Sunday, November 22, 2009

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.

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