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.