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.