Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Wisdom from Celtic Christianity

By Richard Matthews

On Saturday June 15th Father Jim and I had the pleasure of attending a discussion on Celtic Spirituality at All Saints Sandy Hill Anglican Church in Ottawa.

As we descended the stairs and entered the church basement we were immediately greeted by the melodic variation of Celtic music being played by a group of five musicians.

The talk was presented by Rev. Ray Simpson, who lives on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne in the U.K. where he founded the Community of Aidan and Hilda. He is the author of dozens of books including ‘Liturgies from Lindisfarne’ and the ‘Cowshed Revolution.

The presentation was divided into three parts: Celtic Saints, Creation Care and Community.

Celtic Saints

We started the day with a Prayer and then Ray began his talk with a discussion about Celtic Saints who "date from a time before St. Augustine introduced guilt into Christian culture." He reviewed some of the salient aspects of the lives of Celtic Saints including St. Patrick, St. Brendan and St. Bridget.

Ray emphasized the work of St. Bridget (451–525) in particular. As Ray explained, she was a powerful women, particularly in light of the patriarchal culture that dominated Europe at that time. Ray characterized St. Bridget as a spiritual midwife who helped to birth the metaphorical Christ in Ireland.

Ray also reviewed four keys to becoming a saint:

1. Meet God in this place (let your feet follow your heart to the place of resurrection)
2. Meet God in a stranger (see christ in the face of a stranger)
3. Meet God in the elements (natural occurances)
4. Meet God in the next wave (pilgrimage)

Creation Care

Ray discussed "Creation Care" which involves a spiritual approach to environmental stewardship. During this part of his presentation Ray emphasized the connection between spiritual development and the environment. He claimed that creation draws us into the incarnation. He points out the new heaven and the new earth will relate to the old heaven and the old earth. He also said that resurrection can only occur in the measure to which we are faithful to this earth.

Ray pointed to the fact that churches are increasingly becoming more ecological. This is about more than just how we can reduce our environmental impact, it is about a spiritual ecology. According to Ray, we need to touch the earth and contemplate it. We need to get creation into our systems and see the spirituality of God in creation.

To develop spiritual ecology we need to follow natural rhythms. Ray indicated that the rhythm in us is like the rhythm of creation. He recommends that we pray in the morning, at noon and at nightfall so that we are in consort with the rhythms of the sun.

He went on to say that protest and lament are important. One example of a lament that he offered involved expressing grief for the ways we have spoiled creation. He also said that gratitude should follow our laments as thankgiving is the root of all service.

He points to events in the natural world as evidence of Gods hand in creation. He specifically points to Thunder which he referred to as "god talking to us."

Reflecting on creation is not something we should do on special occasions like Earth Day it is something we should be doing everyday.


After lunch we went outside where we sang and prayed, then Ray shared his thoughts on the death of the old hierarchical Christian church and the grassroots renewal taking hold within the Christian church. According to Ray the Parish system is dying and we need to recognize that what binds together church communities is the "rule of life" and living by a "way of life." Specifically he reaffirmed the importance of connecting our spirituality to natural rhythms.

This entails life long learning, Bible studies, creation care and ultimately concern for people and life. We are all on a spiritual journey and a soul friend, mentor or life coach can help us on our way. We should also consider going on retreat and pilgramage.

Some of the qualities that help us with our journey are the cultivation of balance and the development of community. We need to cultivate a heart for God, others and earth. Above all we need to be holistic and open to the rhythms of the earth.

To begin developing a sustainable faith community we should start by asking what is the one rhythm I can put in place today.

Five Metaphors

Throughout Ray used a number of powerful metaphors to help shed light on his discussion. Here are three examples:

1. Thread metaphor: Threads need to be woven together to form a rope.
2. Water metaphor: Water is not deterred by obstacles it always finds a way.
3. Tree metaphor: A ruid or tree evokes the cross or the tree of death on which Jesus was crucified. Central to this metaphor is the transformation of the tree of death into the tree of life through Christ's resurrection.

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