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.

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