Friday, April 17, 2009

Celtic Spirituality -- God’s Presence and Protection

by Sr. Mary Lonergan

We meet today in the Presence of the Trinity. I greet you in the words of an ancient Celtic rune:

“In the name of the Father, Chief of Chieftans, who loved us into being. In the name of Mary’s son, the Christ, who longs to bring us peace and the fullness of life. In the name of the Spirit, the Holy One, the Breath of wind that enfolds us and fills us with life. Reveal to us, O God, the truth of your PRESENCE, Father, Son and Spirit, Unity in Trinity.”

Celtic Christians truly believed in an all pervading PRESENCE of a benign and merciful Creator God -- a God immediate, accessible, loving, tangible, approachable and visible in the work of creation. Their vision was not perfect but their faith and desire to see God in all things was profound and inspiring.

During the last four years I have been privileged to meet many good Celts (and not a few great non-Celts!) through our Celtic Spirituality programs and outreach activities. And indeed, quite a few of us -- whether Scots, Irish, Welsh, Manx, Cornish, Bretons or Cape Bretons, with roots anyplace from Gallicia in Spain to Galatia in Turkey -- carry Gaelic or Brythonic DNA in our genes. Even President Obama’s great-great-great (ever so many greats!) grandmother is reputed to hail from a townsland in my native county!

Different Christian communities throughout history have each made their distinctive and enduring contributions to the ongoing life of the universal church. From its Judeo-Christian beginnings, the early church has given us a rich treasury of scripture, doctrine and ritual. Desert fathers and mothers enriched us with an abiding aescetical and mystical tradition. Medieval Catholicism embedded principles of Canon Law and philosophical theology. The reformation churches re-ignited scriptural emphasis along with accentuating faith experience. Methodist hymns of enthusiasm and a gospel of interconnectedness, social awareness and service outreach speak especially to our time.

But the legacy of our Celtic forebears is much simpler and more direct and very, very personal. Celtic Spirituality, the Celtic Way of being Christian, asks us today, as it asked our Celtic ancestors, to look into our hearts, and the hearts of all created beings, to find God’s abiding and enduring presence. For the Celtic Christian, the awareness of God’s PRESENCE, PROTECTION and PROMISE was like breathing in and breathing out -- filling and receiving, emptying and giving. It reminds us that to get to Heaven we have to keep our feet firmly planted on the ground. Our God, while transcendent, must also be an “Everyday God.”

The Celts saw God through everything and turned to God for everything. God accompanied them through the shadow times of sickness, the thin times of death and mourning, the moon times of love and romance. The whole self was inserted into the rhythm of prayer, the cycles of days, years, seasons, tides. Prayer was inseparable from work, song, music, dance, hymn, blessing, story -- even curses! There was no separation of work and worship. They walked with God. They were, in the words of an early writer “intoxicated with the Spirit.”

Perhaps for a world that has sometimes (often?) forgotten the Presence of Francis Thompson’s “many splendored” God, and created a God to fit our narrow spiritual vision, Celtic Prayer and sense of God’s awesome presence in a world full of sacredness, can help us hear again “the echo of God’s longing in our souls.”


  1. I discovered your blog when I opened my e-mail this morning. It's a treasure trove. These writings provided rich food for thought for me this morning. They were a gift I had not expected when I opened my e-mail. I found something in each one which related to my life. I'm looking forward to the enrichment of future reading. Thanks for all that you do.


  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Thank you, Kay. I apologize that the comments are difficult to post. You should be able to simply post as "anonymous" but that doesn't appear as an option. I'll see what we can do to fix that. It is a little confusing! Thank you for your comments; we are pleased to know that these blog posts are making a difference in people's lives. We hope those who are close to Portland will check out some of the wonderful class offerings at FSC.