Celtic Spirituality: Hearing God’s Voice In Community

The following are some random, scattered notes on Celtic Christianity from our course this past session. I thought I’d post them out of interest, giving some books to read and targeted insights.

Restoring The Woven Cord
Michael Mitton

Published 12 years ago, it began a renaissance of spiritual connectivity with the Celtic Christian tradition.

Celtic roots go back 1000 years before the Reformation, when all looked toward Rome, but Celtic spirituality was the first expression of Christian faith in the UK. Some believe its the nearest thing to a complete expression of the faith (Mitton).

“Truth is sought and found only in community.”
Walsh and Middleton

Self-deception is less likely if a person is willing to come before his or her peers and to make the decision in community.

In Google, if you type in “Celtic” you get:

Celtic Connection
One of the largest Wikka and witchraft sites

The Celtic Cafe’
Mythology and music

Celtic Origins
Personal histories

But, if Trinity and Jesus are central, you hit the riches.

“a thin place” (iona, st. stephen)
George McCloud

Celtic Christianity is solid in the center and loose around the edges.

For Next Week: Come with a definition of Christian community.

Discerning God’s will in community happens best when the community is healthy.

* How will we live together?
* What will our relationships be like?
* How will we honor God and each other?

For the Celts, the mundane was the edge of glory (Esther DeWaal).

There is no sacred/secular divide.

There is no difference between being religious and being normal.

There is no gap between now and eternity.

All is sacred. All is magnificent. God is ever imminent, ever close.

“Love is not doing the extraordinary thing, but knowing how to the ordinary thing so as to make it holy.”

A thin place: The veil between this world and the next is tissue thin.

A pursuit of all places to be like this. We are thickened by worries, anxieties, fears, stress. Thin in this context means access to God not on occasion, or just on mountaintops, or when we feel but, but being clear that He is ever close.

A theology of “place.” Places they’ve been to that have changed them. God is everywhere, though, right? But a theology of place suggests that sometimes when we go to places we are more open.

There is a distinction between a buzz and a way of life. The art of travel is not in seeing new places, but in seeing old places with new eyes. There is a franticness to today’s buzz seekers; the Celtic sense of thin places spoke to beautiful places, with many over centuries who were open to God in a place, to embracing the glory of the mundane, and then carrying it into the world in all places.

Is Celtic spirituality a quaint diversion that is irrelevant?

“Looking back and understanding helps you shape, craft, fashion and influence what is to come.” Gregg Finley

The Celtic prayers collected in the Hebrides and Isles by Alexander Carmichael in the late 19th century, collected from the highlands, blessings and incantations about milking the cow, warming your hands over the fire, sleeping, waking, birds, elements – mundane things. The mundane is the edge of glory. The book is Charms Of The Gaels: Hymns And Incantations.

The Celts afforded a great deal of wisdom and spiritual authority to women. In 664, there was a meeting called between the Celts and Rome to work out differences at Council of Whitby in Northern England. The meeting was called by Hilda.

The continental church was totally dominated by men, hierarchical and women were subordinate.

The Celts created a spirituality of the mundance, in the misty, cold hills of Scotland and Ireland. We can take great strength from this.

The Celtic tradition arises out of the Druid tradition. The Druids honored their women in a way that was unusual. They had a love of nature, and worshiped nature. They had a strong sense of the supernatural – all was Spirit.

The Celts built churches over spots where there were pagan temples.

St. Patrick’s day, green beer, pubs, etc. Patrick would say “Just go home and pray. You don’t need a buzz. It’s about being faithful in a non-spectacular way.” He was a guy who was in Ireland on a mission to bring the truth of Jesus to the Irish. The Irish pagan folks were led by Druid priests, with both spiritual and temporal authority. A legend/story: Patrick is in conversation with the 3 Druid priests on the shore. The Druids say “All is connected, all things interrelate. It’s cyclical, rocks, trees, us, etc. It is complete.” Then Patrick, after listening, knelt before them, and drew a big circle in the sand. “I understand what you’ve told me about the oneness of it all. He drew a cross in the middle of the circle, and spoke of Jesus, his crucifixion and resurrection. “My message to you, after hearing and respecting, there is a God who can take your circle and ultimately complete it in his death and resurrection.”

Celtic spirituality is built on story and narrative, even legend. Not journalism… but “it’s a story,” don’t be so uptight for facts, etc.

Paul’s teaching on the Body: Every true expression of Christianity is an expression of the Body. (Col. 1:18-20, 1 Cor. 12:27). “We” are the Body of Christ.

Dan’s Note: I wonder if many of the greatest acheivements of human greatness would have happened in this view of community? Individual achievement seems to be necessary.

Why are we here? To prepare God’s people for works of service, unity in the faith… etc.

Paul is speaking to the (Gal. 3:1 – you foolish Galatians, “Keltoi,” that part of Turkey, in Galatians, the Celts. Before Jesus, the Celts, sometimes called the fathers of Europe, occupied all of Europe. Also called “Gauls,” and “Celts”. 1000 BC. People of Celtic origin were throughout Europe.

Came up against Romans, and German tribes (barbarians). Celts would often lose. Pushed further and further west, into low countries, Gaul (Germany), Holland, etc. Julius Caesar beat them, and drove them further, so they went across the English channel to England in 50 BC. The Romans pursued them into Southern England. No place to go except the moments of Wales, highlands of Scotland, and even further, to Ireland. This ethnic body was pushed to the fringes of Europe. The Baskes, the Bretons (Brittany), the Welsh, the Irish and the Scots.

A rough timeline:

50 BC defeated them in the Celtic Wars
Rome controlled England until 410 AD (400 years), most of England was controlled by Rome.
A long way from Rome. The great distance, and water break from the continent, they developed ways of understanding themselves and God and each other, etc. differently from Rome.
They had a different time to celebrate Easter, they dressed differently. The Celtic monks hairstyle was different, shaved front half of hair off, and grew long hair down the back.
Rome had issues – doing things right, Pope’s word goes everywhere, bureaucracy, control, sacred trust to enforce.

In 664 Romans wanted to meet over disagreements. In Whitby today, an old abbey run by Hilda, the Abbess, who called the meeting. Written up by Bede the historian, church lawyers came, Celts come across as not being that well organized, not adversarial for the Celts. At the end of the day, Rome got its way, and Celtic church agreed to everything they were asked. The King of Northumbria, district of Northeast of England, sided with Rome.

Some sources trace decline to there. Rather, it was a “course correction,” reminded who the boss was. Woman to play a lesser role, date of Easter. From the time Rome left, to the Synod of Whitby (400 years), Celtic Christian spirituality flourished. By 1066, the Norman conquest, the Celts had basically been absorbed.

In that 400 years, Patrick and Columba took the message to the Scots, down into England. Brendan the Navigator was an Irishman who got into a coracle, a boat made with animal hides, set off from Northern Ireland into the Atlantic, no sails, believed that God would take them where they needed to go, and many centuries later Columbus included references to Iceland, Southern tip of Greenland and a “land beyond that.” It’s possible that Brendan and his followers found it before 1000.

Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne, was at Whitby, a reluctant bishop, would get up early in the morning before Dawn, walk into the ocean, stand in the water praying, as the tide came in up to his neck. The water lapping around his body. He would exit the water, come up onto shore, and the otters would apparently slither up onto the shore and dry him off with their breath. He died, and a cult formed around his body. For hundreds of years his body didn’t decay (now remains are in England); taken out of the grave, and by accounts by church authorities, who say that his body had not decayed.

Iona came first, then Lindisfarne became a branch.

Discernment is personal, but never entirely private.

How do faithful people come together, and discern what God has called us to do. It is a phenomenon, a mystery, and cannoted by notated.

As we step into the riches of the past, the riches of faith, and we step into the mystery of relationships.

The more comfortable we get with love, the more comfortable we get with mystery. A journey of unlearning. With age and experience comes more comfort. Celts were very comfortable with mystery. Imagine a world where praying a prayer of protection was an urgent need. You can’t read. Demons everywhere.

Given the tensions between mystery and certainty, resolve and ambiguity, personal achievement and communal achievement, we must each seek our own life of perfect symmetry, or at least ask the question as to what would a life of symmetry look like for me?

We are learning toward mystery.

Danny Morris and Charles Olson, Discerning God’s Will Together.

“The community of people who have decided, through the history of mankind, to both follow the teaching of Jesus, model their lives after the life of Jesus, and to allow themselves to be led and guided through life by the Spirit of God. Our particular faith community is a microcosm of the larger, living a life of worship, shared journey and mission in a particular context. Often, community leaders are chosen that carry the corporate identity, and reinforce it through the tides of change.”

“Sharing life in Jesus’ Name.”

From The Celtic Way by Ian Bradley. The dominant institution of Celtic Christianity was neither the parish church nor the cathedral, but the monastery, which sometimes began as a solitary hermit’s cell (celtic hermits into a cell or cave), and often grew to become a combination of a commune, retreat house, mission station, hotel, hospital, school, university, arts centre, and powerhouse for the local community. Good people, good ideas, etc. Spiritual energy, learning and cultural enlightenment.

1. Believing
2. Behaving
3. Belonging

Stereotypical mainline church, late 20th century,

You start with “what do you believe.” Catechism and confirmation. If you believe enough of the right stuff, you’re in. After many years of doing the right believing, dressing, behaving, I feel like I’m “home.”


1. Belong – All are welcome. sojourn with us.
2. Believe – They begin to experience the life and vitality of the faith.
3. Behave – The final stage is behavior.

George Hunter – belonging before believing. Celtic Way Of Evangelism.

You have to get used to the taste of beer and the smell of pot if you’re going to hang around youth.

Celtic Christianity

1. Celtic Christianity was essentially monastic (but not necessarily celibate), married folks, singles, children.

Bonhoeffer called for a new monasticism, allegiance with the sermon on the mount. (Life Together).

2. The Celts expressed their faith understanding that worship and mission are one; they are not opposites.

3. The Celts expressed their faith in Hospitality. They were far more into relationships than reputation. Lindisfarne – a prayer cell, and a place to receive guests.

Starting with belonging.

4. All of life is sacred. There is no distinction between regular people and religious people. God’s presence pervades everything; all of life. God was as real in a discussion around the fire as around the Eucharist. Prayers around milking the cow, lighting fires. “The mundane is the edge of glory.” Esther DeWaal. Life is not chopped up and compartmentalized. False dichotomy. Five gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and Creation. We are born whole and good. The Church in Rome declared that to be a heresy, Augustine didn’t like it up and against Pelagius. Doctrine of original sin is still with us. When the mother holds the baby in her arms, this creature is not born evil, in the Celtic mind.

5. They took risks. When all of life is sacred, it can be freely lived, radically, in the hands of the creator. They could dare to discern God’s will no matter what it meant. Thomas Merton called a contemplative person an outlaw. They might do anything; anyone that serious about God. Evangelized much of western Europe.

Unconcerned with institutional structures, but deferred to the authority of Rome and looked to St. Peter’s, anyplace could be a thin place, tree in grove or cathedral, any moment a thin moment, solid in the center and loose around the edges.

Beliefs were solidly biblical, but their culture was loose around the edges. Reach into riches of the past, to help people come to terms. The inspiration for much of Celtic Christianity was the desert fathers of the middle east, not Rome.

Desert fathers are quoted all over in the Celtic Book Of Daily Prayer. The east greatly influenced their ideology.

Romans 5:12ff (last phrase – NIV “because all sinned,” “in that all have sinned”
Augustine vs. Pelagius – is sin associated with Adam’s sin or the sin of each person.
“ef” action of sinning Adam, or
Ps. 51, “in sin” did my mother conceive me. Born sinful?
Comparing Adam and Christ.

Note: Everyone knows that relational learning is the best; learning with people who care is optimal.


Sheltering Mercy: Prayers Inspired by the Psalms

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The church has always used the Psalms as part of its prayer life, and they have inspired countless other prayers. This book contains 75 prayers drawn from Psalms 1-75, providing lyrical sketches of what authors Ryan Smith and Dan Wilt have seen, heard, and felt while sojourning in the Psalms. Each prayer is a response to the Psalms written in harmony with Scripture. These prayers help us quiet our hearts before God and welcome us into a safe place amid the storms of life.

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