Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Best wishes for the New Year in 2010! May the new year bring with it all the hopes, joy, love, success and happiness you desire. Looking forward to continuing our dialogue on Celtic spirituality in the New Year.

Aloha from Hawaii!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

How can monks marry?

Oftentime people are confused when they learn that I am a Christian priest who is also married. "How can this be?" says the puzzled look on their face. And yet you could say the very same thing regarding this blog. "How can a monk be married?"

Good questions. The explanation to these questions is really quite simple. Celtic monasticism (and Christianity for that matter) was quite a different "brand" than that of the Roman kind. See my earlier blog entitled "Culture Clash" for a longer discussion. Remember that much of Ireland was influenced by the monks of the Eastern desert, particularly the writings of John Cassian. When this "brand" of the faith, returned to Ireland, it blended into with other local cultural understandings and ways of doing things, just as it has whereever it is taken, and that is not necessarily a bad thing.

We also need to thing differently when we hear the word "monastery". The Celtic notion of "monastery" was worlds different than the typical medieval monastery which existed in Europe. Unlike Latin Christianity, which often had a large stone monastery, and a huge church with flying buttresses and cloisters, the Celts had nothing of the kind. A monastery to them, was something like a monastic village. The village, or small town would be enwalled, a wall on a lesser scale than say St. Andrews, or York. Inside the walls, there would be huts, wooden buildings, and of course clochans, those stone beehive huts famously linked with Celtic Christianity.  And quite cleverly, the Celts built these small communities in strategic places, so that they could also be places of influence, and be places for strangers, seekers, and passerbys to go. Monasteries open to the public-sounds Celtic to me!

As you can expect, the Celtic understanding of religious orders was also different and at odds with Latin Chrisitianity. And perhaps it was this which really jazzed the Latin church, so much that it would send over St. Augustine to basically clean house. For most of Christendom, religious orders consisted of deacon, priest, and Bishop, with the Bishop top dog. This was not the case in Eire. There, the abbot (there's that monastic influence again) was number one, and the Bishop was often relegated to evangelical duties. Perhaps due to the close knit communities and tribes and clans, these distinctions may have seemed artificial. Anyway, what resulted was a wider range of religious orders and offices. So here, monks could marry, clergy could marry, and women such as Brigit could be Bishops, over a thousand years before the rest of Christendom ever began seriously considering these issues.

The history of the Christian church of one filled with the  themes of both freedom and structure. I've always like the notion that more is better, and in this case I think that is true. The church today needs to rethink the way it's conceives of clergy and how its trains clergy. A good place to see how things can be different is to look at the example of the early Celtic Church, which was way ahead of it's time.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Search

I've been busy, like you probably, over the past week. Between things at work, and at home, it's hard finding time to blog. The last few days I've been in and out of many shops and stores. Here in Honolulu, we also have something called "the swap meet" which is like a giant garage sale. Vendors from all over the island converge in one spot, and sell everything from soup to nuts, literally from soup to nuts. It's something like a community attic, with vendors selling pots and pans, plants, music, books-you name it they have it. I usually ferret looking for cheap books and CD's. Can't hand with my wife who is the uber discount person. Found some great stuff by Michael Talbot Smith who is one of my favorite singers.

Afterwards, my wife and I went down to Jelly's (The Original), a second hand vendor of off the topic books and music. Going to Jelly's is like stepping back to the 1970's, and the Beat Generation. Rock music playing in the background, concert posters on the wall, and the most unusual collection of esoteric books in Hawaii bar none. I check in at Jelly's every now and then, and browse through their history and spirituality collections. There's usually at least one or two treasures just waiting to be snagged. I was fortunate to pick up two excellent books on Celtic spirituality. A Celtic Missellany (1951) is an anthology (hence misellany) of Celtic poetry and prose. It may seem to some like riding a bicycle through a museum, but a survey of this kind can often be the best way to introduce oneself to a great tradition. After finding an author or time frame you like, you can then zoom in and be more focused in your studies.

I really scored finding Miranda Green's The Celtic World (1995) for under ten dollars. It's something like one hundred bucks on Amazon. This heavyweight volume of eight hundred pages, addresses two important questions for the Celtic wisdom seeker. Who were the ancient Celts? In what form does the Celtic identity exist today, and how does this related to the ancient Celts? Of particular interest to us, is  chapter 37 on early Christianity and its monuments. I must also add the book has many fascinating drawings and pictures. There are many different contributors and offers a wide perspective of the period from the early Celts to the post Roman period of 400AD. Pick up both if you can find them cheap.

Lastly, let me wish everyone a blessed and meaningful Christmas! We serve a beautiful and loving God, Who continues to seek us in the most amazing ways. Blessed be His Name!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Blog interview with Ed Sellner

Today, we are pleased to spend a few moments with a leading American writer and scholar of Celtic Spirituality, Ed Sellner, who is a professor of Theology at St. Catherine's University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Ed has written ten books on different aspects of theology and spirituality. I've read several of Ed's books-they are excellent-and already reviewed one on this blog. They are an excellent starting point for anyone interested in learning something about Celtic Spirituality. As stated earlier, the first fifty-four pages of Wisdom of the Celtic Saints (2006), is the clearest and most succient introduction to Celtic Christianity ever. I won't say much about Finding the Monk Within (2008) which I reveiwed earlier on the blog, except to go out and buy it.

I've also had the pleasure of knowning Ed for five years, and consider him a friend. He's been to Hawaii twice, and led a one day workshop on Celtic Spirituality at St. Andrew's Cathedral here in Honolulu. We spoke today over the phone, sipped coffee, caught up with each other's lives, and in between, I slipped in a few questions.

How did you get interested in Celtic Spirituality?
"Funny but I was raised without any awareness of my Irish ancestoral background. It was through my interest in JFK and in attending the University of Notre Dame, where I took some classes on spirituality, that I became aware of the Celtic notion of soul friendship. I eventually did a Ph.d on the concept of penance, and included many references to the soulfriend. As I moved into teaching, my interest increased, and I continued my research. My early books were on the subject of mentoring, and included Soulmaking (1991), Father and Son (1995), and Mentoring (2002). As I continued to teach, and travel to Ireland, I also visited the holy and historic sites such as Iona and Lindisfarne. This sparked a deeper interest in the Celtic notion of the soulfriend. The result was a 600 page manuscript which I had a hard time trying to publish. The reason was, it was actually two books in one. At the suggestion of my wife, I split it into two, and this resulted in The Celtic Soul Friend (2002), and Stories of the Celtic Soul Friend (2003)".

Who is your favorite Celtic saint?
"That's a good question. Well, as I first think of it, I am reminded of the Celtic trinity of saints, Patrick, Bridit of Kildare, and Columcille. However, my favorite Celtic saint is Cuthbert. I recall reading Bede's Ecclesiastic History at a difficult time of my life. I identified with how Bede depicted Cuthbert. At that time, I was doing lots of administrative work both at the University and with some Church community programs. Cuthbert desired to be a hermit, and have a more quiet and focused life, and moved to Farne Island, off the coast of Lindisfarne. Cuthbert's example resonated with me, and as a result I gave up many of my administrative duties to focus on my writing and teaching. It was the right move".

Who are some of your favorite authors?
"I would have to say there are three. The first is Esther deWaal, who has written some excellent books on the Celtic idea of prayer. Next would be Donald Allchin, who became a mentor to me, while I was studying and doing research at the University of Oxford. His book on Welsh spirituality is terrific! Third, I'd have to say Benedicta Ward, who was a tutor for me when I was at Oxford. She wrote an excellent  book on St. Cuthbert, and The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks (2003)".

What books are you working on now?
"I've been working on a book called The Double. The book focuses on the spirituality of male relationships such as father to son, brother to brother, and friend to friend. I do so in a historical sense, and it begins with the Gilgamesh epic and goes through the Twentieth Century, ending with Jack Kerouac. Some examples of chapters include the relationship of St. Augustine with his son, Adodatus, who died at the young age of seventeen. I'm excited about this, as very little has been written about this relationship. There is also a chapter on Aelred of Rievaulx, that great Cistercian monk, where I discuss his notion of spiritual friendship, and it's implications for today.  I also have the benefit of coming to these topics as both a father and son".

Thanks Ed, for your time, and we look forward to The Double hitting the bookshops. If you'd like to contact Ed, you can find him on Facebook.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Daniel Kilmer Sullivan

I was saddened when I learned the other day, that Fr. Daniel Kilmer Sullivan had died this past September. "Fr. Dan" as he was affectionately known, was Rector of one of the largest Episcopal Churches I have ever seen, Church of the Good Samaritan in Paoli, Pennsylvania.

The first time I met "Fr. Dan" was at a Wednesday morning eucharist that was held at Good Sam. I was a young Christian then, but was impressed at the numbers that turned out, especially for a Wednesday morning. Fr. Dan introduced me to a sacramental experience in worship, something I did not know at this time. With each passing Wednesday, I learned more about the Episcopal Church, the Book of Common Prayer, church seasonal colors and vestments, and the Eucharist.

Dan was a remarkable person, a great priest, who had that unusual gift of making friends quickly. Everybody knew him as "Father Dan". He has an infectious laugh, was a wonderful speaker, and was also very kind.  He was a spiritual father to me in many ways, a mentor and friend. I wrote to him several years ago, thanking him for the high role model he set for me and for others. I have often thought on our friendship and am grateful for the better person that this made me. One lesson stands out for me above the rest. That was Dan's great sense of caring, and nurturing.  Thinking back of my experience of Dan, I am reminded of the that great quote by St. Iraneus, that "the glory of God, is man, fully human and fully alive".

I've attached  a link to Dan's obituary here which also has a photo.

Rest in peace friend!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Celtic World and Celticity

On Thanksgiving Day, I presided over a wedding ceremony. After the service, someone asked me about the Celtic Church. This question is not unusual, and is one I am ready for, as I have heard it so often. They wanted to know where in Ireland it was from, and who founded it. I've learned to pause, and reply with a striaght face that  the church was founded by "Red Auerbach and Larry Bird"! After the laughter, I then provide a short summary, and some of the fragments are what follows. 

First, one has to dispel the notion of a Celtic homogenity. The Celtic (or Insular) Church existed for a period of 500 years in many places which were hundreds of miles apart. Naturally, distinct feaures arose in each country due to the different cultural and historical stressors. In addition, most people wrongly assume that "Celtic" refers to Ireland, and Ireland alone. Yes, the majority of Celtic saints we may speak of, were from Ireland, but there are many others from different Celtic lands. One gets a different gist when one considers the Celtic holy sites of Iona (Scotland) and Lindisfarne (England). The Celtic world was in many different places. The "official" Celtic world consisted of six areas. These were Ireland (Eire), Scotland (Alba), Wales (Cymru), Cornwall (Kernow), The Isle of Man (Manx), and Brittany (Breizh). And each of these has different themes in the area of Celtic Spirituality. This will a topic of a future article. It would also be incorrect to assume that the Celtic influence stopped at those borders. Far from it, as Celtic influences were felt far into Europe, including Italy and also Spain. There were pockets of Celtic culture all over what we now call Europe. No doubt, much of this goes back to that Celtic sense of wanderlust! I can proudly say that I have been to all of these regions save The Isle of Man. 

That being so, what does it mean to be Celtic? Carl McColman, whose blog is posted on the front page, writes about this question in his excellent and entertaining book The Complete Idiot's Guide to Celtic Wisdom (2003).  There McColman notes the common threads in the different Celtic traditions, and finds five. "Celticity" means having a unique language. Second, each of these places has a different groups of myths and legends. Third, the land (fourth) people on that land are important. And fifth, having a distinctive "culture" which includes music, art, and literature.

Of the six "nations" listed above, I feel I know the Scottish brand of Celticity best, having had the chance the live there for five years, while I attended University at St. Andrews, and Edinburgh. Scotland is a wonderful place to live, and the Scottish are a warm, and friendly people. McColman's discussion above is helpful, and I want to focus on one point he makes in particular: the connection to land as part of the Celtic experience.
I have often thought about this, me being from the USA, and used to flying around in jets, or driving in a car all day long, on highways lined with Burger King's and Jack in the Box's feeding stations. The Scottish experience is something different. Yes, they too have their Wimpy Burgers, but to appreicate Scotland, to know Scotland, one has to place oneself in it's vast empty places which are everywhere. Whenever I travelled to the Highlands of Scotland, or even some of the islands, such Jura and Islay, I was often taken back by the incredible sense of openness, of space, of connection to the land one feels. One day I drove with a friend for hours and saw thousands of sheep, and not one person!

On another occassion at St. Andrews, I remember a group of guys who went hill walking one afternoon. (A hobby I had never heard of before). The fog became so bad that they spent the night in a sheep's bothie or shelter, and returned the next day. And over time, I came to see this was something that happened often, to lots of hikers. I had a similar kinds of experiences since I moved to Hawaii in 2000. And then too, I felt an immediate connection to the land, which the Hawaiians call "ina", as if I belonged, and as if I was "home" even thought I had never been there before. This is a beautiful feeling and experience.

For me, and perhaps for you how are also on the Celtic path, we need to recall that reverence for Nature is a central feature in our cultural tradition. As I know this, I intentionally make time each day, to get out of doors, to enjoy the land, sea, and sky. And each day when I do, I feel spiritually refreshed and renewed. Yes, part of being a Celtic monk includes studying the tradition, learning the history, reading books, listening to Celtic music, and keeping one's brain in gear. But the Celtic way, is not all brain centered. Celtic spirituality includes all of the senses of the body as well. So do yourself a favor, take time, to be quiet, to stop and smell the roses, and to get to know your environmental surroundings.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Away in a Manger

Even before Thanksgiving, (November 26th for you non-Yanks), I've noticed Christmas advertizements appearing in the shops, and Christmas music on the radio. And with each passing year, this strikes me as "odd"and "amazing". None of this of course, has anything to do with the "real" meaning of Christmas, and it makes me realize just how unChristian the dominent culture has become.

Nor is this fact lost, with each passing Sunday in Advent, as we begin to wait and look for the coming of Christ. It has always struck me as wonderful, that the Son of God, would enter into human existence in a way and shape that would confound even the religious experts of past and present. No one ever expected it to go down the way it did. Let's call it the Divine fakeout! Where many were looking in one place, and in one way, God decided to enter human history in a most gentle and unprentious fashion where people least expected, and bearly without notice. In the form of a baby. We have a homeless shelter in Honolulu called The Institute for Human Services (which was started by an Episcopal priest, Claude Duteil) and I have often stated from the pulpit, that if Christ were born today, it would probably be in a place like that. Where people least expect, and off the beaten track. Oh, the scandal of it all!

Off the beaten track! This is a familiar theme to us in the Celtic tradition! We know perhaps better than any, that it is on unfamiliar soil where God usually does something amazing. This is why so many of the Celts originally left their comfortable and familiar environments. And where our culture worships at the altar of commerce, buying and selling, I feel most privledged to be in a position to serve each Sunday, to see God in the faces of strangers, who often ask me for something as simple of water, an extra piece of bread, or some socks to wear. And I am happy to oblige as best I can, as well as the many volunteers, who join us each Sunday.

What I'm trying to say, is that it's a good thing to get out and move from what we are familiar with, and to do something different, thereby gaining a fresh perspective. This seems to be one of the implications of the incarnation. Here again, we can also use the example of the many Celtic saints who so willingly left what was familiar and known to them, because they knew that such moves, would cause them to grow. And that's the way it is in the spiritual life. The gospel of Christ is counter-cultural, so such "steps of faith" are to be expected. They are probably even necessary if we want to live the Christian experience. This is important, as most of the cultural drift is secular, and moving AWAY from the Christian tradition. In sharp contrast to the culture of success we see dominant today, the Christian and Celtic tradition stresses the notion of finding God where we often least expect, often on the edges of our culture, in the face of the poor, or the stranger, or welcoming others, and making people feel as guests. To do these simple deeds, is a great way to practice Christian spirituality and discipleship. This is the true meaning of Christmas.

As we move through the season of Advent, let us remember the miracle of the Christmas story. It's not that there are sales of Walmart or Costco, though those things are not bad in themselves. Hey, I love shopping there too! Rather, the real miracle, is that God has decided to come to us in a way that none of us could ever expected or comprehend, as a vulnerable baby, born homeless in a manger in a barn. Likewise, I believe God can come to us in the same way today, in a shape and perspective that we least expect: in serving our neighbor, and looking out for those in need.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bishop Stephen Neill: Missionary, Theologian, New Testament Scholar

I have an interesting tale about Bishop Stephen Neill, one of the great Anglican Bishops of the last century. Thirty some years ago, I was an  exchange student in Oxford, England. Often, I would spend afternoons wandering around the ancient city, poking my nose in the different colleges, trying to soak up the history of the place. If you've been there, you'll know what I mean as Oxford is unlike any other English city! One afternoon, I stumbled into Wycliffe Hall, the theological college where Bishop Neill was a "senior scholar". One student whispered to me "Come back later, there's a sherry party, and you can meet Bishop Neill!" At that time, I knew Neill had written the definitive book on the history of the Anglican church, Anglicanism (1958), which Anglican clergy used to revere. And when travelling, and low on money, whoever turns down the opportunity to meet a person like Neill and have free sherry and food? I moved on to the next Oxford college, snooped around, returned a few hours later, grabbed some sherry, and had the opportunity to meet the famous Bishop. I don't remember much from our conversation, but I do recall the Bishop being friendly, polite, and interested in what part of America I was from.

Since that sunny afternoon day in 1977, I have come to meet Stephen Neill again and again through his many books. And Neill rarely disappoints. Each time, I read Neill's books, there is almost always something new that I learn. Neill died in 1984, twenty five years ago, yet his writing style and themes are still fresh. Neill is one of the few writers, whose footnotes are  as interesting as his main body of work. As it stands, Bishop Stephen Neill, was one of the towering intellects of the last century. He wrote over sixty books, including some classics in church history, the interpretation of the New Testament, and mission and interfaith relations. It's been stated he could speak 15 different languages. Most importantly to our discussion on Celtic Christianity, Neill, whose family originally came from Northern Ireland, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on the last day of the Nineteenth Century. Perhaps due to these roots, Neill writes with great affection about the Celtic Church. In A History of Christian Missions (1964), Neill reflects on the early leadership of the Celtic Church:

"We have already mentioned the missionary zeal which sprang from Irish monasticism. The most notable figure of our period is St. Columba, the apostle of Scotland. Born about A.D. 521 of a noble Irish family, Columba had already founded the two monasteries of Durrow in King's County, and Londonderry, when in 563 he decided to cross the narrow seas with twelve companions and to found a new monastery on the island called Hy or Iona. The purpose of this foundation was evangelistic; the Gospel was to be preached to the still heathen Picts...Columba left behind him a tradition of real and simple sanctity. It is written of him that "in the midst of all his cares he showed himself open and friendly to everyone; he bore the joy of the Holy Spirit in the inmost places of his heart".

Neill then turns his attention to another great Celtic leader, Aidan: "After an unsucessful start, Aidan was sent to pull things together, and was given a dwelling at Lindisfarne. Aidan brought with him the gentleness that we have noted in Columba, and also the ascetic traditions of Irish monasticism; it is recorded that he made his journeys on foot after the manner of the peregrini, the wanderers for the sake of Christ".

I don't want to belabor a point mentioned by many others, but what stands out for me in this passage, is that the Celtic church made an impact on the culture because of an "approachable" spirituality which was marked by gentleness, simplicity and charity, especially to the poorest. Morevoer, Neill says in his own way, that the Celts were counter-cultural, as they were "wanderers" who would go from place to place. In other words, the Celts challanged the places where most people at that time put their security and identity; the land, family, tribe, and country. They lived a different kind of lifesytle than the dominant culture, marked by a love of God and dedication to one another. I would recommend that we need to do the same.

About a year ago, I had a chance to read more about Neill's life in Mission Legacies (1994) as Neill was also a great missionary, who spent over twenty years in South India. I also was glad to see a definitive work, Bishop Stephen Neill: From Edinburgh to South India, (2008) by Dyron Daughrity. In both I discovered that Neill suffered from  serious mental illness for much of his life, having long bouts with depression, insomnia, and suicidal ideation. This gave me a renewed respect and admiration for Stephen Neill as a person. That Neill  was able to courageously carry on in his work, continue writing, and lecturing, is quite simply amazing.  He was heroic in every sense of that term, and an inspiration.

Let me also close this entry with another story about Stephen Neill. Last year I noticed a portrait of Stephen Neill on an American artist's website, George Buchanan, which can be viewed here. I sent the George an email, asking him about this, and we later talked on the phone. The story goes like this. Shortly before Neill died, he had been invited to Duke Univeristy to give some lectures. Someone commissioned to have Neill's portriat done, and the painting above was the result. Moreover, what is even more interesting, is that while Neill was sitting to have the portrait done, the conversations turned to spiritual things. The artist told me, that the conversation was a spiritual turning point in his life.  Typical Neill, a missonary to the end! That's a great story, one in keeping with Neill's life, and one our Celtic forefathers would have been proud of. Sharing the gospel in any situation. We would do well to practice that simple model in our world today.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Hip To Be Square

Over twenty years ago, I remember an American group, Huey Lewis and the News I think it was, had a song entitled "Hip to be square". I don't remember much of the lyrics, but the title is an apt one in the case of Brother Cadfael, surely one of the coolest monks ever!

Brother Cadfael, is the fictional character in The Brother Cadfael Chronicle Series by the British writer Ellis Peters. And in twenty short, swift moving and action packed novels, Ellis Peters describes the life and experiences of a Benedictine monk from 12th Century Britain. Thirteen on the novels were later made into a PBS Mystery Series featuring Sir Derek Jacobi as Cadfael. These historical/fictional novels are great reads, and fantastic ways to learn about monasticism, medieval life, and human nature in general.

Brother Cadfael is an attractive yet complex figure. He is a Celt, originally from Wales. Yet, he is also a man's man, a man of the world. He once fought in the First Crusade, and as a soldier knew killing and death. Along the way, he had many lovers and even fathered a son. He then lived in the Holy Land, working as a sailor. In middle age, Cadfael returned to Britain and sought to live a different kind of life. Seeking to heal instead of kill, Cadfael enters a monastary at Shrewsbury and joins the Benedictine Order. There he begins practicing as a herbalist, and healer and is something like a shaman. Due to his knowledge of the world, and his passion for justice, Cadfael also becames a detective or sorts, and often assists the local sheriff in solving local crimes.

What I love most about these novels, is the gentle simplicity and drama. The focus is on the complexity of human nature, not techincal effects as in most current stories or films. There is no hi-tech gagetry, visual effects, great shoot-outs, or endless chase scenes.  Simple human drama and the passions, both good and bad. This is a long time before we knew anything about fingerprints, video cameras, or profiles to go on. Instead, there is just instinct, and hunches.  And into this mix enters Cadfael, a man deeply aware of the powers of good and evil, and the ways of the world. Yet as a monk and deeply spiritual man, he also knows the transforming power of love.  It dosen't get any better!

These books or DVD's are the perfect solution for the rainy day, or lazy afternoon on the beach. The Cadfael Chronicles are well written and researched, and an imaginative and entertaining way to feed the inner monk in you. I picked up a second hand set of the books on ebay for a reasonable price.

Monday, November 23, 2009


I purchased a new laptop the other day, a Dell XPS, the slickest laptop I have ever owned. Part of the gig of owning a computer includes decided what kind of software to add, and then performing downloads. Nothing glamorous by any means! Moving from that task, I then read the following prayer in my devotions today:

"This is Aidan, strong and good, who challenged all to love God more, believe,
and truly follow Him with generous heart;
and this was the message that Aidan lived,
and this was the work that Oswald loved,
the peace that Columba found, the peace of Christ,
the way that Brigid lived, the prayer that Patrick made,
the circle that Ninian dew,
the life that Martin taught,
the house that love build,
the heart that John heard,
the way that God made."

Talk about downloads! I love these kind of prayers. I love the flow of the prayer, almost as if the actions of one person, affect the next. It's almost as if the prayer is intergenerational. The focus is not so much on words (the typical blah, blah, blah kind of prayer), and instead conjurs up for me wonderful, active images of the different saints cited. These were men and women who prayed yes, but just as important, they DID things; they lived a certain way, and had they not done so, their prayer would have been mere words. Another case of cheap grace. So prayer and behavior are linked, and one effects the other. And this is just one of the reasons why I need to pray. To be better, and to do more. And I confess I'm lousy at it. Sometimes, I'll do anything to avoid finding that quiet place, and settling down. It can be a tug of war! But when I do, I am almost always grateful just to have to time to think and see things in a different way. Glory to God!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Photos from St. Aidan's Mission Church

Skellig Michael

"Looking back from the great civilizations of twelfth-century France or seventeenth-century Rome, it is hard to believe that for quite a long time-almost a hundred years-western Christianity survived by clinging to places like Skellig Michael, a pinnacle of rock eighteen miles from the Irish coast, rising seven hundred feet ot of the sea".
                                             Sir Kenneth Clark's Civilization

I love this quote by Sir Kenneth Clark, and as I reead it, it makes me pause and think about how God often works in the most unusual and unpredictable ways. Think of it, as this is truly one of the great chapters in the history of the Christian faith. That Western Christianity could "hang in the balance" in such an obscure place as Skellig Michael, and later thrive in other parts of Europe, is well, truly amazing, and one of God's great gifts to mankind. Here is the sweet irony: there was more divine sweetness and light found in Skellig, than in any of the so called  "great cities" of Europe including London, Rome, and Paris. To me, this is a great historical lesson that God often works outside our best efforts, and is often hidden. Still, the still small voice.  And as with cities, probably so denominations and churches.

The Celts frequently referred to these sacred spots and events as "the place of one's resurrection", that is, the place where one struggled and worked out what God meant to be. It's understandable why the Celts would seek out such an isolated place like Skellig. No distractions, little else to focus on than one's faith. Leaving all the comforts of home behind. Kind of like a spiritual boot camp, though this time for life.

In a psychological sense, we can have our Skellig's anywhere. In our relationships, in the workplace, and even in our churches. And when it comes to that "inner work" many of us flee because we realize that like the steep slopes of Skellig, hard and focused labor is involved. Often, we run from the very tasks we need to do. So when we do, take heart, think back to Skellig Michael, and remember the lessons of that little community. Hard to imagine, that in the many of the so called civilized places in the Western world that both in piety and in scholarship, they were eclipsed by Skellig Michael.

One day, I plan to make another trip to Ireland. I was there once in 1977. I would want to visit Skellig Michael, make the rough sea journey, climb the rock steps, brace myself against the wind, listen to the churning sea below, look over to Little Skellig, and imagine what life was like there for the few who braved it. Even thousands of miles away, and centuries removed, their devotion makes me question some of my own understanding of Christianity.

In the meantime, I must admire from afar. I'm not sure how many of you are familiar with the Canadian singer, Loreena McKennitt. Her music is wonderful, a strange blend of Celtic and mystical themes, including "The Mystics Dream", "The Dark Night of the Soul", "All SoulsNight". She has a thoughtful song entitled Skellig Michael and the video captures both in words and pictures the terrible beauty of Skellig. I often listen to it, and it never fails to carry my imagination to a place far away.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The uniqueness of Celtic Monasticism

One of the best features of the World Wide Web is access to materials. The hardest decision, as anyone knows who uses the Web, is deciding what to focus on. Recently I chanced upon the website of All Saints of North America Orthodox Church, and to my delight found some excellent resources on Celtic Christianity. The site has several resources, included an interesting audiofile lecture by Fr. Young on The Uniqueness of Celtic Monasticism, and also a useful essay on Celtic Monasticism: A Model of Sanctity. There are also some handsome brochures on the Life of St. Patrick and St. Brigid, but the real gems are the first two items mentioned.

You should take the time to listen to the lecture, and read the essay. I listened with great interest to The Uniqueness of Celtic Monasticism this morning. There, Fr. Aleksey Young emphasises the only way to properly understand Celtic Monasticism, is remembering the close connection between Celtic and Orthodox spiritual traditions. The Celtic Christians were more like the Byzantine or Slavic Orthodox Christians that the Latin or Northern European Christians. More specifically, it was through the Desert Fathers, and writers like John Cassian, who helped shape the Celtic "brand". 

What is most interesting, is what Young pinpoints as the "unique contribution" of Celtic Monasticism. And that was the emphasis on peregrinatio, or pilgrimage, or as we might say today, "our faith journey". Pilgrimage-at least in its broadest sense-included the willingness to wander for the love of God, the willingness to place oneself in exile (and the unfamiliar) with the belief that such detachment brings with it, a deeper intimacy with God. Moreover, these faith journeys were taken for the main purpose of achieving personal salvation (St. Paul had said to "work out one's salvation"), and were outer manifestations of the inner search. Preaching, and the spreading the Gospel were a secondary by product of this search. Such a bold and daring notion of faith led many Celtic monks to cast everything to the wind, and it was common for the monks to embark on journeys in their coracles without oars, rudders, relying upon God alone to take them wherever He willed; Scotland, England, and to other parts in Europe.  

Many Celtic saints demonstrate this wild abandon to God, and to the Spirit. But perhaps the most famous example comes from St. Brendan's mountain prayer:

Shall I abandon the comforts and benefits of my home,
seeking the island of promise our fathers knew long ago,
sail on the face of the deep where no riches or fame
or weapons protect you, and nobody honors your name?
Shall I take leave of my friends
and my beautiful native land,
tears in my eyes
as my knees mark my final prayer in the sand?
King of the mysteries, can I trust You on the sea?

Christ of the heavens,
and Christ of the ravenous ocean wave,
I will hold fast to my course
through the dangers I must brave.
King of the mysteries, angels will watch over me,
Christ of the mysteries, when I trust You on the sea.

In Celtic Monasticism: A Model of Sanctity Young argues as other authors have done, that the Celtic model is one which can help to revive the church, through an emphasis on simplicity of faith and lifestyle. "For the Celts, simplicity wasn't so much a question of externals-like furniture, architecture, and so forth. It was something internal, an it was founded upon the phrase, "Thy will be done". This meant placing absolute trust in God's will, not our own, with every decision in life, including one's health, finances, and career. It also meant, dying to oneself, and one's own plans and desires. Understandably, the Cross of Christ was central to the Celtic thinking, and reminded them, that they needed to die to self. Perhaps this was one reason the high Celtic crosses were became so prominent as holy sites. The monks understood, that the Christian faith demands one's life, one's all. This is incarnational Christianity at it's best; a faith which changes hearts, lives and  behaviors. Such an understanding offers us a fuller view of Celtic Christianity, one which over emphasizes the scholastic, and intellectual aspect of the tradition, focusing on the copying and transmission of Greek and Latin manuscripts, as well the Old and New Testament. A countering stress on personal sanctification provides a fresh new dimension, and perspective as to what may have motivated many of the monks.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Listmania for Celtic Spirituality

I confess I love reading books, holding they in my hands, and learning new things. And no doubt, this “bookish” aspect, is one which drew me to study in Britain. Like many, perhaps even you, I frequently browse on Amazon for used books and also peek at the lists (Listmania) of books other readers suggests on a given topic. It’s also a great way to see what others are reading. That gave me the idea to provide my own list of suggested books on Celtic Christianity for the blog.

I am not an expert in Celtic thought by any means, and have been seriously reading it for ten years. I was first introduced to Celtic Christianity while at New College, University of Edinburgh in the late 1980's. I am grateful to my own denomination, the Celtic Catholic Church, for introducing me to a fascinating tradition and providing me with an excellent historical and spiritual foundation, and holding my feet to the fire to read books on Celtic history and spirituality. Along the way, I got connected with some really cool authors and great books. Here I provide ten titles that any serious student of Celtic Christianity would do well to read and purchase. Yes, my math is OK, I just could not find a photo cover for the first entry listed, hence only nine book covers are shown. My favorites change as I read new books, but these books listed below are "old faithfuls" and ones I return to repeatedly. Focus your attention on these, and you will be well on your way to becoming a Celtic Monk, like me. And don’t forget also to look on ebay and Abebooks for cheap second hand books.

An Introduction to Celtic Christianity, 1989, James P. Mackey. A collection of interesting essays perhaps the most important being the ones on Celtic Christianity, Saint Patrick, Pelagius, and Celtic Art and Scriptures. Sometimes hard to find, but eventually found for sale on ebay.

Carmena Gadelica, 1992, Alexander Carmichael. Originally in six large volumes, this is a collection of Highland Prayers, Hymns, and Incantations from the 19th century. The books helps one to understand the Celtic use of prayer in everyday events, from rising to sleeping. Our version of The Book of Common Prayer.

Celtic Christian Communities, 2000, Ian Bradley. Bradley, a theologian at the University of St. Andrews, does his best to dispel any romantic notions of Celtic Spirituality (such as if there were a break away Celtic Church or that it is the answer all for every problem). By contrast, the stress on monasticism, worship, and pilgrimage is something which can revive the church in the world today.

Celtic Spirituality, 1999, Oliver Davies. Perhaps the best starting point for any student of Celtic Christianity. Part of the Series, The Classics of Western Spirituality. An excellent and readable introduction to the main Celtic “sources” including hagiography, monastic texts, poetry, devotional texts, liturgy, exegesis and theology. Also useful is Celtic Christian Spirituality, 1995, by Oliver Davies, a younger version of the above.

Celtic Theology, 2000, Thomas O’Loughlin. I was lucky enough to find this on ebay for $5. This is the most “theological” of the books listed and is not an easy read. Some theological background and interest in history, is required. Surveys tough issues such as the Penitentials, Adomnan of Iona, Muirchu, and the Stowe Missal.

One Foot in Eden, 1999, J. Philip Newell. Newell’s readable books convey both the wonder and power found in Celtic thought. Poet, theologian, and a former warden of Iona Abbey. Some interesting discussion on Pelagius. For more on Newell, check out his website linked here.

The Celtic Way of Evangelism, 2000, George Hunter III. I love this book because it is so practical. The Celts were not irovy towers thinkers. How were the Celts able to convert a pagan Europe? This book will tell you. Live and learn amongst the pagans themselves. Learn to speak their language, and get to know their thought forms. The church would do well to follow this message as it is now immersed in a predominantly pagan culture.

The Quest of the Three Abbots, 1968, Brendan Lehane. The book covers “the golden age” of Celtic Christianity in the lives of Brendan, Columba and Columbanus, three “wanders of Christ” who traveled to America, Iona, and Europe. An incredibly well written and enlightening book. One of the best.

Exploring Celtic Spirituality, 2004, Ray Simpson. Written by the former warden of Lindisfarne. This book provides a Celtic blueprint for the church today. Provides a unique blending of background information, but also very practical lessons as to how the Celtic tradition can be implemented. A study guide is included with exercises, follow up suggestions, Bible study for both individuals and groups.

The Wisdom of the Celtic Saints, 2006, Ed Sellner. Another excellent starting point for the beginner. Sellner’s beautifully illustrated book (filled with wonderful maps and pictures) contains perhaps the best short introduction to Celtic thought I have read. The first 60 pages are fantastic, and the prolegomena for Celtic studies.

Enjoy and happy reading!

A Celtic Church near you!

There are many different branches of the Celtic Church throughout the world. Just try Goggling Celtic Church and see how many entries there are! It's amazing, and evidence that people from all over the world are attracted to Celtic Christianity and Spirituality.

One person, Fr. Mike, has nobly begun the effort to try to create an online directory of Celtic Churches. No easy task as there are several Celtic denominations. In addition, we  Celts have always been the wandering type, so this task is probably the equivalent of trying to heard cats. The list is just forming, and its quite fascinating to see there are churches as far away as Brazil and South East Asia, and as close as California, Washington State, West Virginia, Minnesota and Kentucky. Here's the link here and feel free to add your church or denomination.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Celtic Miracle

Ever heard of the psychological term "synchronicity"? It's a term (usually heard from the lips of the followers of Carl Jung) which is their way of saying "everything happens for a reason". Something like this happened to me last week when I was flying from Newark NJ to Washington D.C. I was reading The Mountain Behind the Mountain (1993) a book on Celtic Spirituality by my old professor at the University of Edinburgh, Fr. Noel O'Donoghue. Along the way, I heard the person behind me speaking about the history of Ireland. When we were deplaneing, I turned to this individual, and said, "I heard you speaking about Ireland, and wanted to know if you've ever read this book?" and handed him Fr. Noel's book. He replied, "read it, I knew Fr. Noel!". And then he said, "Hello, my name is David Stang".

David and I met a week later in a local Irish bar (hence the dark photo), where we sipped some Guinness, eat fish and chips, laughed, spoke about Celtic Spirituality and history, and people we knew in common. As it turns out, David is a scholar on the Celtic tradition, and has also written a book on Celtic Spirituality, Emerald Spirit (2003) which is subtitled as "A Journey into the Irish Heart and Soul", and is published in Ireland. I'll also write a review of that book later upon returning to Hawaii. David also generously shared with me some essays he had written on the history of the Irish and St. Patrick. I later read these with great interest and was particularly impressed with both the scholarship and ability of David to tell a good story, just what you would expect for a good Celt. David "knows" Ireland, has a home in Kerry, and proudly states he has lived there "sixteen years in all".

I share this story, because I too believe that everything in life, good and bad, serve some kind of divine purpose. Everything does happen for a purpose. It's fascinating to note, that in speaking with David, he shared with me some recent "Celtic miracles" in his life, and I enjoyed hearing these. And at the same time as David was speaking, I realiaaed that I too was experiencing my own "Celtic miracle" in meeting David, having friends in common, and later, having the opportunity to speak with him further, and in developing a new friendship. Yet this phenomena is not something that should be strange to us in the Celtic tradition. The notion of welcoming the stranger, is central to Celtic Spirituality. I thought back to the lives of the many Celtic saints who practiced "welcoming" and thought of St. Cuthbert and remembered how he welcomed strangers, and in so doing, entertained angels unaware. These saints of old were onto something. I am a better person for going out of my way (and getting out of self) to say "hello" to a "stranger". I have also met someone who can teach me something more about a tradition I love.

This is the way our God works-through people, and through relationships, even when we least expect it. If we have the eyes to "see" this way, each moment, each event can open up rich and new possibilities. Change never comes easy, and I have to confess that I am one of those types who always looked for the big splash or Damascus Road experience.  But that's both bad theology and not realistic! We should know from the Carmina Gadelica, that great collection of traditional Celtic prayers and blessings, that miracles surround us each day; in the rising and setting of the sun, in our daily chores, the breathe we take, the simple act of eating food, and the presence of others around us. Fr. Noel was right and used to say with a twinkle in his eyes, "miracles are everywhere"!

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Gathering of the Clans

Each Fall, for the past five years, my three brothers and I get together to do something with our ninety year old father. On three of those ocassions, we have decided to attend an Ohio State football game-an easy decision, as my father and the rest of us, are all Buckeye fans. Two of those games were between Ohio State and it's bitter rival, "that team up North", the University of Michigan. This year we took the opportunity to attend the game with Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania. And as fate would have it, it was the best game that Ohio State has played this season. Both offensively, and defensively, it was a convincing win for the Bucks. If they win their next two games (against Iowa and Michigan) they will win the Big 10 conference outright, and for the fifth year in a row. For those of you who want to watch highlights of the game from Youtube, click here.

These games are always a "spectacle". There are lots of events both before and after the game. Before, there are "pep" rallies, where thousands gather, fans cheer, and allow their emotions get whipped up by the University bands. (This is easily done if you have also attended that University). Usually both players and the head coach have something to say to the gathered faithful, and the night become the game, we even got to hear the legendary coach of Penn State, Joe Paterno, speak. Then it's off to the game itself, in a large oval stadium, filled the team colors below, and deep blue sky above. And the energy and enthusiam of the stadium is electric. Every heard 110,000 people scream all at once?

What makes these games tribal is that fans on each team where their colors proud. For us fans of the Ohio State University, we wear scarlet and gray, or scarlet and something! And for Penn State, the colors are blue and white. There's something extra special about going to an away game and being in the minority. One tee shirt I saw put it well. It said "Don't be scared, I just invited 100,000 of my friends to the party today". As a result, one tends to look out for other people wearing scarlet and gray, whom you can easily bond with, as if they were new family members, or old friends. And that familiar code like cheer, "OH"  followed by an "IO" sounds extra sweet behind enemy lines. In the stadium itself, one is reminded again of our tiny minority as we few scarlet and gray spots, are engulfed in a sea of blue and white. And what makes it even greater, are the local gracious fans, who say "Good luck today", even though they don't mean it, and then ask to have a photo taken with you, as if it were some great Detente!

In my imagination's eye, I compared the wearing of the colors, that I and my brothers, and other Ohio State fans were wearing, to the tartans from Scottish clans of old. We represented the different clans from across the area who were their to support the Ohio State football team. And like the Scots of yesterday and today, we like to sing. So throughout the game, we OSU fans sing sections from "Fight the Team", "Across the Field", and "Carmen, Ohio".  As I age, I look forward to these rituals, these traditions, these gatherings. They are fun and meaningful. They remind me that I am part of several different families. Not just the Ohio State family, but also my own family, and the family of man. These events remind me that it's a good thing to be part of a group, to feel like you belong, and to remember one's roots.

I look forward to our trip again next year!

Go Bucks!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Celtic Rule of Life

The community of Aidan and Hilda is a dispersed, ecumenical body of Christians who seek to cradle a Christian spirituality for today that renews the church and heals the land. It welcomes people of all backgrounds and countries who wish to be wholly available to the Holy Trinity, and to the way of Jesus as revealed to us in the Bible. In the earthing of that commitment, members draw inspiration from Celtic saints such as Aidan and Hilda. Members follow a Way of Life, with a soul friend, based on a rhythm of prayer and study, simplicity, care for creation and mission; and they seek to weave together the separated strans of Christianity. The work of the Community is the work of each member. There is no ready-made community on one's doorstep. Co-unity with other members is rooted in the knowledge that they follow the Community's Way and that this reflects their deepest calling.
                     Introducing The Community of Aidan and Hilda

So opens the Rule of the Community of Aidan and Hilda. I have been rereading and reflecting over the Rule for the past few days. In my opinion, this document is one that every Celtic Christian should read, refer to regularly throughout the year, and attempt to one's best to put into practice. For these reasons, I have created a link to this Community on the front page of this blog and also here.

Rules of life are not a new thing, especially with the history of the Church. And in the long history of the church there have been dozens, and some are more famous than others. As I write this entry, I recall several famous Rules of life including the Benedictine (the most famous Rule of all), as well as the Franciscan, Domincan, and Augustinian. The Celts, true to form, developed a Rule of life themselves, and the most famous Celtic Monastic Rule was that of St. Columbanus (c. 550-615) who wrote the Regula Monachorum and Regula coenobialis. You can read translations of these in Celtic Spirituality (1999) from the Classics of Western Spirituality series, or through the links on the front page. These are worthwhile from a historical and theological perspective, however they seem very extreme for today's world.  That is not to say that a Rule of life is invaluable. On the contrary, a Rule is valuable because it helps keeps one focused in one's Christian experience. A rule helps to keep one "centered" on what is really important as the secular world and culture in which we live, seek to distract, and in truth, entertain. A Rule provides "rules" in the best sense of that term, and helps remind us of "first things", and of what is really important in life. I have experienced this truth in another setting. As a substance abuse counselor, I have noted how those who genuinely follow "the program" and seek to apply its principles, are those who typically remain sober. What to have a positive spiritual experience? Begin practicing one of the great Christian Rules of life!

Let me recommend the Rule of the Community of Aidan and Hilda. What else would you expect from a Celtic blog?  First, let me provide a brief overview of the Rule, which includes ten elements. These themes include; study and application of the Celtic Christian Way; the Anamchara or "Soul Friend"; a daily rhythm of prayer, work, and rest; intercessory Prayer; simplicity of Lifestyle; care for and affirmation of Creation; wholeness not fagmentation; opnness to the Wind of the Spirit; unty and Community; and mission.

The danger to any religious practice is to become overfocused on one element or persepctive. A Rule is a gentle reminder that spirituality is multi-demensional and affects every aspect of life's experience. A Rule helps to keep us whole, as well as holy. And perhaps most importantly in our culture of instant gratification, we are reminded that the "good things" in life such as true love or spiritual depth neither happen overnight or quickly. Rather, as one of my spiritual directors used to remind me, "the mill of God grinds exceedingly slow, but they grind exceedingly fine". True spirituality does not take place overnight. Rather, it is something which requires practice and experimentation, and is a goal, a destination which takes all of one's life. What else would you expect from a relationship with God?

We live in a time of spiritual fads and counterfits, replete with all kinds of false promises.One of the helpful things of the Celtic spiritual experience, is it's time tested ways. People have been practicing it's Rule of life for centuries, and with successful results. Today too, we need a Rule of life, which helps give shape and wholeness to our Christian experience, preventing us from being one dimensional Christians. Each of us would do well to begin following the Rule from Aidan and Hilda.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Importance of Rituals

This past week I had the priviledge of attending a change of command ceremony at Camp Smith here in Hawaii. I had heard of these before, but never had been to one. "WOW" is all I can say! What a spectacle! The event was tremendously moving, full of dignity, pagentry and fascinating ritual. As a civilian, and citizen, the ceremony made me proud of our country, and gave me "chicken skin" as we say in Hawaii. Honored guests included the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the outcoming and incoming Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Command. The Governor and also the Mayor of Hawaii also attended. The event also included a twenty one gun salute, and music by one of the military bands. Jim Nabors (aka Gomer Pyle) sang the national anthem.  I was priviledged to be the guest of Alan Kellogg, Sgt. Major (Ret) and also Medal of Honor recipient. Here's a picture of  those two famous Marines, Alan and Jim Nabors, and check out Alan's Wikipedia article which is linked here. 

The ceremony reminded me of just how important rituals and symbols are in our lives. The symbols of our flag, or military uniform, or military  music, connect us with something important of the past. These symbols remind us of our nation's history, and of our past sacrifices and struggles. And as the ceremony took place, I thought back on the history which surrounded Camp Smith, and of all that had gone before. And, I also thought of what person would be in the exact spot where I was sitting, two years from now when another change of command takes place.

The symbols and rituals of our Christian faith are important as well. And from a laymen's perspective, I would say they remind us of God's ever presence, love, and commitment to us. The symbols surrounding the Mass, or Eucharist, and Baptism, take us back, help us "remember" the great love demonstrated to us in Christ. And this is a message we need to hear and see both in spoken word, and in the great symbols of the Church. In addition, our Celtic tradition, full of pagentry help us to recall the lives and sacrifies of its many saints, who can continue to inspire us today, and to live lives of passion and self-sacrifice. These saints, as do the high Celtic crosses, and primitive structure of Gallarus Oratory, remind us that the past can still speak powerfully to us today.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pictures from St. Aidan's Mission Church

Here are some photos from a typical Sunday at St. Aidan's Mission Church. We are blessed to be centrally located in downtown Honolulu, Hawaii. We have a traditional worship service at 1pm in Parke Chapel, which is part of St. Andrews Episcopal Cathedral, a ministry by the way, which has been taking place for over twenty years. After the service, there is also a feeding ministry, which attracts anywhere from 200-300 people each Sunday.  St. Aidan's has a diverse population, including the homeless, and mentally ill. St. Aidan's also reaches out to some of Hawaii's newest arrivals, Micronesians from Chuuk, who love to sing, and whose joy and energy make a vital contriubution to our ministry. We have over one hundred active volunteers from local churches and groups,  regularly come to assist us in our work.

You are most welcome to come, participate, serve, and join our ministry of God's presence and reconciliation.

Blessed Damien

You can't go far in Hawaii without seeing some mention of Fr. Damien these days. In fact, not far from St. Aidan's Mission Chruch, a life size statue of Damien stands in front of the Hawaii Capital, gazing on all passerbys. Hawaii’s patron saint, and perhaps most famous resident, has been in the news due to the Vatican’s decision to elevate his status to that of "saint". Such a rare and beautiful occasion warrants a brief discussion of Damien’s life, and the meaning of "saint".

Damien came from a large Catholic family from Belgium. He and another sibling both decided to enter the priesthood. While in seminary, he fervently prayed before a picture of St. Francis Xavier (the patron saint of mission) that he would become a missionary. Three years later, Damien's prayers were answered. His religious order, the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, had a presence in Hawaii and Damien went forward in faith and arrived in Honolulu harbor in 1864. Shortly after, he was ordained priest at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace.

Damien originally began work on the Big Island, but when a series of diseases broke out, including leprosy (Hansen’s disease), and the lepers were sent to the Island of Molokai, he volunteered to join the community. He arrived in 1873, and joined the community of 819 lepers, and on his first night, slept outside under a Pandanus tree. Seventeen years later, he was buried at the same spot, and under the same tree. At Kalaupapa, Damien’s pastoral and administrative gifts flourished. His first act was to build St. Philomina’s parish church, and which still exists today. I have often looked down on it, far above on a nearby wind swept hill. Damien also built up the community, improving the homes where people lived, built schools, and developed the land. Each of these tasks was difficult, and life was not easy there. In addition, Damien tended to his people’s wounds, and often built the coffins his parishioners were later buried in. Few positions other than priest, could have placed him closer to people. Sixteen years into his work, Damien finally succumbed to leprosy and died. He had written earlier to his brother:

"I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ".

Because of Damien's tireless love, and self giving, he is surely one of the great models of holiness and service in today's world.

Just a few words on the term "saints". Clearly, there are certain people in the spiritual life who are able to open themselves in fuller ways than others. And Damien, as well as many of the Celtic saints, were people such as these. We are fortunate to have Damien and others who can guide us along the way. One pitfall, however, is to place these "holy" persons on a pedestal and then project many of our spiritual deficiencies upon them. This need not be so. We need to remember that they were human beings like us as well. We can and should use these people as our guides and to inspire us to greater holiness and acts of charity. And, in learning about their lives, we may learn a principle or holy habit which can also enhance our spiritual lives. For instance in Damien, we can learn the importance of persistence in one’s prayers. And not vague prayers, but specific prayers. In so doing, we are reminded that we are all "saints" in God’s eyes. Blessed Damien. Blessed you. Blessed me. Blessed be.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Celtic Daily Prayer

The essence of Celtic Spirituality is a heart wide open to God in every person, in all the world. It is to do with crossing frontiers, not erecting barriers,. It goes so deep that, without losing what is distinctive, it becomes universal.
Ray Simpson, Guardian of the Community of Aidan and Hilda

A main theme of this blog is how one stays spiritually alive, empowered, and connected. This is not easy in a world which stresses the material and is at its heart secular. And specifically, how does the Celtic connection help in this task? In one sense, learning from the experience of others can be useful. And here, the lives and writings of those who have gone before us can help. We can learn something from their struggles and the themes of many of the Celtic writers; that is part of their charm and attraction. One way to discover the beauty of Celtic Spirituality is to acquaint oneself with its many writers and saints. As they say, the proof is in the pudding! An easy way to do this on a daily basis, is to purchase one of the many Celtic devotionals. There are many books in this category, and here I will review two popular devotional books.

Celtic Daily Prayer, which Richard Foster called one "of the best contemporary prayer books available" contains readings and prayers from the Northumbria Community. The Northumbria Community is located in Northern England and seeks to practice Celtic Chrisitianity in the modern world. (A link to the Northumbria Community is found on the opening page of the blog.) The Community has many useful resources and the serious Celtic Christian will find it worthwhile to learn more about the Community and its practices. Celtic Daily Prayer can be used in multiple ways. There is a daily office, useful liturgies such as holy communion liturgy and family shabbat. Then follows a list of saints' days and festivals. This is followed by a list of daily readings and meditations. It's a book that constantly surprizes, and I have often used sections and readings in worship with good feedback. It's a little pricey, but it's easy to pick up a used copy on Amazon or Abebooks.

Another excellent devotional resource, and more focused book, is Ray Simpson's Celtic Daily Light. Ray is the Guardian of the Community of Aidan and Hilda (also linked on the front page of the blog). And again, this is a Community which also has many useful Celtic resources and links. The book contains daily readings on Celtic Spirituality, taken from many Celtic saints, and others who are soulfriends in spirit. For example today's reading is on the theme of dependency. Simpson writes;

"Celtic Christianity spawned close fellowships and delighful friendships, but it did not spawn dependency. If someone wanted to enter a monastery (and sometimes these became the only safe and decent places around) they had to wait outside for days. They had to show that they could take responsibility for their food, sleep and time, that they could make their own decisions and that they could work hard".

There are useful insights and lessons on each page. The readings always provide something useful to both question and ponder. I ordered my copy from Lindisfarne, but I am happy to see that copies are also available at Amazon. Both books have much to offer the person interested in Celtic Spirituality. I'm sure there are many other books where one could start. Nevertheless, this is a great place to start, and the money on these books is well spent. I commonly zig zag back and forth between them, and almost always find something new and interesting. Both books offer a wonderful way to stay focused and spiritual during the day. More importantly, they remind us of the depth, beauty, and inspiration found in Celtic Christianity.

Continuing Education

I don't know about your job, but at mine, I'm required to take part in "continuing education". In fact, several of my clinical certifications require 40-50 hours per year, so it's pretty much a given- it has to get done. One of the factors I appreciate most about Celtic Spirituality, was the monks love for learning. Learning for them was life long, and ongoing. They were not "one and done" folks; rather they were steeped in the classics. No wonder that many of the monks were sought out as teachers. St. Thomas was able to mine the gold of Aristotle because he had a Celtic monk who taught him Greek. The monastic communities at Iona and Lindisfarne were great places of learning, where the writings of the Greeks and Romans, as well as Christian and Church Fathers were all studied, argued and appreciated.

In our busy world today, how can one continue to learn? One cost effective and efficient way is through the products of The Learning Company. The Learning Company offer courses in both CD or DVD's on the Old and New Testament, Christian Theology, the Church Fathers, Biblical Studies and Mysticism, and many other subjects. Courses are taught by recognized scholars (for instance several Biblical Studies courses are taught by New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson) and include lecture notes and bibliography. Depending on which media you buy, you can either listen to lectures on your way to work, or watch them at home. Either way, you use your time wisely, and learn to boot! There are dozens of courses offered, and each month several of the courses go on sale. I have several of the theology and history courses and have enjoyed them all. There is a total of 56 different courses.
Here are some titles which may interest you:

The Catholic Church: A History
Popes and the Papacy: A History
The History of the Bible: The Making of the New Testament Canon
Old Testament: Beginnings of Judiasm
The Story of the Bible
Jesus and the Gospels
Great World Religions
Lost Christianities: Christian Scripture and the Battles over Authentication
From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity
After the New Testament: The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers
Augustine: Philosoper and Saint
St. Augustine's Confessions
The Lives of Great Christians (which includes St. Patrick, The Desert Fathers and Mothers)
The History of Christian Theology
Biblical Wisdom Literature
Mystical Tradition: Judaism, Christianity, Islam
Early Christianity: The Experience of the Divine
The Apostle Paul
Francis of Assisi
Philosophy and Religion in the West
Reason and Faith: Philosophy in the Middle Ages
History of Christianity in the Reformation Era
Luther: Gospel, Law and Reform
Life and Writings of C.S. Lewis
Jewish Intellectual History: 16th to 20th Century.

Perhaps in the future there will be a course on Celtic Spirituality. In the meantime, you can soak up courses in Theology, Philosophy, and History and a link to The Teaching Company website is provided here.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Finding the Monk Within

"By studying the history of monasticism and its great heroes we come to realize that, for the Christian, much of what we call "monastic" is purely and simply what being a follower of Christ is all about, and that being a monk, whether inside monastic enclosures or outside "in the world" is simply becoming the sort of person everyone ought to be, a person which unites action and contemplation in the care of souls."
                                                                           Ed Sellner

Ed Sellner is one of my favorite writers on Celtic Christianity. Then again, I'm biased as he is also a personal friend. Even so, if you want to understand something of the magic and attraction of Celtic Christianity and spirituality, Ed's books are a great place to start. Each is thoroughly researched, a joy to read, and wonderfully presented. I was first introduced to Ed's books, when I had to read The Wisdom of the Celtic Saints as part of my seminary training. Then, I knew little of Celtic Christianity, but I remember a "heart strangely warm" kind of experience as I began reading the book. The opening chapter is one of the clearest and succient introductions to Celtic Christianity that I have ever read. I'll write a seperate post on The Wisdom of the Celtic Saints and some of Ed's other books later, so stay tuned.

Finding the Monk Within, was published in 2008. And like Ed's other books, it does not disappoint. Finding the Monk Within demonstrates the enduring value of monasticism. The chapters discuss how "monastic values", specificially certain tastes and values, have helped shape many of the great church figures, movements in the history of the church, and can do so again today.

Sellner argues as other have, that we live in a culture which works against silence, relfection, and inner wisdom. The endless cultural stress on shopping and commercials, mask a deep loneliness and emptiness. Monasticism, and specifically many of the practices of monasticism, can help one develop an inner life and point a positive way forward. One does not have to join a monastery to learn these principles. We can learn by looking to the past where certain monastic figures had a different approach to life, a different perspective, and a different set of values than the mainstream culture. They are important models for us today.

It's an impressive list of personalities that Sellner writes about, and frankly I learned something new about each of the figures presented. Athanasius taught the values of sharing stories, and that one does not have to be a monk to live monastic values. Antony of Egypt emphasised the value of silence and solitude, and how these can foster discernment. Hilary of Portiers and Martin of Tours reminds us of the value of faith, and its communal dimension. Augustine and Monica remind us of the importance of friendship, and that God can reveal Himself in our passions. From Jerome, Paula, and Eustochium, we learn of the need for qualified spiritual mentors and guides. And from John Cassian and the Desert Elders, we learn the importance of confession and sharing our secrets. Briget of Kildare teaches us to have compassion in our ministries. Gregory the Great, Benedict and Scholastica, remind of us of integrating contemplation in our daily lives. Bernard of Clairvaux recommends that we reflect on our personal experiences, using the book of our lives, and book of our hearts.

Finding the Monk Within is a book that deserves to be read by many for both its timely message and simply practicality. Want to learn how others have tried to develop a deep spirituality? Then this book is for you. In addition, Celtic readers will enjoy reading the section on Bridgit of Kildare, and her efforts to bring about double monasteries for both sexes. The book offers a hopeful message which challenges the monk is us all to work on our inner life, and also to develop an asceticm of loving. Such a commitment involves self knowledge, self discipline, and a healthy love of self. Some may be called to enter the cloister, but most will be called to live out their lives in the world.

Any Given Sunday

Every Sunday, for the past twenty years, there has been a vital, vibrant ministry for homeless people at Parke Chapel, St. Andrews Cathedral, in downtown Honolulu, Hawaii. The eucharist service, and feeding ministry, is sponsored by St. Aidan's Mission Church.

The secret to it's success is that many are involved. There are over one hundred volunteers from different churches and faith based groups. Different agencies, such as The Hawaiian Hilton, and Aloha Harvest, donate food. The Episcopal Church of Hawaii has graciously allowed St. Aidan's, Celtic Catholic Church, to use its chapel and kitchen. Members include some of the State's most vulnerable; the homeless, mentally ill, and a growing number of islands newest residents, the Micronesians. The Celtic Mass includes music, Celtic readings, Scriptures readings, some even in Chuukese, and sermon.

The feeding program following the service, cares for two to three hundred people each Sunday, and the numbers are growing with the worsening economic climate. Each Sunday, new faces appear, but no one is ever turned away.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Voyage of St. Brendan

One of the most appealing aspects of Celtic Christianity, are the lives of its many, and I mean "many" saints. This in itself says something positive in the way it transformed all kinds of people. Reading hagiography (holy biographies) does not come naturally for someone with a Protestant background. Then again, they are not much different than the genre of Foxe's Book of Martyrs. And I feel better for reading these accounts of Celtic holy men and women. Their stories and adventures have stuck with me through the years.

I fell in love with the story of Brendan, when I first read The Voyage of St. Brendan seven years ago. The Navigatio Sancti Brendani, I love that Latin title, was one of the most popular books of the Middle Ages. And with good reason. The book is an adventure tale, as Brendan was regarded as one of the world's great travelers. It's both fun and entertaining to read, and borders on fantasy literature. The story describes Brendan's journey in search of the "Promised Land of the Saints". The book details several of Brendan's voyages, which take him far past the comfortable environs of Ireland. Sections describe volcanoes, icebergs and encounters with great sea monsters. One tale includes an Easter spent on the back of a whale. Jonah would be jealous. So would Sinbad. Some even suggest Brendan got as far as the New World in his tiny coracle. Think of it, instead of Columbus Day (which is coming up this Monday) it could have been St. Brendan's Day.

Like many of the Celts, wanderlust was in Brendan's viens. Ironically, Brendan had been inspired on his voyages by the Desert Fathers, yet he sought "a desert in the ocean". He wanted to travel for God, and from an early age desired to travel far from his home, a practice common to the Celts known as "white marytrdom". In leaving what was familiar and going wherever the Spirit dictated, Brendan found God anew, over and over agan. Brendan should be the parton saint of adventure. He knew, long before us moderns, that the most important part of the journey is not the destination, but the journey itself.

"Is not the Lord our captain and helmsman?
Then leave it to Him to direct us where He wills."
St. Brendan

God's Waiting Room

A few days ago, I was asked to speak to a group of seniors about Celtic Christianity. It was at a local retirement home, and as I got out of my car, I was struck how beautiful a place it really was. A large, well kept, high story building, surrounded by beautiful tropical plants and gardens. Serenity! Retirement homes are one of the few places I can go to and still feel like a youngster at fifty some years of age. Even so, I was impressed with the youthful spirit I encountered in several of the residents. One woman sang some familiar hymns and another resident remarked with a twinkle in his eye, he felt he was in "God’s waiting room".

We sat in a circle, and I provided a simple outline of some the major themes in Celtic Christianity; some of the history, the emphasis on desert spirituality, the importance of nature, a passion for mysticism, the tendency to live on the fringes and edges of culture. Folks wanted to speak about their connection with nature. Again and again I heard persons say in different ways how Nature was important to them, and as real as the person sitting next to you. As the microphone was passed around, one woman remarked how moved she is when she sees the beauty of the Hawaiian ocean and coral. Another person spoke of the magnificent sunrises and sunsets she sees from her window. Another felt a connection to the birds around her apartment, and as she spoke, I pictured her rising up early each morning to feed her favorites birds, her "companions". I was moved by these simple stories, and impressed by the deep and simple joy which came from the sun, the ocean, the birds and flowers. After the presentation, one of the attendees invited me to see the chapel, the St. Francis chapel, which was filled with plants, small fountain, and small statue of the monk himself. Perhaps this was "God's waiting room".

As I was leaving the complex, I realized what a vivid contrast this presented to our world of gadgets, tech toys, Facebook and Twitter! I recalled a couplet I learned as a young undergraduate in one of my English classes:

"What a pity, in a life full of care.
That no one has time, to stand and to stare"