Thursday, December 16, 2010

Prayers from the heart

I want to bring some "balance" to the blog today. Often I'll go off, or be asked to discuss some of the intellectual aspects of Celtic spirituality-something I enjoy doing I might add. But Celtic Christianity is more than that, much more than that. There is also a strong mystical, inner component which I want to say something about today.

Tonight I found myself thumbing through the Carmina Gadelica (1901) which is Latin for Charms of the Gaels, a book which contains hymns and incantation from the Hebrides of Scotland. The story how these prayers and sayings were collected is fascinating. A civil servant, Alexander Carmichael, gathered these prayers from locals as he went about collecting exise tax. That a person in a position of power was able to gain the trust of locals, is well, astonishing. Who ever wants to speak with the tax man? And in another way, it shows how God can use ordinary people and events to do something magnificent.

And what a treasure one finds when one opens the book! It's like going back in time! There are prayers and sayings from almost every imaginable event in life; working, playing, milking the cows, and tending the fire. And if you're anything like me, you'll find yourself asking "how come I'm not praying at every turn like these folks?" I specifically love the prayers to the "God of Nature" or "Lord of the Elements" but I want to focus on a different kind of prayers today. These prayers might be classified as invocations.

Let me quote from entry 27,  "Come I this day":

"Come I this day to the Father,
Come I thing day to the Son,
Come I to the Holy Spirit powerful;
Come I this day with God,
Come I this day with Christ,
Come I with the Spirit of kindly balm.

God, and Spirit, and Jesus,
From the crown of my head
To the soles of my feet;
Come I with my reputation,
Come I with my testimony,
Come I to Thee, Jesu;
Jesu, shelter me."

I love these prayers! I love this book! Many people have written about the Celtic practice of "caiming" or encircling prayers, where one requests blessing or protection "around" another person. There is something like that going on here. What is unique about this prayer, is that the person is praying for their own protection. The person is dedicating themselves to God afresh that day, and reminding themselves that God is already present in their life and body. And once having this squared away, well, we can handle whatever the day throws our way.

Linking prayers to our body is not something we normally do in the West, but it is something that many do in the contemplative tradition. And that's the point I'm trying to make. Prayer can include BOTH body and mind. And repeating this prayer to myself, I can see myself focusing on mental images, on my breath, and also my body, from head to toes., and feeling pretty darn good I might add! There's completeness (hello circle!) in prayer like this. And there's also harmony in mind and body. And when we experience these positive feelings in prayer, our spiritual lives are renewed and we're ready to go.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

One stop shop for Celtic Spirituality

"Let us adore the Lord,
Maker of marvelous works,
Bright heaven with its angels,
And on earth the white-waved ocean"

"The Lord of Creation" (Ninth-Century Irish Poem)

I'm often asked where to begin one's investigation of Celtic Christianity. Today's blog entry happily tackles that question. One of the best places to start is Celtic Spirituality (1999) from the Classics of Western Spirituality series.

This book literally has it all! It's a one-stop shop of original texts which also includes an excellent essay introducing Celtic Spirituality. The latter is worth the price of the book. The work is a collaboration of Celtic scholars James Mackey, Oliver Davies and Thomas O'Loughlin. And with these heavy hitters, the book delivers.

Celtic Spirituality is neatly divided into several sections, highlighting different aspects of the rich and varied Celtic tradition. It's a Celtic smorgasbord (forgive the close reference to those Vikings) so the reader never gets bored. The hagiograhpy section introduces the reader to the traditions of Patrick, Brigit, Brendan, David, Beuno, and Melangell. What great people these are. Then the book turns to key monastic texts such as the Preface of Gildas on Penance, the Penitential of Cummean, and the Rule for Monks by Columbanus. You will learn just how rugged and difficult the life of the Celtic monk was, and it will wipe away many romantic notions. Another section includes a wide range of Irish and Welsh poetry. There are also devotional texts, liturgies, apocrypha, exegesis and homilies. My favorite section was the theology chapter which includes writings by Pelagius, Columba and John Scottus Eriugena.

The survey of texts is magnificent! For Celtic lovers this volume is a keeper and not to be missed. There is so much "good stuff" inside, you will find yourself returning to Celtic Spirituality again and again with joy and delight. If you could only have one volume on Celtic Christianity and spirituality on your bookshelf, this may well be the one. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Celtic things. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Celtic gifts

The rainy weekend has allowed me to hang out at home and provided me with some additional "quiet times".  We're in the middle of Advent, racing towards Christmas, so I welcome the extra time to sit back and reflect. I love these kinds of days as they remind me of my days in Britain.

One of the many features I appreciate about Celtic Christianity is it's meditative, reflective side. These quiet roots of course, extend back to the monastic fathers and the desert tradition which reached it full potential in Anthony. But Celtic spirituality is more than that, it offers a sensual three dimensional spirituality which many find fulfulling. 

I'd like to take a minute and highlight three books by Robert Van De Weyer, and Anglican priest who lives in Britain. Celtic Prayers (1997), Celtic Praise (1998), and Celtic Parables (1999), are an eye-popping introduction to a Celtic point of view regarding prayer and praise. These are beautifully illustrated books which contain wonderful pictures, drawings, and stories of the Celtic saints. Reading these books-and praying the prayers as well-you will learn a different perspective. And that after all is one of the main purposes of prayer and praise, finding a different voice and way of interpreting one's experience.

Take for example a Celtic prayer regarding sea and sky. We are reminded that God lives in this world and is part of the Creation:

I am the wind that breathes upon the sea,
I am the wave on the ocean,
I am the murmur of leaves rustling,
I am the rays of the sun,
I am the beam of the moon and stars,
I am the power of the trees growing,
I am the bud breaking into blossom,
I am the movement of the salmon swimming,
I am the courage of the wild boar fighting,
I am the speed of the stag running,
I am the strength of the ox pulling the plow,
I am the the size of the mighty oak tree,
And I am the thoughts of all people
Who praise my beauty and grace.

This is great stuff, great images which reminds us that God is the source of life in all things. Reading these books reminds me that often I am too scientific and one dimensional in my prayers. Rereading the prayer above makes me feel and understand that the Lord God is Lord of all Creation. These books will gently remind you that your view of God is probably too small. They will encourage you to see the world and others differently. They will breathe life into your dry bones. 

Let me also share something from Celtic Praise. Here is a fragment called "Welcome Sunday":

Welcome Sunday, I love this day.
The day our Lord rose to life,
A day of joy and rest,
A day to laugh with family and friends,
A day to play with children,
A day to enjoy the beauty of Nature,
A day to sit at home by the fire,
A day to tell the stories of old,
A day to sing and to dance,
A day to worship the God who made us,
A day to give thanks for all his blessings.

The Celtic perspective reminds us that all of life's experiences are enjoyed, cherished and treasured. Moreover, this is an earthly, human based spirituality which appreciates all of the senses. And perhaps for just this reason, a mind centered spirituality felt threatened and inadequate.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Rule of Columba

This is a follow up to yesterday's blog article. As I was thumbing through Celtic Christianity Ecology and Holiness, I noted one of the entries included the Rule of Columba. The Rule of Columba is a famous rule, especially in Celtic studies. That got me to thinking today, and I realized how important it would be in a blog like this, to include it, and provide some commentary. After all, the Rule represents one of the great Celtic contributions to monastic Christianity, which we have seen was a major force in helping to transform a pagan Europe. So here then is the Rule (drumroll):

Be alone in a separate place near a chief city, if thy conscience is not prepared to be in common with the crowd.

Be always naked in imitation of Christ and the Evangelists.

Whatsoever little or much thou possessest of anything, whether clothing, or food, or drink, let it be at the command of the senior and at his disposal, for it is not befitting a religious to have any distinction of property with his own free brother.

Let a fast place, with one door, enclose thee.

A few religious men to converse with thee of God and his Testament; to visit thee on days of solemnity; to strengthen thee in the Testaments of God, and the narratives of the Scriptures.

A person too who would talk with thee in idle words, or of the world; or who murmurs at what he cannot remedy or prevent, but who would distress thee more should he be a tattler between friends and foes, thou shalt not admit him to thee, but at once give him thy benediction should he deserve it.

Let thy servant be a discreet, religious, not tale-telling man, who is to attend continually on thee, with moderate labour of course, but always ready.

Yield submission to every rule that is of devotion.

A mind prepared for red martyrdom [that is death for the faith].

A mind fortified and steadfast for white martyrdom. [that is ascetic practices] Forgiveness from the heart of every one.

Constant prayers for those who trouble thee.

Fervour in singing the office for the dead, as if every faithful dead was a particular friend of thine.

Hymns for souls to be sung standing.

Let thy vigils be constant from eve to eve, under the direction of another person.

Three labours in the day, viz., prayers, work, and reading.

The work to be divided into three parts, viz., thine own work, and the work of thy place, as regards its real wants; secondly, thy share of the brethen's [work]; lastly, to help the neighbours, viz., by instruction or writing, or sewing garments, or whatever labour they may be in want of, ut Dominus ait, "Non apparebis ante Me vacuus [as the Lord says, "You shall not appear before me empty."].

Everything in its proper order; Nemo enim coronabitur nisi qui legitime certaverit. [For no one is crowned except he who has striven lawfully.]

Follow alms-giving before all things.

Take not of food till thou art hungry.

Sleep not till thou feelest desire.

Speak not except on business.

Every increase which comes to thee in lawful meals, or in wearing apparel, give it for pity to the brethren that want it, or to the poor in like manner.

The love of God with all thy heart and all thy strength;

The love of thy neighbour as thyself.

Abide in the Testament of God throughout all times.

Thy measure of prayer shall be until thy tears come;

Or thy measure of work of labour till thy tears come;

Or thy measure of thy work of labour, or of thy genuflexions, until thy perspiration often comes, if thy tears are not free.

Just a few observations. First, the Rule is short enough that the monks could easily have memorized it. This would have been "easy" when one considers monks were urged to memorize all 150 of the Psalms! There's a mental challange for you.

Second, note how the rule stresses simplicity of life. No wonder that St. Francis would find inspiration for the Celtic monks who helped shape his outlook on life.

Third, note the emphasis on pilgrimage, the stress on journey in one's faith. As I have remarked in previous blog articles, this is one of the distinctive feature of Celtic Christianity.

I also love the phrase "Everything in its proper order."  It's almost as if the Rule is allowing for all the crazy curves, and ups and downs, which comes ones way. This is the "everything else" file, or "other duties as indicated". The Celts were no dummies, nor were they fundamentalists. They understood that life was full of gray areas, ambiguities, and that these "spaces", were as important as the rest. This is a Rule which is both strict and flexible.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Celtic Christianity Ecology and Holiness

"the British Church has always represented an ideal for those who have known of it, and not simply as a Golden Age of innocence and purity which in the words of Nora Chadwick, has "never been surpassed and perhaps been equalled only by the ascetics of the eastern deserts, " but also, and more importantly, as an alternative seed, "a light from the west," perhaps obscure and even alien, but nevertheless powerful and true with the kind of reality we seem to need today." (pg. 9-10).

Celtic Christianity Ecology and Holiness (1982) was given to me by a friend and I never really looked at it till this morning. And how pleasantly surprized I was! It's not like anything I thought it would be. These past fews months I expected some long agrument on how the Celtic church and saints were the  founding members of the Green party. Not so!

Celtic Christianity Ecology and Holiness is a wonderful anthology of  Celtic stories, sayings, tales and legends. In addition, the book also contains a useful introduction and fascinating drawings and pictures which will appeal to anyone interested in Celtic studies. Leafing through this small book reminded me of David Adam's wonderful books which contain the same satisfying sensual blend. Then again, this is precisely one of the attractive features of Celtic Christianity-that it also appeals both to the mind and the senses-they are not mutually exclusive. 

The book is "framed" by a useful essay outlining the heritage of Celtic Christianity. The essay deserves several readings and argues the main features of the Celtic tradition are ecology, learning, science, poetry, and art. In this sense, the books title is somewhat deceiving. Nonetheless, the writers argue that the Celtic church offered an alternative "brand" of Christianity than what was taking place on the European mainland, and the natural environment played a key role:

"It was not only that these scribes and achorites lived by the destiny of their dedication in an environment of wood and sea; it was because they brought into that environment an eye washed miraculously clear by continious spiritual exercise that they, first in Europe, had that strange vision of natural things in an almost unnatural purity." (pg. 22).

Here monasteries flourished, and the Seven Liberal Arts flourished, producing great men and women saints. Columbanus was one of the greatest Celtic saints:

"What is best in the world? "To do the will of its maker. What is this will? That we should do what he has ordered, that is, that we should live in righteousness and seek devotedly what is eternal. How do we arrive at this? By study. We must therefore study devotedly and righteously. What is our best help in maintaining this study? The Intellectus, which probes everything and, finding none of the world's good in which it can permanently rest, is converted by reason into the one good which is eternal". (pg. 23)

Celtic Christianity Ecology and Holiness introduces the reader to fourteen saints some better known than others including Patrick, Brigit, Findian, Senan, Brendan, Kevin, Ciaran, Mochudan, Columba, Columbanus, Gall, Fursey, Aidan and Cuthbert.  This is the perfect kind of book to keep on the nightstand, so that you can dip into it each night before you go to sleep, flip through its pages, and learn something new about the great tradition of Insular Christianity.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thomas Merton on Celtic Monasticism

I've been on a bit of a Merton binge of late and happened to be looking at Mystics and Zen Masters (1967). There I located some additional thoughts on Celtic monasticism in the essay "From Pilgrimage to Crusade" which I wanted to comment on.  Some of the Fr. Merton's ideas are reminiscent of what he  said in Wisdom of the Desert, however what is new here is a wonderful discussion of how the Celtic understanding of pilgrimage can also be a  model of one's own faith journey.  Another example of old and new wineskins. The rugged and often extreme monastic, inner monk experience of the past is not something limited to the few. Rather our faith journey is to have the same sense of adventure and sacrifice as demonstrated by the Celtic monks of old. Merton notes:

"Peregrinatio, or "going forth into strange countries," was a characteristically Irish form of asceticism. The Irish peregrinus, or pilgrim, set out on his journey, not in order to visit a sacred shrine, but in search of solitude and exile. His pilgrimage was an exercise in ascetic homelessness and wandering. He entrusted himself to Providence, setting out with no definite aim, abandoning himself to the Lord of the universe."(pg. 94)

Not an easy thing that! And definitely a brand of faith which goes way beyond the platitudes one often encounters in the church, or religious television. This understanding of faith journey is not a one time thing. Rather its something which is ongoing-the change is ongoing. Yet it is within that process of journey, one finds their own salvation.  The concept reminds me of the biblical teaching that one finds oneself, when one loses oneself.

"The objective of the monk's pilgrimage on earth was described as the "place of resurrection"-the place divinely appointed, in which the monk is to settle down, spend the rest of his days in solitude, doing penance, praying, waiting for the day of his death. To leave Ireland in search of this privileged place was to "go on pilgrimage for the love of God" or "in the name of God". If the pilgrimage were a "navagation," then the monk was seeking for a "desert in the sea." The Irish has a predilection for lonely islands." (pg. 96)

Fr. Merton is saying something which is very important. And that is the Celtic notion of pilgrimage and faith journey is something which also applies to us today. The idea of venturing out, and taking risks, going into the unknown places, should be a regular part of our spiritual experience. And it's not something that is just intellectual. Authentic faith also includes life style, decisions about how we live and where we go. This is what Columba, Brendan, and Aidan did. And it is also what you and I should do as well.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Reading from the Carmina Gadelica

God be with me lying down,
God with me rising up,
God with me in each ray of light,
nor I a ray of joy without him.

Christ with me sleeping,
Christ with me waking,
Christ with me watching
every day and night.

God with me protecting,
God with me directing,
The Spirit with me strengthening
for ever and for evermore.
Chief of Chiefs. Amen.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Thomas Merton's Ways of the Christian Mystics

"Peregrinatio, or "going forth into strange countries," was a characteristically Irish form of asceticism. The Irish peregrinus, or pilgrim, set out on his journey, not in order to visit a sacred shrine, but in search of solitude and exile. His pilgrimage was an execrise in ascetic homelessness and wandering. He entrusted himself to Providence, setting out with no definite aim, abandining himself to the Lord of the Universe. Since Ireland is an island, this meant entrusting oneself to the hazards of sea travel, and there are records of Irish peregrini who simply floated off aimlessly into the sea, abandoning themselves to wind and current, in the hope of being led to the place of solitude which God Himself would pick for them. In this way, some came to Wales or Cornwall or to the isles of western Scotland."
                      Thomas Merton Ways of the Christian Mystics (1961)

A previous article on one of Thomas Merton's books generated some excellent discussion and also caused me to reflect on some of my other favorite Merton books. Ways of the Christian Mystics is another fascinating book on Chrisitan mysticism which is well worth reading and studying. I say this because the book (and others discussed on this site) emphasize the importance of an inner mystical Christianity, which also emphasizes praxis. In other words, true Christianity is not just about believing certain ideas, but is also about behavior and seeking to live a specific kind of life in a community. Moreover, this is another book which the serious Celtic Christian should read and have in their personal library. I would specificaly recommend readers read the entire book but to focus specifically on the chapters on Pilgrimage to Crusade; the English Mystics; and Protestant Monasticism.

Readers with a specific Celtic interest should note the introduction contains an excellent discussion on aspects of Celtic spirituality, specifically the distinctive Irish notion of pilgrimage.  I've provided a sample in the quote above, and the discussion is not to be missed. It places the mission of Columba and Brendan in historical context. The Celtic monk's vocation "was to mystery and growth, to liberty and abandonment to God, in self-commitment to the apparent irrationality of the winds and the seas, in witness to the wisdom of God the Father and Lord of the elements." (pg. 16). Columba, Brendan, and thousands of others went! No doubt this idea was a backbone in the Celtic mission.

There is also a fascinating discussion of Protestant monasticism. This book was written fifty years ago and mentions Taize in passing but accurately describes the landscape in the church today. Here Merton sounds prophetic as monastic groups have literally exploded in popularity in the Protestant world. These orders (Celtic, Franciscan, Dominican, and Benedictine) can enhance one's spiritual experience and church members in all mainline denominations are encouraged to join. "Most important of all, Proestant monasticism implies a rediscovery of the contemplative patterns of life characteristic of the ancient Catholic orders. Active works of charity have an important place in the life of the new communities, but it may be said that they are predominantly contemplative." (pg. 168)

Journey, having a rule of life, reflection on Scripture, prayer, and being part of a community. These are all features of the Christian mystic, past and present. We are fortunate to have a writer like Thomas Merton who can open up old worlds of the past, and make them seem new and fresh.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Thomas Merton's Wisdom of the Desert

Thomas Merton, that great Trappist monk, is an American treasure. Merton is a creative and wonderful writer, who wrote many important books on monasticism and spirituality. Today, I'd like to briefly discuss Merton's The Wisdom of the Desert (1960), one of Merton's shortest books, a collection really, and explain why the book is important from a Celtic perspective.

As I have discussed in other blog articles, Celtic Christianity derived part of its unique blend of spirituality from the Desert Fathers and Mothers, a group of monastics who had fled the "society" of Europe for the stern quietude of mid East. Men and women went there by the thousands. they must have been seen as unique centers of learning at the time. There were large monastic communities in Egypt, modern day Israel, and Arabia. These places offered an alternative to the popular Christianity of the day. Their stories circulated in the writings of Cassian and others and generated much interest. And herein demonstrates the breadth and adaptability of the Celtic view: blending the wisdom of the East with the Druidic vision on the home front as well. How difficult is that?

Merton's Wisdom of the Desert begins with a wonderful essay which sets the writings of the Desert Fathers in context. There Father Merton shares with us, that the Desert writers have always been one of his favorite group of writers, and that what follows is a collection of  his favorite "sayings". I went through the book this morning (it's only 81 pages long) and selected some of my favorite "sayings". These Zen like quotes tell us something about the spiritual experience of the Fathers and their desire to live authentic spiritual lives. For me, this is feature is the magnet of the book, which keeps me coming back for more.

Here are a few:

A brother asked one of the elders, How does far of the Lord get into a man? And the elder said; If a man have humility and poverty, and judge not another, that is how fear of the Lord gets into him.

A certain brother went to Abbot Moses in Scete, and asked him for a good word. And the elder said to him; Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.

Abbot Pastor said: The virtue of a monk is made manifest by temptations.

An Elder said: Just as a tree cannot bear frut if it is often transplanted, so neither can a monk bear fruit if he frequently changes his abode.

Once some robbers came into the monastery and said to one of the elders; We have come to take away everything that is in your cell. And he said: My sons, take all you want. So they took everything they could find in the cell and started off. But they left behind a little bad that was hidden in the cell. The elder picked it up and followed after them, crying out: My sons, take this, you forgot it in the cell! Amazed at the patience of the elder, they brought everything back into his cell and did penance, saying: This one really is a man of God!

These "sayings" invite us to an inner-directed Christianity which I think is needed today. "Go sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything"! In other words, you already possess in you, all that you need. One just has to ruminate! And it is my experience, this is what drives folks to be part of monastic communities today. To be more "real".

I love these "sayings" and reading them often sets off other thoughts. Check saying XXVIII, on the principle of stablity. St. Benedict later made this the backbone of his religious order, and helped to transform Europe. And how about saying XCIV? Ever seen that one before? Reminds me of that great scene in  Hugo's Les Miserables when Bishop Myriel gives his silver candlesticks to Jean Valigean. Who knows, maybe Hugo got his idea for that scene from here.

If you want more about the Desert Fathers and Mothers, check out Benedicta Ward's The Desert Fathers (2003).

Monday, November 1, 2010


For the past week I had the pleasure to watch HBO's series called ROME. I had heard about it, and seen it for sale at a local shop, and finally bought it. And I'm glad I did. Rome is an incredibly reaslitic no holds barred production, which attempts to depict Roman life circa 50BC.

The series is weaved around the lives of two Roman soldiers, Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus (pictured above) who happen to be in many of the key events of the time.

ROME has it all. Passion, story, violence, nobility, deceit, murder, debauchary-everything you would expect from Rome (although that sounds alot like life in America today). And along the way, one meets Julius Caeser, Mark Anthony, Cleopatra, and Augustus Caesar. It's gripping stuff, fascinating entertainment, and a great way to learn history.

While watching and enjoying Rome, you can also learn a great deal about the Celtic World. You will see Roman skermishes with the Gauls; you will see the tragic Gaulic leader Vercingetorix; you will witness a world just at the time that Christ was born. You will encounter a young King Herod. And probably like me, you will want more and wonder why they cancelled this incredible series after two years.

You will also get to see the Celtic world through Caesar's (Roman) eyes. Caesar is an important person in Celtic studies even though it might be for all the wrong reasons. He was the governor of southern Gaul and launched a military campaign to bring the area under Roman rule. Caesar joureyed to Gaul twice and wrote about them in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico, Commentary on the Gallic Wars, 50AD. Lucius and Titus's were actually mentioned in the Commentary and the directors imaginatively weaved the story around them. Caesar powers of observation are noted as he recognized there were three different tribes people whom he called "Galli". He also understood the importance of the Druids. Caesar was the first person to call Ireland "Hibernia" or "the winter place".

Tired of the waste land on TV? If you liked the films Gladiator or Sparticus, you would do well to check out Rome.  In an age of stupid, this production reaches high and delivers.

Hail Rome, full of life and intrigue!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Karma Kitchen, Washington DC

I've been in Washington DC for a few days and am enjoying the chance to jump on the Metro and go out and explore the city. Yesterday my wife and I took the opportunity to visit a very different kind of restaurant called Karma Kitchen. "Karma" is an Indian concept, of cause and effect, and which stresses the importance of good deeds. Good deeds, good karma, bad deeds, well, you figured it out.

I first heard about Karma kitchen on the radio one morning while driving to work in Honolulu. I was intrigued by their unique story and made a mental note of it, wondering if someday I could visit. Well, today was the day! Karma Kitchen is only located in two places; Washingtion DC, and Berkeley, CA, so there are only a few places like it. Karma Kitchen is a restaurant built upon the principle of generosity. Let me tell you what I mean. Imagine going to eat at a place where someone has already paid for your meal, and where you determine how much you're going to pay. And imagine a place where almost everyone (except the cook) is a volunteer, giving back and trying to "pay forward". Sounds strange yet this is precisely what makes Karma Kitchen such a unique experience. 

Shortly after arriving, we were given a window seat with wonderful views. By then the restaurant, located near the Dupont Circle Metro, was already filling up with people of all ages, but mostly younger college students. And you know how smart college kids are-they always end up where there is good, cheap food. Our waitress arrived and told us the "story" of Karma Kitchen, how generosity was the theme of the day, and that someone else had already paid for your meal. I asked her why she was volunteering and she replied that her roommate brought her one day, and even since she "was hooked". She also added that she enjoyed being in the position to give back. You know, I hear exactly the same comments from those who volunteer to serve food to the homeless at St. Aidan's in Honolulu. People have told me they find serving others to be a transforming experience.

We then went onto enjoy different kinds of fruit juices, Indian vegetarian foods, and some wonderful nan bread and sauces. There were also fascinating quotes at each table. Ours was from Mother Teresa which stated  "Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes can be endless".

Food for thought, and pretty cool!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Nine Worthies

"Nine worthies were they called, of different rites-
Three Jews, three pagans, and three Christian Knights"
John Dryden, The Flower and the Leaf

When I attended St. Andrews University several of us would pass our free time by quizzing one another on questions of history, literature, and science. It was a wonderful and fun way to learn. A local TV show at that time, Mastermind (something like the American show Jeopardy) would ask contestants very specific questions in topics which they selected. The show also published books, and I bought a copy which we passed around. This was the context where I was introducted to the Nine Worthies. One of my Scottish friends, Roger, first asked me that question (Who are the Nine Worthies?) and we still kid each other to this day about it. The Nine Worthies were actually quite famous and significant figures. Several of the worthies would interest lovers of things Celtic, so it seemed like a good idea for a blog article, so here goes.

First, who were the Nine Worthies? The Nine Worthies (les neuf prevx) were nine figures from different times in history who personified ideals of chivalry. They were first written of in the Fourteenth Century by Jean de Longuyon in Voeux du Paon. The consisted of three pagans; Hector, Alexander, and Julius Caeser; three Old Testament Jews; Joshua, David and Judas Maccebeus; and three Christian Knights; Arthur, Charlamagne, and Godfrey of Bouillon.  An interesting collection of persona to say the least! de Longuyon saw them as the champions of chivalry and they became a popular theme in the literature and art of the Middle Ages.

I don't know alot about all of these figures, and many of them are shrouded in myth and strike me more as psychological archetypes-yet that is why they are fascinating and have something to say to us today. Let me focus on the three Christian Knights. Charlmagne needs little introduction and was the greatest king of his era, the example of what a Christian King could be and do. Godfey of Bouillon was an important leader linked to the First Crusade. He helped "liberate" Jerusalem from the Moslems in 1099, and was even offered the title of King of Jerusalem but refused.

That leaves Arthur who is arguable the greatest Celtic hero of all time. Step back St. Patrick and Robin Hood! People are fascinated by Arthur to this day, and many books and films try to describe his unusal life. It's a magical tale matched by no other. Arthur was raised by the powerful magician Merlin who gave him a Harry Potteresque like upbringing, no doubt sharing with him his vast knowledge.  Magical indeed! So no one was really surprized when Arthur was crowned King at the tender age of 15. The message was clear. Big things were in store for Arthur and he had a lot of work to do. And no surprize, here the themes revert back to chivalry, or as us moderns put in "do the right thing". And that is just what Arthur did.

Arthur began his reign of "doing the right thing" with a magical sword, Excalibur, that he carried everywhere he went. With it, Arthur scourged the country of monsters, and drove out those nasty invaders, the Saxons and hopefully some of those damn Vikings who were pillaging the Irish monastaries! Arthur did not act alone, and formed a team of other chivalric Knights, and together they lived in Camelot where valour and chivalry guided their lives. All the Knights upheld the Code of Chivalry, which included honor, the brotherhood of arms and the protection of the poor and the Church. What's not to like there?

Funny, but as I have been thinking and writing this article, it strikes me that Medieval culture is really not so vastly different than our own time today. Shockingly, our times seem eerily alike. How are we to behave in a culture where there is so much violence, war, and widespread greed? An antidote to these values might be new role models who can teach us a different sense of values. So perhaps here is one of the takeaways we can have with the Nine Worthies. They can be models, even mythical and imperfect,  of how to respond to the challanges of life in both a heroic and dignified way. Put aside some of the historical contexts of these folks (which must have been brutal) and what shines forth are some pretty nifty character traits. Honor, the brotherhood of man, the protection of the poor, and a deep personal faith. Work of those personality traits and you'll pass any test life throws your way.

We might find it difficult to get excited about the nine worthies, so indulge yourself and select  someone you've admired. Christians for many centuries  have found it worthwhile to study the lives of saints. What about St Patrick, St. Francis, Julian of Norwich, Thomas Merton, C.S. Lewis or a modern day theologian or spiritual writer? Who are your spiritual worthies? Best of all, you'll be following a trusted spiritual practice and path.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Garden of Eden

I love working in the garden-always have! I love getting my hands dirty, working with soil and living things, and pushing around the dirt with shovel and hoe. Few things in life give my such pleasure and relaxation. I've been gardening ever since I can remember, so I try to schedule at least at hour day just doing stuff around the yard. Just what the doctor ordered after a stressful day at the office.

There is no finer place to garden then on Oahu. Where else can one grow so many exotic species of plants and watch them mature. I never imagined coconuts or cactus in my back yard. Sometimes out in the yard, when I'm pruning, planting or watering, I close my eyes, take a deep breath of air, and think of how grateful I am to be on this tropical island. I open my eyes and see any number of fruit trees, flowers, different kinds of ferns, palms, and ginger plants. What a joy to the eye!

Just the other day my wife and I harvested some mangos and avacado's from our yard. Gotta say the avacado sandwich has grown on me over time. And nothing beats stuff grown in your own yard. Can't wait for the sweet potatoes to come up.

I love the out of doors, I love the soil, and I love the sun and rain which drench the red soil. These experiences each make me feel more grounded, rooted, and closer to God. Celtic Christians referred to God as the God of the Elements, the God who is "behind nature and the creation". Those of us who are "outdoorsy" will recognize  the wisdom in that statement. Here too I think the Celtic perspective has something to offer us moderns who often limit God to something less demensional than He really is. God is more than Divine Mind, more than intellect, more than projections. The incarnation, God becoming man in Christ, presents the rather novel notion that God wanted to stoop down from on high and "join us" here in the soil and mud.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Praticising the Presence of God

This is a blog post long, long overdue. I've been meaning to write a post about two of our volunteers, Darryl and Jeff for sometime and you'll soon understand why.

We are grateful for all our hundred volunteers from different churches and the community, but we are particularly grateful for Darryl and Jeff who have been with us every Sunday for over two years. That's a long time! Each and every Sunday Darryl and Jeff arrive at 11:30am helping to prepare the food we receive from many places, helping organize the volunteers, serving the homeless, planning for the week ahead, and assuring that everything on the food side of the house runs smoothly. It's an endless, thankless task, and yet these two gentlemen perform a terrific job with dignity, grace and love. It's high time we say a great big "thanks" and "well done"!

Darryl and Jeff do an amazing job with both passion and excellence. In true humility they are committed to being "servants" and to work behind the scenes. Yet they are both responsible for ensuring that food is ready, properly prepared, served, and that there are enough supplies for the next week.

We could not perform this valuable ministry without their generosity of time, and commitment to hard work. They are both a blessing to our ministry, and a crucial part of the ministry. We are grateful for your many gifts. In true Celtic fashion, you welcome the stranger and make him and her feel like an important guest.

Thanks guys for all your hard work from the staff of St. Aidans!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Narnia Code: Revd. Michael Ward

Every year I receive an Alumnus Chronicle from the University of St. Andrews. These are always a great joy to read and give me the opportunity to think back as well as catch up with new events. This year I noted a fascinating sketch about the Rev. Michael Ward, a priest in the Church of England, who is also a Chaplain at St. Peter's College, Oxford. He did his PhD at St. Andrews on C.S. Lewis and is the author of Planet Narnia (2008) a book which is shaking the foundation of Lewis studies, and revolutionizing the way people understand the Narnia series. My own interest in Lewis begged me to ask for more, to contact Rev. Michael Ward, and write this article.

Ward claims to have discovered a secret code in Lewis's fictional series The Narnia Chronicles (1950-1956). In detective like fashion, Ward  believes he has unearthed the governing scheme behind the Chronicles. The discovery came when Ward was reading Lewis's The Discarded Image (1964), one of Lewis's finest academic books which describes the medieval cosmology and worldview. There Lewis discusses the medieval image of the seven heavens which contains the seven planets which revolve around the earth, and also influence the earth, including its people. These "planets" included the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

According to Ward, these "planets" are the backdrop to the Narnian world. Each book corresponds to one of the planets. This is a fascinating idea because this dimension adds another layer of depth to the books. Turns out the Chronciles are much more sophisticated then we ever thought.

How does this play out in the books themselves? Jupiter, the "King" of the planets is featured in The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe in Aslan. Mars, the planet of war, is central to Prince Caspian, where a civil war erputs. The Sun has a key role in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where the ship sails in the direction of the sun. The moon is central in The Silver Chair, and silver was believed to be the medal of the moon. And so on. We should not be surprized at all by this imagery and multi-layered quality to The Chronicles. Lewis was a medieval scholar and he was known to delight in keeping secrets. 

To learn more abot Rev. Ward, and find out more about his discoveries, you can visit his website which is linked here. There is also a fascinating clip on Youtube where Rev. Ward shares more about his discovers and can be viewed here.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pirates of the Carribean 4 : In my backyard

I've seen some strange things in my day but this recent one might top the list. Last week I noticed there was an odd looking vessel floating on the bay. It had the shape of an old pirate ship, but whoever thinks that one would ever see one. I mean really! And that's what it was.

Landlubber that I am, I soon realized it was the pirate ship featured in the film series Pirates of the Carribean. As you can imagine, the film has created a ton of energy and excitement in these parts of Hawaii. I like to invite you to see some of the sights and share some of the local impressions.

Part of Pirates is being filmed off a small dock called Keeia Kea, a small out of the way harbour about two miles from my home. Been there a dozen times to fish, or to picnic with my wife. The dock is transformed. They've been filming at night, so when it gets dark, giant lights lighten up a huge part of the bay. And man-made smoke casts an errie sight on the surrounding volcanic hills. It's really something to see.

Last night curiousity got the best of me. I ventured out at 9pm to check things out. I was surprized when I got to Keeia Kea. There were so many people there I had to park about five minutes away from the dock. And once there, I had pass a few checkpoints and hundreds of people, who were lined up hoping to spot either Johnny Depp (Jack Sparrow), or Angelica (Penelope Cruz) drive by.

This was the first time I've been near a movie set,  so it fascinating to see just what goes on. There was a certain energy and excitement there. Kind of reminded me of a circus. I was impressed just how organized things were, and in particular of the support services. On one side of the dock were a dozen trailers which provided food, carpenters-anything that could support the production of the movie. There was even a food tent. Anything a pirate would want.

The coolest thing was the ship itself. I travelled back to Keeia after work today, just to snap a few  pictures of the ship. I ran into a smaller crowd, and there was a viewing area about fity yards from the ship.

I provide these as evidence and to let you know I was not telling a tall tale!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Celtic Way of Doing Church

"First, a host of New Barbarians substantially populate the Western world once again; indeed, they are all around us. Many of them are "secular"; that is they have never been substantially influenced by the Christian religion; they have no Christian memory and no church to "return" to. Many have never acquired a "church etiquette" (they would not know when to stand, or where to find Second Corinthians, or what to say to the pastor after the service)...these populations are increasingly simlar to the populations that the movements of Patrick, Columba, and Aidan reached as the New Barbarians become increasingly postmodern" (pg. 96)

I first read George Hunter's The Celtic Way of Evangelism (2000) in 2002. The book made a big impression on me, and was one of the first books that got me hooked onto Celtic Christianity. This is an important book, and I often go back and reread sections just to make sure I'm reading it right. There is something distinctive about Celtic Christianity, and Hunter's book does an excellent job in explaining  what that "distinctiveness" is.  Hunter begins his story by focusing on the uniqueness of Patrick's mission to the Irish. The "single greatest lesson" is that Patrick went out of his way to understand everything he could about the Irish. He took an active interest in the Irish people, taking the time to learn and understand their language, their habits, their thought forms, and their culture. I've lived in other cultures and these graces are not easy ones. Patrick demonstrates an amazing humility, and  understood that to be effective and make a real impact, he had to be both genuine and sincere. Patrick had all these qualities and more

Secondly, Celtic Christianity was more of a movement, a way of life, an "experience" instead of a religion of Empire, or something linked to an institution or church building. Moreover, the movement stressed the importance of the laity and not the clergy. Hunter remarks that the Roman visitor would have encountered a faith group which was more imaginative, less brain centered that Latin Christianity.  The Celts also had a creation based theology which stressed the "immanence" and "providence" of God.  A major reason for these differences were the Celtic roots in Desert and Monastic Christianity. Celtic Christian communities were focused around the monastery and abbot instead of the bishop and cathedral. Monastic communities tended to be less individualistic and more community orientated. Hunter believes the Celts communities were better integrated and focused not only on the "utlimate" issues of life, but also the "middle-level" issues of life, including life's daily struggles.

Hunter also explores the "missionary ecclesiology" of this ancient church and identifies five themes. First, the Celts took a relational, and team approach when sharing their faith story. Before sharing the message of the gospel, they first tried to relate to the people, identify with the people, and engage in friendship, ministry and witness. What a sharp contrast to the confrontational evangelism often practiced in the church both then and now. Second, monastic communities helped prepare people to live with depth and compassion. The Celtic communities were places of great learning, an Open Univeristy with ongoing adult education hundreds of years ago. Hunter also asserts that Celtic Christianity helped prepare people through a "fivefold" structure of experiences including almost every realm of life. These stages included voluntary periods of solitary isolation, time with a "soul-friend" (spiritual direction), time in small groups in a monastic setting, participation in the common life such as meals and prayers, and an environment where people were seeing ministry all around them. These were vibrant, rich faith communities, where learning, art, poetry, and storytelling were all valued.  Hunter also notes how important hospitality was in the Celtic monastic community. Celtic communities were welcoming ones. Within many of the monasteries, a place was always set for a guests and seekers who come to the community.

The sharing of one's faith is important and needs to be done tactfully. As the Christian Church huddles, and reviews its standing in the world, it would be wise to look to lessons of the past, and learn how one church, the Celtic church,  took new and bold steps centuries ago. For instance, there are several clear "takeaways" people can apply to their own churches. In true Celtic fashion, how welcoming is your church to newcomers and strangers? And second, if you have congregations with different ethnic backgrounds, what is being done to help understand their culture? If you're looking for a blueprint on how "to do" church in our own day, you'll find The Celtic Way of Evangelism worthwhile to read.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

St. Andrews and the Open

"St. Andrews by the Northern Sea,
That is a haunted town to me!"
Andrew  Lang

Every five years, the tiny university town of St. Andrews, Scotland is transformed into the greatest golf show on earth when it hosts the British Open, or "the Open" as the Brits fondly call it. But what else would you expect of the "home of golf" located on the isolated shores of the East Neuk of the kingdom of Fife.

I was fortunate enough to spend two and a half years at the University of St. Andrews where I studied  the Victorian novel and escaped with an M.Phil. And what a great town, and a great time that was! St. Andrews is the third oldest University in Britain, behind Oxford and Cambridge, and the oldest in Scotland. Nothing about St. Andrews disappointed, except perhaps the drab weather, and endless stream of brussel sprouts that adorn almost every dish.  But who's complaining. I got a great education!

St. Andrews is such an interesting place because there is so much of important Scottish history wrapped up in the town, and it reeks of history, and significance. There is the University and students to this day, wear bright red gowns to class, or black if you are studying divinity. St. Andrews was also the ecclesiatical capital of Scotland, and the ruins of what once was a magnificent cathedral remind you of this proud past. The town is also linked with the father of the Scottish Reformation, John Knox, who was once imprisoned there.

And then of course there is golf. St. Andrews, the "home" of golf, is the place where the sport began, and where many a player come and dream of playing and winning golf's most famous tourament. Ironically the American golfer, Arnold Palmer, rescued the Open from obscurity, helping to shape it into what it is today. Palmer encouraged other golfers to take the trip and over time the tourament grew in popularity. One of my fondest St. Andrews memories, was of the Open of 1984. It's the only golfing major I've ever attended, and I recall bright sunny weather, colors and golf stands both near and far. On the last day, a group of us were lucky enough to be sitting at the 17th hole where the eventual winner, Seve Ballesteros was able to make some magical shots to win the prized Claret Jug.

This week, the Open is again being hosted at St. Andrews. Each time it is, I love to sit back and remember the old town, and University once more. I can't wait to see what the Old Course and Chapel look like once again.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Carl McColman: Blogger, Author

Every few months, I like to take some time to pause, and devote a blog article to some of the major writers of Celtic Spirituality today. This morning I want to share an interview I conducted with Carl McColman, who is a well known blogger and writer on the Celtic tradition.

I was first introduced to Carl through his blog "Anamchara, The Website of Unknowing" which is linked here. "Anamchara" (which is Gaelic for "soulfriend") is one of my favorite blogs and has the robust task of covering the great mystical writers in the Celtic and Christian traditions. A tall order if there was ever one. The blog is a gem, and I can assure you that once you visit "Anamchara"  you will soon find yourself adding it to your favorite list, and stopping by several times a week as I do.

Carl is not just a blogger, but he is also a serious writer of spiritual topics and has something important to say. The mission of the blog is "to explore the spiritual life". Anamchara tackles many different issues related to Christian mysticism and to the emerging church. For example, you will find page after page dedicated to specific Celtic and Christian saints, with pithy and delicious quotes. Many a morning, I have sat with a cup of Hawaiian coffee in hand, music in the background, or better yet in silence, reading, reflecting and praying over some of the best that has been thought and said by the Christian mystics. You find yourself reading quotes and stories from mystics that are household names such as Evelyn Underhill, and learning about others you don't know such as Walter Hilton. Either way, you'll find yourself coming back for more of these mindwakers, again, again and again.

Carl has had an interesting spiritual journey, with some pretty unique credentials. His own path has taken him through a variety of spiritualities and along the way Carl has written books on Wicca, Druidism, Paganism, and most recently on Christian Mysticism. I've read two of those books, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Paganism (2002), and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Celtic Wisdom (2003) and found both to be great introductions to difficult subjects. Carl is imminently qualified and "experienced" to be writing on these issues. Along the way, Carl was a leader of a druid grove. Now, Carl works in a bookstore in a Cistercian monastery where he is a "monastic associate". How cool is that!

As a fellow blogger, I had to ask Carl about his blogging habits. He responded, "I try to live a regular life. I work, I have a family. I spend time in silence and contemplation. I like to write best in the morning. And when I haven't been able to write or blog, like today, I feel the same way as when I haven't showered or brushed my teeth". Not sure I'm at that point yet, but I know exactly what he means.

Our discussion then turned to the Celtic tradition and why it is so popular today. Carl noted "The Celtic or Insular tradition has many things to offer today. It's use of language, the storytelling tradition, devotion to the natural world, beauty...and by beauty I mean art...the high crosses at the monasteries, the Books of Kells, the Ardagh Chalice. It was a great flowering of both saints and culture. Some have tried to construct Celtic spirituality into something romantic and something it never was. Like all spiritual traditions, the Insural traditon was a mixture of light and shadow...even so, a wonderful tradition". Favorite Celtic saints include Kevin, Brigit, and George MacLeod, the founder of the Iona Community. A side bar was a discussion of what Celtic Christianity looks like in the world today. Carl spoke of the inner city work in Glasgow that the Iona Community is doing.

Part of Carl's personal call, is to help spread the message that Christian mysticism is for everyone. He remarked, "I call myself an aspiring mystic, and live as a Christian who tries to conduct my life by following the mystical path. Many Christians aren't familiar with the Christian mystical tradition or think it's reserved for the few, like the Marines. Part of my work is to bring more people into the conversation". And reading Carl's blog and books will do just that. You will find yourself gently brought in and welcomed as guests in true Celtic fashion.

Carl's most recent book, just hitting bookstores now, is The Big Book of Christian Mysticism (2010). I've provided the link to  Amazon here so you can check it out and hopefully purchase it. The Big Book took three years to write and I can tell you that it will be the best $15 you will spend this year. If you don't know anything about the long Christian mystical tradition, the book will provide you with an wonderful and inspiring introduction. It may change your world as well as your Christian experience. Carl rightly calls, Christian mysticism "the best kept secret of the Christian Church" and who better to tell that story than one who has been living and writing about it, both in blog and book, for nearly a decade.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Next Christendom

I had some extra time last week and was able to browse through a book I've been wanting to read for some time. Philip Jenkins's The Next Christendom (2002 created a stir when it was first published in 2002 and then reissued in 2007.

Funny, but having leafed through The Next Christendom I was surprized by what all the stirring was about. Instead it confirmed trends and experiences I have encountered in ten years of active ministry. Nothing shocking here.

What does the book say? Jenkins argues that by the year 2050, the Christian church and landscape is going to be very different than is now. By 2050, only one Christian in five will be non-Latino and white. Moreover, the center of the Christian world will be in the Southern Hemisphere, and not the United States and Europe.  White Christendom better get ready!

The Christian Church of the future, waxes Jenkins, will be predominantly orthodox, conservative, and even apocalyptic. Typical of some of the younger churches, there will be elements of mysticism, puritanism, faith-healing, and dream-visions.  However, here follows a big shift from the present scene. A majority of the Christians will be people of color, poor, live in poverty and persecution, and many will look to the church for comfort and to make sense of their suffering.

The changes are going to be drastic. A Western based, intellectual liberal tradition will continue to exist, but gradually be dwarfed by the Church of the South. And the church will predominantly consist of the poor. There will be ramifications for the clergy too. We will no doubt see a change in the way clergy are trained, and many perhaps will be paid small amounts, if anything at all.

It's errie how Jenkins describes what I see taking place in Hawaii. Many of the traditional churches have graying and shrinking memberships. Many area already experiencing financials problems. A majority of mainlain denominations are in decline, and their future is not certain by any means. Yet many of the churches that are growing consist of the newly arrived to these island, the Chuuk (in our own experience at St. Aidan's), the Marshallese, and the Vietnamese, just to name a few.  At the same time, it is an exciting time to see God at work in the world, moving the center of Christendom to a different part of the globe. And to think that many of us "restricted" God to Germany, Britain, Ireland, or the United States for that matter. Who were we kidding?

Most of us fear change, and what we are encountering is a shift in the theological winds if you will. Yet as good history students we need to recall these themes are something followers of the Celtic way are  familar and comfortable with. In our own spiritual tradition, we understand that God is not limited to or defined by our own experience, or to a church building, or even to a Holy Book. Our God is a Living God who almost always seems to wonderfully elude our grasp and best of intentions. Try to pin God down, and we are sure to be disappointed. This is what some of the Celtic writers meant when they refered to the "wild" side of God, likening Him to a wild goose. In slightly different language, it is impossible to try and tame God. Instead, He tames us. We are wrong to think that "we have Him". Rather "He has us".

The wind of His Spirit is blowing now, taking His Church in different directions. As Jenkins reminds us, we have nothing to fear as Christianity has always demonstrated the ability to transform weaknesses into strengths.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Happy Fourth of July Greetings!

Yesterdays was one of those Sundays which was almost perfect. Really, almost perfect!

What makes me say that? Great summer weather, clear skies, and warm sun. We are also blessed to have a beautiful and old chapel to worship in, Parke Chapel, and we are ever grateful to the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Andrews for being such a wonderful host. We could not do this work without their support.

We also performed two baptisms in the church. Two baby Micronesian boys, were presented for baptism and the church was filled with many Chuuk families, and the most wonderful Chuukese music. I didn't know what the words meant, and it did not matter.  It was beautiful both to the ear and heart. The harmonies were glorious.

Baptisms are wonderful events, ceremonies which I have grown to love as a priest. The Chuuk word for baptism is "papatayis" and means immersion. The image of water is important for island people, not only for the Mirconesians, but us from Hawaii as well. And as the fish is immersed in water, so the Christian is also "immersed" and surrounded by God's love and presence.  

It was a wonderful thing to look into the young eyes of Erikniwim and Daitap and to think of all the future promises that lay before them. I thought to myself, "I wonder what path they will choose, and what will God lead them to do?"

It was also a beautiful thing, to stand together at the altar of Christ, and to celebrate His love which brings us all together, breaks down walls, and reminds us that we are One Family, and belong to Him. 

Sunday was a great day, a typical day where we touch many people's lives in so many ways.

This is who we are, and what we do.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The gospel of simplicity

Just the other day a friend of mine from the Church of Scotland, sent me something abut the "prosperity gospel" so prominently found in many of the churches on both sides of the pond. This became something of a starting point for my own rant.

Louis's article got me to thinking. It also made me angry. I'm older now, past fifty, and have sat in many a pew over those days with many denominations. I've sat in small English parishes, as well as large metropolitan churches in the United States. It's quite different now, white haired and all, and being in the pulpit and looking the other way. And having worked in an inner parish setting for the past decade with Hawaii's homeless and mentally ill, has made me see things from a totally different perspective.

I hate being judgemental, but the gospel of prosperity, that following God will somehow magically make us each wealthy, have happy marriages and families, and solve all of our problems, is in a word "stupid" and "unture". It defies both logic and personal experience. Life is not that way, it is simply not true, and moreover it is not the what the gospel teaches.

Not to sound preachy, and forgive me if I come off that way, but the gospel and good news of our loving God, is that we are meant to be servants of others, givers to others, especially to those in need. We are meant to be transformed, changed, and made anew. Making money and being successful is not the measuring rod of one's peity, or of God's blessing. Rather from how I read the gospels, it seems just the opposite. We will be graded on how we treat others, and especially those who are more needy than us.

The gospel of prosperity is a false one demensional lie. It certainly was not Jesus's experience, and it has no place for the St. Francis's and Mother Teresa's of this world, and cannot explain their radical behavior of fleeing the riches of the world, of the "successes" this world has to offer. And as I continne to read and learn about the history of the Chrisitan Church, this theme of sacrifice is one of the greatest parts of the Churches history. And yet it is precisely this counter culture approach that the church needs to reclaim today instead of just simply blending into the world, into the cultural landscape and disappearing altogether. 

Hey I admit it, I'm biased. My own faith tradition is one with a long history of serving those in need often in the inner city setting. Of standing side by side with the poor and needy. My heroes include the Desert Fathers and Mothers, and the Mendicants to name a few. Here's my challange to you. The next time you see one of these talking heads on TV, turn the TV off, and begin reading about the lives of some of the great saints of the past such  as St. Francis or Dominic. Many of these saints were successful in the world's eye, but this opinion was not enough for them. Something in their hearts and experiences longed for something more than the best of the world had to offer. The desire of their hearts was met in following Jesus Christ and in serving others, and often that meant the poorest.

It seems to me, this presents another opportunity for us to continue to be counter cultural and to develop a different way of living, and of believing.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sipping in Seattle

This past week I had the chance to finally visit Seattle, Washington, where I attended some work related training. I had never been to Seattle, or that part of the United States before, and was looking forward to it. Seattle has the reputation of being "with it", home to Microsoft, home to many "green" notions, and home to Starbucks. Hey, and the fish and salmon chowder are some of the best I've even had.

What a change weather-wise from Hawaii! It was wierd to wear long shirts and a jacket once again. There was a light misty rain almost every day which reminded me of Scottish life in a good sense. I also found a great Irish pub where I drank a few Guniness's and had a vegetarian pasty. Funny, but almost everywhere I go I seem to find a great Irish bar.

One evening I had to chance to hook up with another priest in the Celtic Church, Fr. Sean Lotz, who has a small church named St. Ita's. Fr. Sean is an amazing guy, and is the "official" liturgist of the church. Want to know something about the liturgy of the church-Fr. Sean is the man. Sean has written many wonderful Celtic publications, including The Felier which is a calander of saints for Celtic Catholics which can be purchased here. Fr. Sean also has a blog which explores Celtic prayer and meditation and can be viewed here. Visit St. Ita's if you ever get to the Seattle area.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Hawaii, ten years on.

This past Friday I celebrated my tenth year in Hawaii. Man has the time gone fast, and it just seems like yesterday since I arrived! Now I am officially "kamaina" which means "local person" in Hawaiian. Yet looking back the move was bittersweet. I was happy in New Jersey so coming here, and pulling up my roots  was a big deal. I left a very comfortable job which I enjoyed and felt good at doing. I left many friends and a position I had spent building and developing for ten years. Even so, when my wife showed me the three options she had for her next assignment in the military, she let me pick. One said Hawaii and I forgot the other two. It was a no-brainer, it had to be Hawaii. And looking back, coming to Hawaii has been one of the best decisions we ever made. I had my moments though. I remember coming over on the plane and thinking, "wow, I have to start my life over again".

Hawaii was, and is, an adventure. It's a fantastic place to live. As in any new place, the first few years were spent " getting to know" just where everything is. Even though Oahu is a small island, there are still many places I have not yet explored. Getting around is sometimes a challange as many of the names of streets and towns still have Hawaiian names. Moreover, Oahu is a unique mix of different ethnic communities including Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Filipino, Samoan, Micronesian and of course Hawaiian. It's a multicultural paradise. I've lived in several countries and States, but coming to Hawaii is unlike anything else I had ever experienced. I often have to pinch myself to remind me that "yes" this is the USA and that I am living and working here. You can often go into local restaurants and be the only one who speaks English.

Looking back, I have often thought back to the Irish notion of peregrini, the Latin term for pilgrim. The notion of pilgrimage is often left out of our understanding of Christianity. Yet for many today, and in the past, peregrini was and is a core concept. It's useful to reflect on leaving what we are familiar and comfortable with in order to grow spirituality. This practice was at the heart of Celtic spirituality, as particularly noted in the life of Columba, who left Ireland and went onto to found the monastic settlement on the remote Scottish island of Iona. Columba went onto achieve great things on Iona, and later  at the community on Lindisfarne. Columba never returned to Ireland yet his legacy was great. I have often thought of those wandering Celtic monks, who left their families, towns, and home country, and trekked across Europe, founding monasteries, touching lives, hearing and learning new languages. It must have been exciting (even in an addictive way) to wander as they did.

Looking back over the last ten years, I think it's helpful to recall that I too am on pilgrimage. And like Columba, I am invited to leave the known, journey into the unknown, which often includes my own "shadow" self. Along the way, I have learned to let go of certain expectation I might have, and to live in the moment, and to embrace whatever life brings. Life, and the spiritual life can be a wonderful adventure. May God lead you to a place or situation where you never imagined you could be.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Illuminated minds, illuminated manuscripts

Saturdays are typically goof off days. Rain, so no golf. I decided to spend the afternoon reading and listening to music. Not wanting to get into anything too heavy, I opted to look at some books I recently found on illuminated manuscripts. I love illuminated manuscripts, as always have marveled at the craftsmanship, detail, bright colors, and often humor they possess. They are dream like pieces of abstact art. I was fortunate enough to see The Book of Kells when I visited Trinity College in Dublin Ireland back in the 1970's. And they are even more impressive to see and view. Beautiful. University officials turn the page on a regular basis so viewers can come back and see something beautful and new.

Illuminated manuscripts had a central place in the history of the Celtic Church. You might even say that the manuscipts along with the high Celtic crosses were some of its most distinctive features. As indicated throughout this blog, the Celtic Church and monks were book lovers, had scriptoriums where they copied books with great care and precision, and loved learning wherever is came from. This included the pagan writers from Greek and Latin sources, Christian writings, and the Church Fathers. This was their great tradition. I can recall sections of Bede's Ecclesiastic History where monks carried the sacred books (its library) back and forth to the different monastries as they were fleeing the invasions of the Vikings. Obviously they were trying to preserve what mattered to them most.

There are many illuminated manuscripts from Europe yet the ones I am discussing here come from the seventh and ninth centuries. These are the Cathack, Book of Durrow, The Book of Kells, and The Lindsifarne Gospels. I've attached above some selections which will hopefully wet your appetite and motivate you to learn more. Starting on the left is from Mark, in the Book of Durrow. I've included two pages from The Book of Kells although I could have selected many others for their sheer beauty and brilliance.  The center selection is the frontpiece from John's gospel, and the image on the right is Christ enthroned. Each time I look at these works of art, I say "wow" and am reminded of just how long and difficult it must have been to make these things. And remember, these are painted on animal skins! There is something richly human in these primitive like forms.

That got me to thinking about the relationship between Christianity and culture. The illuminated manuscripts are treasures, and thank God we have them. But these are works from 1300 years ago. What works of art are we making in the church now that people in the future will examine and say the same thing? What will our cultural legacy be? And in "works of art" I don't limit that meaning to literature, or music in a snobbish way. But as a church community, we should think how are we influencing the culture and shaping it in a more Christlike fashion. Is the culture shaping us, or are we shaping the culture? What's wonderful is that the Celtic legacy can give us a starting point to answer these questions. They were able to convert a pagan culture which surrounded them, and where in a similar situation as to our own. Perhaps it might be in the form of education, in small schools that are devoted to passing down the best and brightest that has been said. It might be in reviving the practice of fostering, something very much like the hanai tradition in Hawaii. Or it might be in artwork, or using the Internet in some way not yet discovered. Looking at the illuminated manuscripts gives both pleasure and hope. They are a joy to behold. They illuminate today and were the result of an illuminated point of view.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

St. Aidan's: a place where everyone can serve

One of the best features of ministry is that you meet many kinds of people, from many different backgrounds and ages. In addition, St. Aidan's is blessed to have many young people from the University and College setting, as well as those from high school who come and perform community service. Since I have been at St. Aidans-some ten years now-I have seen this number grow. Almost every other Sunday I now sign community service sheets. It's a beautful thing to be able to see and work with these folks.

This leads me to a story about one of our volunteers, Cameron Chan. He has been a regular volunteer at the church, along with other members of his family, including his sister, parents and grandmother. Talk about intergenerational minstry, here it is in one family! I wanted to share this story because I think it's a beautiful thing to see young people volunteering and serving those in need. And they almost always tell me how much they enjoyed having the opportunity to serve. Here's how Cameron described his experience:

"For my junior year community service I have continued to feed homeless at St Andrews. I switched from going every third Sunday of the month to the second Sunday of every month. For the 25 hours I volunteered, I have served water, food, cleaned or threw out the garbage. When I volunteer at St. Andrews I learn the value of community and helping others. There are many people who are less fortunate than me and are very grateful to have a meal everyday. I realized that I should be grateful for all the conveniences and things I have in my life. It has taught me that I should always be grateful for what I have and devoting a small amount of my day every month can really make a difference in someone else’s life".

What a beautiful story and what a wonderful thing is it to be in a position to share stories like this.
Thanks Cameron and to the many others who come and discover in the simplicity of serving the homeless, there is great joy!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Rev. Dr. John Michael Hayes

Who says miracles don't happen?

Several months ago, a miracle of sorts took place at St. Aidan's Church. One Sunday morning, I happened to notice a new couple had joined us that morning for worship. Let's just say they stood out! After the service, I went out and greeted our newcomers. And much to my surprise not only did I meet both John and Karen, but I also learned that John was also a Celtic priest from a small Celtic denomination like my own. What's the chance of that happening in Hawaii of all places? A miracle indeed! Hard to believe that on the wee island of Oahu there are three Celtic clerics. Move over Ireland. And best of all, I then learned that John and will be in Hawaii for three years. This is terrific news indeed. God does work in mighty and wondrous ways.

St. Aidan's is very fortunate to have someone join us whose credentials are so strong. John received his undergraduate and Ph.d in psychology from Catholic University in the nation's capital, Washington, DC. Since then, John has spent over thirty years in the psychology field in different capacities. John has had numerous faculty appointments, and led many interesting workshops and trainings for other mental health professionals. He is eclectic in approach, fond of both Freud and Jung, and comfortable using a variety of modalities including psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, and couples, family and group therapy. He was a Franciscan brother for several years, and also studied theology at several Universities. He has four children. Karen Jones, John's wife, is a clinical social worker.

John has been with us for several months now, and we are blessed indeed to have him with us, serving at the altar and the pulpit. We rejoice in his many gifts, experience, and humor that he brings to St. Aidan's Mission Church. To find out more about our new priest John, you can visit his website which is linked  here.