Celtic Spirituality draws its inspiration from the earliest manifestation of Christianity in these islands – an offering which was also inspired by the wisdom of pre-Christian Ireland.
In the prayers of the early church of these islands, in their passion and their practice of the faith there is a clarity and simplicity and wisdom that speaks directly to many of the concerns of our age.
Here are some aspects of Celtic Spirituality that may inspire you:
Love of the natural world
The prayers of the Celtic Saints are filled with experiences of God’s presence in creation, simplicity of living in harmony with creation, and awareness of the sacredness of all things. The Psalms are full of praise for God’s handiwork in nature, and Celtic Christianity followed in that tradition, reflected in prayers and poems which spoke of God’s power and majesty revealed in creation. As it says in the first chapter of Genesis, all things originate in the Divine Source, and so all things are sacred. that Presence permeates all of creation. It is repeated five times in Genesis chapter 1 – ‘And God looked at the Creation, and said: ‘It is good.’ This speaks to us of ‘Original Goodness’. It reminds us of the Sacred Presence that is to be found in us and in the natural world. So when we walk in nature, everything is a visible reminder of the Invisible Presence. ‘The world is charged with the grandeur of God.’ (Gerald Manley Hopkins).
Columbanus said – ‘If you want to know God, first get to know His creation.’ If there is any one word that would sum up the essence of Celtic Spirituality, it’s the word ‘PRESENCE.’ Awareness of the Sacred Presence at every moment of life, in all places.
The Monastic way of living fitted the early church in Ireland because pre-Christian society was based on the Tuatha, small villages of people. Celtic Christianity encouraged people to live and work as small communities, following a less hierarchical model of Church. The Church at that time was a loose grouping of local communities of prayer, learning and hospitality.
Celtic Christianity, in its monastic practice, believed in openness and welcome to the stranger. It challenges us today, in a multi-cultural world, to try to have an open heart, without pre-judgement. ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to stangers, for by so doing some have entertained angels unawares.’ (Hebrews 13.2) Also to look for the Sacred soul in others, for all are made in God’s image.
“I saw a stanger last night. I put food in the eating place, drink in the drinking place, music in the listening place, and in the sacred name of the Triune, he blessed myself and my house and my cattle and my dear ones. And the lark said in her song, ‘Often, often, often goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise.’
(A Celtic rune of hospitality used by the Iona Community)
Following the experiences of the desert fathers and mothers, Celtic Christianity drew inspiration from the daily rule of life of ancient monasticism. Faith is not just for one hour on a Sunday – but for the whole of life. The Sacred Presence is for all times and all places. It is not a dualistic approach to life which divides the ‘sacred’ from the ‘profane’ – Celtic Christianity reminds us that all is sacred.
The practice of the Anam Cara – ‘The Friend of the Soul.’
A soul friend is someone who walks the spiritual journey with you as a source of wise advice and encouragement. This practice is being reclaimed in our day through spiritual direction. However, the practice of Anamchara is a gentle accompaniment, respecting the fragile nature of the spiritual search. All the wisdom we need is already within us. Through an Anamcara approach to listening, we can access that wisdom.
Art and Music
Celtic Christianity produced wonderful works of Art e.g. The Book of Kells and the wonderfully elaborate High Crosses. In many Irish villages, to this day the high crosses still stand, reminding us of a time when there were no elaborate buildings to upkeep and the people worshipped outdoors, around the high crosses. The beautiful carvings on the high crosses, telling the stories of the Old Testament and the life of Christ, were used as ‘visual aids’ to tell the stories of the Gospels in an age when literacy wasn’t so common.
Esther De Waal, a well known writer on Celtic Spirituality has commented on the shape of the Celtic Cross, with its circle and cross combined. In her view it represents the combining of salvation (the Cross) and the world of creation (the circle). Christ’s salvation was not only for human beings, but for the whole cosmos (see Romans chapter 8). So in the carvings and the artwork, animals and the rest of creation are also included.
Art and music enable us to perceive with the senses as well as the intellect, and to use both the right and left brain. In worship our love of God can be expressed through the whole of our humanity, including the senses, the intuition, the imagination and the emotions.
Celtic Christianity had a particular kind of martyrdom which they called ‘white martyrdom’ – for those who left home and family behind and went out into the world as pilgrims for the sake of the Gospel. Today many are rediscovering the power of pilgrimage and the ‘Peregrini’ by going to ancient sacred places such as Iona, Lindisfarne, Ireland – and Armagh. The Celtic Saints called these places ‘thin places’ because there seemed to be only a thin veil between this world and the world of Spirit.
‘When you travel, A new silence goes with you,
And if you listen – you will hear what your heart would love to say……….’
(John O’Donohue The Benedictus)
We may not be able to travel to faraway places, but there is yet benefit in being a ‘heart’ pilgrim – i.e. Having that nomadic approach to life that is always open to moving on, not getting stuck in a rut, open to new experiences, new relationships and understandings – open to the ever onward call of God.
(All content provided by the Centre for Celtic Spirituality, Armagh, Ireland)