Mark and Rex discuss the complex and inspiring topic of Celtic spirituality, a spirituality marked by prayer, love of nature, and union with God.
Welcome to Jessup think I’m your host Mark Moore, and your co host Rex Gurney. And today on the show, we’re going to be exploring Celtic spirituality, spirituality marked by a deep sense of community, a love of nature and a reverence for the Trinity.
And even though it’s something I’ve kind of come to a little bit later in my life, it’s something that’s really impacted my, the way I see the world and my, my devotional walk in an incredible manner really had sent and I think it has some things for all of our listeners as well.
Yeah, we hope that you enjoy the show, and it impacts you in the same way that it has us. Alright, Rex, we’re gonna be I was well, I was waiting for the bagpipes to come on. Yeah. The pennywhistle. And maybe, maybe, maybe we can talk to post production. Maybe they’ve already added it in. And then Taylor goddess. But yeah, looking at Celtic Christianity Today and Celtic spirituality, which he said in the intro, there’s something that you kind of came to later in life, and it does feel like probably the last 20 or 30 years, there’s been more of an interest in Celtic spirituality.
That’s right. I remember that too. I remember when it kind of got got discovered, which is sort of bizarre when you talk about been around for 1500 years that sort of got discovered it was almost faddish for a while but but after the, you know, everybody gets on the bandwagon, kind of thing. It’s, um, you know, it’s lasted. Really? Yeah. Because there’s a deep, deep and rich vein of spirituality there.
Yeah. I remember when the Northumbria community when they published a daily prayer. I remember, man, I want to say I was in college, but maybe just out of college. I remember picking that up. And that was kind of late 90s, early 2000s.
Yeah, yeah. Almost exactly. When literally, that was exactly when I remember the wife of the associate pastor of the church. We went to Virginia, suddenly, she was also a seminary professor. And she was suddenly into Celtic spirituality. So she actually went to Ireland or Scotland or somewhere and brought back some, you know, it was she was she was really in it for a while. But that’s the first time I’d ever heard of it. Actually. Yeah.
Yeah. One, especially in maybe the evangelical community, we didn’t run out and talk about I mean, I think even growing up there was a suspicion of like Celtic crosses. Right. You know, I mean, just like, there’s a suspicion of the crucifix as well, I think that is this kind of suspicion of, of, you know, of Celtic spirituality, and maybe the mystical element of it
right now. And in the pagan element, the warmed over druidism, or something like that. I’ve kind of right, you know, I’ve heard people criticize it for that, but it’s deeply Christian.
Yeah, it is. And as we kind of get into this, or maybe people listening right now who are like, I don’t exactly know, maybe the backstory of Celtic spirituality. So if you want to kind of maybe give us a little rundown on the history where it originated,
okay. It’s really interesting, because it actually for Gosh, probably six or 700 years, was sort of an alternate but parallel, you know, version of the Christian faith, that kind of grew simultaneously with what ends up becoming the Roman church or the Roman Catholic Church, and really didn’t have that much contact with it. But sort of grew a little bit differently. I mean, nothing, you know, heretical or anything about it, you just had sort of an almost an independent origin. And so the Celts, of course, are, you know, usually associated with Ireland and Wales and Scotland. But as we were talking before the podcast, they’re sort of everywhere. I was really surprised. Actually, the first time I went to Spain, it was like, What are all these people up in northern Spain with like red hair and blue eyes? And it’s like the traditional music up in northern Spain has bagpipes in it is like what was going on with this, but then actually, when you just like look at a map, it’s just like, you know, it’s just a swim from the coast of Ireland down to hit the northern part of Spain. And so, it was pretty widely disseminated. But what ended up happening was, you know, Christianity came with the Romans to England, and then when the Romans sort of bugged out in the fourth and fifth century, Christianity kind of it took sort of local route, but it ended up being sort independent of the rest of rapidly christianizing Europe was the Roman Empire fell. Right? Yeah. But then, you know, certain Christians and I think St. Patrick, of course, is the most famous one and a lot of legends, you know, kind of serais, right. He apparently was a historical character and an amazing person, but he, you know, was a Christian and basically wanted to evangelize his own people. And so he went over to Ireland, and from Ireland, where it took basically it kind of crossed the straits to Scotland and then sort of spread around. But but sort of arose independently, a little bit of the Roman Church, which which gave the Roman Church Willies after a while, because they really felt that, you know, you needed to sort of submit to the authority of Rome, you know, yeah, you have to you have we have to have that happen. And eventually, they did actually, it was it was a very conscious decision on the Celts to basically, you know, just go for unity with one church in the West and not not two or three, right? Yeah, but but since it grew up sort of differently. It does have a different cast. And that cast is very attractive to a lot of folks. And I think it really has resonance today. And you were mentioning a few of those sort of distinctives of Celtic spirituality, before the podcast and I kind of forgot your list. So you want to repeat Yeah,
well, I think one of the first ones you need to see this when you look at different kind of Celtic communities is just that stress on community and a lot of times it was through the lens of monasticism. Exactly, exactly. And one thing I think with monasticism, that sometimes in the evangelical community, since we don’t have too many evangelical monks out there, although there’s been different moments where there’s been a push right, we have a few on campus. Yeah, exactly. I know. I barricade myself. Yeah. You and I are trying our hardest. Interesting about monasticism is that we often think of like monasticism as a, as a solo spirituality, right and spirituality alone. And there are permits, and there are those who go in and even the Desert Fathers, but many of them went into times of solitude, but but came back to live in community. And really, monasticism is marked by a deep sense of community.
And one difference sort of, of the Celtic version of monasticism made least in the first millennium of our era was that, whereas, you know, the church in in, in Europe, pretty much would separate men and women into completely different monasteries, in, you know, until basically, they had to give this up, they would often have, you know, they’d be separate communities, but they basically be one monastery, and they’d have an Abbot and an Abbot and an Abbess. And yeah, they were considered equal, actually equally in charge of the monastery with, you know, with the community of women and the community of men. And there was just this sort of egalitarian cast of Celtic spirituality that I think, of course, a lot of folks today find really attractive to.
Yeah, yeah. And it kind of draws you into, into that community where it’s not just like saying maybe it’s not just a male community or a female community, but it’s, it’s really a community of everyone coming together as a community of saints base. Yeah. And deepening their, their spirituality, I also have kind of seen that their type of monasticism was also marked, and this is for maybe other monastic types as well. But it wasn’t marked so much by a desire for knowledge, like a deeper secret knowledge of God, but rather it was marked by, by a way of living your life. Right, right. That is,
it was much more in tune. And this is another attractive thing about Celtic spirituality, to many of us moderns who have disenchanted our world after the enlightened after the enlightened Yeah, um, Celtic spirituality is very, very tied to place and, and tied to the earth tied to nature, not in a, you know, pantheistic way or anything, but realizing that, you know, that the world is enchanted with God’s grace, you know, yeah. And, and you can find God being manifest in God’s creation. And, you know, one thing that they talked about and this is another thing that’s sort of been picked up by us moderns is the whole concept of thin places. And, you know, those are places where, you know, we know God’s everywhere, right? Yeah, but but these are cases where it just seems like for whatever reason, the veil between heaven and earth is just a little thinner. Yeah, it’s almost like nature as Theophany. Sort of. And yeah, that’s something that’s really stuck with me for a long time I actually brought with me, one of the books I have, basically, I have several notebooks that whenever I, you know, find something that inspires me in my devotion, writing, whatever, I’ll sort of the spiritual discipline of copying, actually, yeah, I’ll copy it down in my best handwriting. And I tried to do it, like meditatively, it’s not a ratio, and put it in these notebooks. Right. And, you know, every once in a while, every couple of years, I’ll look, you know, look through here and just read some of this stuff. And it’s like, Yeah, I know why I wrote that down now. Right. Um, but one thing I keep in this particular iteration of those notebooks is a little three by five card that I’ve written thin places in my life, and I’ve kind of kept see different pin is pencils for I’ve added to it through the years. And yeah, and you know, when I look at this card, and I just remember, you know, I felt God’s presence in those places. And I remember God speaking to me in those places, is like, the veil between heaven and earth was just really thinner. Yeah, and just looking at my little list of thin places, is really helpful to me when I’m in a very thick place.
Right. Right. And that’s, and that is, I think, one thing that’s really attractive about the Celtic spirituality, that emphasis on thin places, and maybe that emphasis on that place and location, can have a factor in spirituality, right. And some, oftentimes, we maybe exclude that. But yeah, I can look in my life and think of maybe different I mean, there’s a there’s a camp up in Tahoe that I that I’ve worked with for almost 20 years now. And that would be a thin place in my life that is just that there’s that, like you said, that veil just seems to be much thinner, and the connection with God, and there’s something about location.
Right, right. I was gonna ask you about shifts in places, I was looking through this list here, just right now. And you know, some of them are out in nature. Some of them are in like, cities is just, you know, that there’s some places I’ve been to, again, that that just, I don’t know, the combination of, of, you know, the people and the place and nature usually is by the ocean somewhere, right? But but it’s just, it’s just all comes together for me sort of like Ace God and humanity. And even though I don’t know, these people, and they don’t know me, we’re all sort of, you know, here together under God’s good graces, and that that’s really impacted me profoundly. Yeah, that’s why I keep the little list.
Yeah, I think that’s, that’s great. It’s so great to have those to recognize those places. And too often we disconnect our spirituality from from place and and then we don’t necessarily allow them locations to impact us in that way. And so so being able to rely not rely on that, but but be able to have those type of places where it’s like, man, I know this a place I can get away and connect with God.
And even some of those places that you know, I’m figure prominently in the history of Celtic spirituality when you visit them today. You just sort of feel God’s presence there. The island of Iona is one of them. I’ve actually never been there. I’ve been to Scotland, but I haven’t been to Iona. Yeah. But I’ve seen pictures and people that have been and maybe one of these days, I’ll get there. Yeah, there you go. It’s just a special place. Yeah, it’s a special place. And and it was it was it was seen as such by the original folks like St. Columba that that would founded that community and, and came up with these wonderful things like the Book of Kells. And there’s a lot of this that I’m pretty sure our listeners are really already familiar with. It’s just sort of, you know, connecting the dots a little bit.
Yeah. Now like David Adam writes this about Celtic spirituality especially connected to play so the vision of the Celts was sacramental rather than mystical. They saw God in and through things rather than direct visions. The Celts only miss a take time to learn and play the five stringed harp which are the five senses, and I love that idea of of it, you know, and that’s maybe where you were saying at the beginning, there was this maybe mistrust of Celtic spirituality because of the mystical side and I said, warmed over, you know, paganism or Druid ism. But but I think we don’t need to be afraid of that connection to nature and that in that use of nature to, to explore the presence of God in viewing it, I like that switch in words that it’s not, it doesn’t have to be mystical but rather sacramental meaning that that God is present in these places, just like he’s president everywhere, but there are moments and places where you can sense him in a different way because maybe distractions are gone. Right? By like how you’re saying, I think in my own life, too, like I have some of those places that are in nature. You know, up in Tahoe, I would say back in Indiana, at at dusk time right at sunset because there’s no elevation change in Indiana. So it’s it is like staring out over the ocean in the sense that you watch the sun drop, you know, drop off the side of the earth, just like you watch it go into the ocean. And I always love that as a kid, I always felt that as a special time of contemplation. But also, even for me walking in a big city like walking downtown with a bunch of people. It’s just something about that, too, that I can that I can sense God and sense. And since others
at Thomas Merton famously felt that in Louisville, Kentucky. That’s one of his most famous sort of theophanies in a hand It happened in you know, downtown Louisville. Yeah. Which is so good. But if you do go to Scotland, and like, I can’t say I’m, you know, Mr. Scotland or world. But But if you do look at the Hebrides, you know, the inner and outer Hebrides, which is those islands that are out there, kind of between Scotland, and you just you just see the sun there, and the sea and the sky, and, and you sort of get it, you just you get it. And one, a collection of prayers that actually came out of folks that had lived there for centuries, it was called the, the communica Delica. And what ended up happening is, you know, it’s sort of like folklore is today, we just go around and and, and just take down and write down these prayers that people had had, you know, said for centuries, basically. And, you know, one thing that Celtic spirituality has is a prayer for everything, because they really believe that that you know, God’s presence was in everything. Right, right. And one of those prayers, actually, I have on a little three by five card and I will read about once a week and disappear that actually comes from kind of a domestic sort of thing you’re supposed to say in the morning, if you’re, you know, in a in that truth, cottage somewhere, sky or something like that sounds great to me, even in Roseville, California, I mean, this is called kindling the fire. And I just think it’s, I mean, I need this. So I just like to read this prayers, I will Kindle my fire this morning, in the presence of the angels of heaven, without malice, without jealousy, without envy, without fear without terror of anyone under the son, with the Son of God to shield me. So God Kindle in my heart, a flame of love for my neighbors and my foes, for my friends and all my kindred, for the brave for the Knave for the beggar, oh, son of the loveliest Mary from the lowest creature that there is to the name that is highest, above all, and I need that that’s just for guessing for everyone, even people I admit, I don’t like God changed my heart and my attitude towards them. And, and there’s, you know, I mean, there’s hundreds of prayers like this, you candle the fire, you say this prayer, you know, you bake bread, you say this prayer, there’s this concept of threshold. You know, when you when you go into a house, or you leave a house, where where you just sort of bless you’re entering and you’re leaving, and it’s not superstitious as some people might write might write, that’s really not what’s going on there at all. It’s just, it’s just acknowledging, you know, that every step we take needs to be, you know, in the light of God, and they really felt this about everything. And yeah, I, I missed that in our world. And I missed that in much, much of the, you know, spirituality that I grew up with.
Right. Right. And I think maybe that’s what has drawn both you and I to to Celtic spirituality and and the spiritual disciplines. is in and I think that’s why, you know, over the last 40 years, there really has been even within the evangelical community has been a bigger interest in that, that what we would call deeper spirituality. But really, it’s just kind of spirituality, and maybe what spirituality would be. But we need that encouragement. And I think we need those examples to show us what, what it looks like to, to live in the presence of God every moment. Right? And to remind ourselves, and yeah, maybe, maybe for too many are, our spirituality is a church service that we go to, but we’re kind of separate from, and then our daily life looks much different. And then we check in on weekends. And I think something like Celtic spirituality or the disciplines offer us offers a daily daily life that
is important, really is right. So you just want God with you and everything that you do. And I find that really, you know, really important in my life, and you know, you teach theology mark, and apparently I won an award in theology. That’s right, you’re at, I didn’t deserve an award winning whatever. Later, but nothing, but we’ve already gone over all that in a previous podcast. But um, you know, one interesting thing about about Celtic spirituality is it’s, it’s very Trinitarian. And they put a huge focus on the Trinity, and how every person of the Trinity and that being very, very important, you know, yeah. And you see that, with, you know, prayers like St. Patrick’s breast place, and you see it all through the coming to get Delica. Yeah, and, you know, for so many of us that, that, you know, we claim we’re Trinitarian because, you know, to be Nicene Christians, yeah, sort of, right. Yeah. But, yeah, a lot of times we’re functional Unitarians in some way, and just really are, yeah, and, you know, Celtic spirituality really reminds us of the three and the end the one, yeah, you know, and God in three persons plus a trinity, and you see that over and over again, through the prayers.
And you see it in their symbols and their artwork as well. So, I mean, I think that’s what has always drawn me to the Celtic Cross, is that kind of that overlapping pattern, that is really a pattern that is that is describing the three in one nature of God, right. And, and, and again, perhaps it’s, it’s in spiritualities, like Celtic spirituality, where we get to also see how, how symbols are used to reinforce truths about God and to help us and, and maybe perhaps being part of spiritualities that maybe lack some of those symbols. We do have that tendency to, you know, to think about God as a single person, and then we’ll talk about Jesus and the Holy Spirit, but it’s very hard for us conceptually, right, to think of God as three in one as Father, Son, spirit, right?
And even though you know, Celtic spirituality has a fine appreciation for Theophany or God’s presence in nature. It’s not like, you know, these folks are just sort of wandering around starry eyed communing with a leprechaun or whatever you think the Celtic spirituality has, is very aware of, of evil and the dark forces in this world around us yeah, need for, for protection from that and, and our need for for, you know, realizing that, that you know, this is God’s world, but it’s a fallen world and and we need, we need Christ in us to make our way through this world, part of the famous preference St. Patrick, and I’m actually reading this out of another book here. You know, you’ve heard all this before, but and it sounds really repetitive and it sounds like you know, you know, can you think of anything else to pay or something but but really, you know, we all need this. It’s like be Christ this day, my strong protector. Christ beside me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ to the right of me, Christ to the left of me, Christ in my lying and my sitting and my rising, Christ in the heart of all who know me, Christ on the tongue of all who meet me, Christ, in the eye of all who see me in Christ in the ear of all who hear me, Christ in and through everything. Yeah. You know, once again, that’s something that I don’t cultivate in my life. Right as much as I would like to and yeah, Celtic spirituality. helps me to at least try.
Yeah, it really does. So if, if someone were, you know, if their interest has been piqued Now, over over the course of this episode, and they wanted to, to start to learn more about Celtic Christianity, where would you point them first?
Well, you know, especially, you know, like anything that sort of becomes a Christian fad. There’s been a plethora of books that have been written on it. And you know, I actually have some of my library don’t have any with me right now, except for the two books that I brought. But a good introduction to Celtic prayer by Esther devall, W, A L. Sounds Dutch. So I don’t know how Yes, it does. But it’s just called the Celtic way of prayer. And I actually read part of St. Patrick’s breastplate. There. And, you know, the other book, I was quoting from songs to the isles is just sort of an updated modern version of, of the communica Delica. because, frankly, you know, a lot of these prayers, you know, even though I guess most people in Scotland in Ireland speak English now. But yeah, these were all in Gaelic. Right. Right. And I would have loved to have heard some of these things in Gaelic, actually, but it’s a it’s an ecumenical spirituality, because, yes, we know, Scotland sort of became Presbyterian, you know, without actually losing this whole vibe. You know, that’s sort of important for everybody. And, yeah, it’s been it’s been wonderful that it’s been rediscovered in reappropriated. In the last 50 years or so.
Yeah, no, those are great, great resources. And, and one that I kind of mentioned earlier, too, if you look up the Northumbria community, and they published a few books on on Celtic spirituality, and Celtic daily prayer, and I’ve really found that those have been extremely helpful. I’m just understanding the, the focus of Celtic spirituality. And again, giving us you know, I’m a huge fan, just like you are Rex, of giving us written prayers that we can go back to, and and it just teaches us a depth and teaches us maybe a different perspective that we hadn’t in. And maybe as we’re looking, you know, hear at the beginning, and just into 2021. And ready. Yeah, like, as, as we’re looking at this new year, I think I think it would be a great year to, to hone in on these elements from Celtic spirituality hone in on, what does community look like? You know, it was interesting with 2020 being such a disruption of our normal, right kind of Christian life, in a sense in America, right? That I think it’s a good time to, to think about, yeah, what, what is the basis of our spirituality? And what does community look like from a Sunday gathering, but also to a daily life? And what does? How does our daily lives, you know, center us around God and keep bringing God’s presence back to us in every moment. And so, I think 2021 could be a great time to kind of explore, explore these principles and explore a deeper spirituality.
I’m certainly willing to do almost anything in 2021.
Yeah, there we go. All right, you’re leading the charge, you’re leading the charge and will follow. But now I hope that this has maybe has piqued your interest into into wanting to learn a little more about Celtic spirituality, and a form of spirituality that really highlights community but also highlights this the sacramental nature of every moment of every day. And, and now hyla highlights God’s presence in nature, but also at your workplace and in your city. And so being able to, to know that God is there, and that every moment of your life can be directed towards him and can be centered around him I think is really important.
When you start looking and expecting God to show up. It’s amazing how he does. And yeah, shows up everywhere. And anywhere actually. And so wonderful thing to look for and expect.
Definitely. Well, thank you so much, Rex for for putting this topic forward. And teaching us a little today about Celtic spirituality. Not the expert, but certainly the advocate. Thank you for listening to Jessup. Think Be sure to follow us on Twitter at Jessup think we would love to hear your thoughts on the episode and engage with any questions you have Our aim is to provide a framework for further reflection and deeper exploration of these important topics. You can also help the show by leaving a review on iTunes. These reviews help the podcast reach new listeners. Until next time, I’m Mark Moore and this is Jessup.
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