nights drinking ale around a cozy fireplace. On the contrary, theirs was a rough, rugged spirituality that faced squarely the trials and sorrows of everyday life. They developed, for example, liturgies of common life like “The prayer of the milkmaid” and “The prayer of how to relate to the neighbor who is a nuisance”. Far from a romanticized, rose-tinted faith, the Celts engaged life fully with all its sorrows and joys.

Thirdly, some approach Celtic spirituality in only a bookish, academic sort of way, and when they do this they miss the heart and passion which is at the very center of their faith. This was a spirituality of the heart that was deeply relational and community based. They saw prayer and action, contemplation and engagement, to be of the same cloth. And their passion—passion for God, passion for people, passion for life—is truly amazing. Their jubilant festivals, their missional lifestyles, their celebration of creation, all speak of the Celtic passion. Would to God that we too would have such a passionate, heart faith!

Enjoy the resources available here. Read … study … grow … live!

Growing Together
In this section devoted to praxis I would like to take several of the characteristics of the Celtic expression of Christian life and faith and suggest ways it can apply to us today. In doing this, as is also true of my opening letter, I am indebted to Roy Searle of the Northumbria Community for suggesting many of the key characteristics of Celtic spirituality.

One: Among the marks of Celtic spirituality was “home, hearth, and hospitality”. Of course, our world seems far removed from these ancient ways. Most of us don’t even have a “hearth”, and if we do it’s probably artificial. And some have no “home” in the normal sense of that term. No matter. We can still work to make wherever we are more warm, secure, and hospitable. Here are a few suggestions:

• Clear away clutter. Clutter makes everyone and everything feel chaotic. So, clean the kitchen. Throw out old newspapers and magazines. Turn the chairs in the living room to face each other and not the TV.

• Invite a neighbor over this week. Don’t make it a big production. A cup of coffee together is plenty. “Hospitality” does not mean extravagant entertaining; it means getting to know and enjoy another human being. Recently I made friends with a ten-year-old who said to me, “I feel comfortable around you because you remind me of being myself.”

Two: Celtic spirituality had a clear rhythm of prayer, howbeit a rhythm that was flexible to individual needs and situations. Unlike the Roman pattern of seven set times of prayer, the Celts might have three or five or whatever the situation required. A contemporary example of this is the Northumbria Community’s mid-day prayer, which is designed to be said in two minutes—that is, the time it takes from setting the kettle on the stove for tea until it boils. Here are a few examples of how you, too, might find a prayer rhythm that fits the demands of modern life:

• Consider taking the first half of your daily commute to get a God’s-eye-perspective on your day. Turn off the radio. Be attentive for divine nudges in this direction or that: “Listen to Juanita today, she is in need of some special attention”; “Be firm in the Board Meeting, people need to see your confidence”; “Learn from Joseph, he has some good ideas”. And more.

• At noon take a five minute prayer walk. Enjoy grass and trees and flowers. Really look at the clouds. Breathe deeply. Give thanks for God’s good universe.

• Just before going to bed step out the back door and, in company with God, evaluate the day just ended. Where there are errors and sins, confess. Where there are successes and accomplishments, give thanks. Where there are concerns and worries, seek wisdom. Then ask for a sleep that is deep and full.

Three: The Celtic faith was a spirituality of “journey”. They would get into their little coracles (boats), praying for God’s guidance. They then set off until the currents landed them somewhere, anywhere really, confident that this was the place they were to live and minister the life of God to others. Our lives today feel far more complicated and ordered with all our technology and myriad responsibilities. Even so, we can learn something of “journey” even today. Here are a few suggestions:

• Try going to a committee meeting, any committee meeting, without a plan or pre-arranged argument, and try listening to what goes on and responding as it seems appropriate. See what the experience teaches you.

• Play with your children. Make sure it is play which you create together rather than a commercial type game. Watch how one play activity creatively leads to another and then another. And, even though you had great fun together, don’t try to get it patented.

Four: Celtic spirituality was deeply redemptive. When they came upon some pagan ritual site, they would simply build a cross in the midst of it and bring the blessing of God upon it. By experience they knew that the power of God was stronger than the powers of darkness, and so they could redeem places and things into instruments of righteousness. Here are a few ideas of how to bring symbols of transcendence into modern society:

• By speaking with civility and respect to employers and employees alike you will plant a verbal symbol in the workplace that is as real as a stone cross. Some people will be so floored by such kindness that you will need to be prepared to pick them up!

• Create a quiet place in your home for praying, reading, thinking, meditating. A table, a chair, a candle, a Bible, a picture of beauty perhaps. You might want to add a kneeling bench or a prayer cushion. Once I turned a clothes closet into a literal prayer closet.

Well, these are only suggestions. You will think of other things, I know, to turn yourself and your surroundings into a portable sanctuary.

Starting Soon: The 2018-19 Renovaré Book Club

How do we read for transformation, not just information? Choose books that stir the soul and have an enduring quality. Then read with God and others at an unhurried pace, attentive to what the Holy Spirit wants to teach. The Renovaré Book Club is designed for transformative reading. It runs October 2018—May 2019.

Learn more >