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It’s no secret that the Celtic Christian worldview is a joy to me.  I have by no means fully integrated it as my own, but I get a little nearer every day.  I believe it could be a blessing to many others as well.  This worldview is inclusive and can be embraced by Christians from any background.

Image from the Book of Kells, a 1200 year old ...

Image from the Book of Kells, a 1200 year old book. Category:Illuminated manuscript images (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Its distinctives are not limited to, but include:

Hope,  Equality,  Mystery,  Care of Creation,  Abiding,  Immanence,  Simplicity,  Creativity, Hospitality, Anam Chara

Hope/Optimism

Hope looks for the good in everything first, rather than the evil.

“And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.”–Genesis 1:31

Let love be genuine.Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. -Romans 12:9 NLT

“And now abides faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” –I Corinthians 13:13

Equality (Non-hierarchal)

Every person is equal before God. No one can claim authority over anyone else.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” –Galatians 3:28

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” –Matthew 20:25-28

Mystery

The Infinite God can’t be fully explained or comprehended by finite Man.

“…who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.”–I Timothy 6:16 NIV

“Don’t imagine us leaders to be something we aren’t. We are servants of Christ, not his masters. We are guides into God’s most sublime secrets, not security guards posted to protect them.” –I Corinthians 4:1 MSG

“Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God, this deep, deep wisdom? It’s way over our heads. We’ll never figure it out.

Is there anyone around who can explain God?
Anyone smart enough to tell him what to do?
Anyone who has done him such a huge favor
that God has to ask his advice?
Everything comes from him;
Everything happens through him;
Everything ends up in him.
Always glory! Always praise!
Yes. Yes. Yes.” –Romans 11:33-36 MSG

Care of and for Creation

Humans are both part of  God’s creation and its caretakers.  We encourage a simple lifestyle  instead of consumerism,  being conscious of our spending and its effects on people and all creation. (Asceticism is not of value for it’s own sake, but only in that  as we remove ‘things’, we make more room for God.)

“Then the LORD God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.” –Genesis 2:15

“You made [humans] rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.”–Psalm 8:6-8 NIV

“Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” –I Corinthians 4:2 ESV

Anamnesis/Abiding, and Love

“‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’” —Acts 17:28

“And these words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart: And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up.” –Deuteronomy 6:6-7

“Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me. -John 15:4 MSG

Anamnesis is a Greek word meaning the conscious, prayerful remembrance of God, the continuing sense of God’s presence throughout the day as we work, pray, eat, talk and rest. It is the awareness of the sacred in all times and places and the refusal to compartmentalise life.

This emphasis comes from the Celtic Christian reverence for John the Beloved, who wrote about love more than anything else, and abiding in Christ.  The picture of John at rest with Jesus during the Last Supper, ‘listening to the heartbeat of God’ is their primary view of relationship with God.

The Celtic or Hebridean prayers collected in the Carmina Gaedelica demonstrate an astonishing daily intimacy with God, during daily tasks. One ancient night prayer reads:

“May the Father of heaven have care of my soul, His loving arm about my body, through each slumber and sleep of my life.”  ~ Carmina Gaedelica

In their illuminations (stylized artwork of Christian scripture and motifs), John is represented by  an Eagle.  The perspective of John’s Gospel is markedly different from the other three.  He takes a higher view of events, like an eagle seeing the landscape from above.  “In the beginning was the Word,” he begins, instead of  with a list of human events and genealogy.  He perceives and writes from this place of understanding the preeminence of love in all aspects of life.

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things,endures all things.   ~1 Cor 13:4-7 ESV

We develop in love through intimacy with God.   Abiding, experiencing God’s constant love for us,  enables us to live the “love-life”.   We  grow in abiding through spiritual practices such as contemplation and  meditation.

 Immanence

We acknowledge God’s immediate presence with His Creation, viewing all of the world and all of our life in the world as sacred. Celtic Christians considered nature to be “the second book of revelation”.  Observing and connecting with creation reveals a great deal about the Creator, but is not a replacement for the “first” book of revelation, the Bible.

“They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. 20 For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.  ~Romans 1:19-20 NLT

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.” –Acts 17:24

“For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be the glory for ever.  Amen.” –Romans 11:36

 Simplicity

We emphasise basic essential doctrines such as the traditional creeds of Christianity, and also a simple form of life. “But I fear, lest by any means…your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” –II Corinthians 11:3

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…” –I Corinthians 15:3-4 NIV

“You’ll remember, friends, that when I first came to you to let you in on God’s master stroke, I didn’t try to impress you with polished speeches and the latest philosophy. I deliberately kept it plain and simple: first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did—Jesus crucified.” –I Corinthians 2:1-2 MSG

 Creativity in Life and Worship

Sing to the Lord a new song! ~Psalm 33 ,40, 96, 98, 144, 149…

Let them praise His name with the dance;
Let them sing praises to Him with the timbrel and harp.  ~Psalm 149:3 NKJV

Since our God is Creator and made us in His image, we are like Him when we exercise creativity.

Celtic Christians used their creativity with all their might when fashioning masterpieces of art in their Illuminated gospels, like the Book of Kells.  Their metallurgy formed beautiful chalices for use in the sacrements, their stonework created high crosses showing the story of faith in pictures for those who could not read, the largest symbol of all being the cross of Christ placed over the circle of the world.

The unbroken knotwork they adorned so much with symbolised eternity, the encircling presence of God,  and the interconnectedness of all life, spiritual and natural.  They ‘sang new songs’, composing poetry for worship and teaching, and it is said that they “sang their prayers and prayed their songs.”  We can all live from a stance of creative worshipping, whatever the work before us.

 Hospitality

While living aescetic lives, Celtic monks were devoted to hospitality as well.  They took seriously the admonitions to below.

 Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!       ~Hebrews 13:2 NLT

10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. 13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.  ~Romans 12:10, 13

Seekers arriving at a monastery would be greeted by the administrator (Abbess or Abbot) of that place and given special attention and quarters more comfortable than the cells of the monks.  When we see the image of God in all we meet, honouring them is a natural response.  Like the command to love, hospitality also needs to be extended to ourselves, even those places we consider unacceptable, so that they too may be drawn into the Light.

 Anamchara

9 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken ~ Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 ESV

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. ~ James 5:16 ESV

As we study ancient Celtic Christian life, we find another unique feature: the anamchara or ‘soul friend’. Having a soul friend is a practice followed by those both inside and outside the Celtic monastery. Everyone in the community at large had one.  An anam chara could be a different gender or rank than you.  It was so essential to spiritual formation that Saint Brigit is quoted as saying “A person without a soul friend is like a man without a head.”

All monks were assigned to a more mature monk in the community to learn from.  Originally it was a new monk sharing a cell with a more experienced one, observing and copying the older monk in learning to live a life of devotion.  A new monk did not have to face challenges alone, and often these spiritually forming relationships lasted a lifetime.

The  scope for such a relationship can vary, but always includes two aspects: 1) offering others an inviting presence, an attentive ear, a place to tell their story and to be honest with with themselves, and 2) help in developing ongoing awareness or attunement to God’s immediate presence and speaking in all of life.

An anamchara  is someone to accompany you on your spiritual journey, walking together.  They have not arrived yet either! An anamchara does not tell you what do; an but rather listens, and asks questions to  help you hear the Holy Spirit for yourself.

This is a tradition we would like to revive in Christian practice.  It seems an organic and loving method of discipleship, foundational to grounding believers in their walk with Jesus and a caring community – an antidote to the problem of people ‘slipping through the cracks’.

 

Adapted with permission from a work of  the Celitc Evangelical Monastic Society.

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