By The Rev. Deacon Joe Dzugan
I remember fondly, or at least I do now, my mother often telling me after I was not able to
locate different items she would ask me to get for her, and after I constantly would ask her,
“Where is it?“: “Joe, I do not understand why you could not find it, it was right under your
nose.” At those times in my childhood, I just figured I did not have my mother’s way of seeing.
In this Deacon’s Reflection, I invite you today to connect, or perhaps better expressed, to
reconnect with an ancient way of seeing. An ancient way of seeing that is part of our Anglican
heritage. An ancient way of seeing that is an essential part of our identity as Christians in the
Anglican tradition. An ancient way of seeing that can be traced to Celtic Christian wisdom and
spirituality - a wisdom and spirituality of deep and rich perspective, with origins in the mystical
traditions of the Old and New Testaments.
As Celtic scholar John Philip Newell notes, “this way of seeing and hearing has a particular
lineage. It can be traced historically to the Celtic world, but this is not to say that it is bound to
Celtic ethnicity and culture. It goes by other names in other places and times . . . it resonates
with the deep spiritual wisdom of other great religious traditions as well. . . . The way of seeing
that I am speaking about can be accessed by anyone, regardless of ethnic origin or religious
background, for it is a way of seeing that is based on what the soul already deeply knows, that
both the earth and every human being are sacred. And we can apply this way of seeing to the
most pressing issues of humanity and the earth today.”
There are two major features of this way of seeing in the Celtic spiritual tradition. Celtic wisdom
and spirituality are marked by the belief that what is deepest in us is the image of God. Sin has
distorted and obscured that image but not erased it. Celtic wisdom and spirituality tend to
define ourselves in the beauty of our origins rather than in terms of the ugliness of our failings.
The second major feature of the Celtic spiritual tradition is a belief in the essential goodness of
creation. Not only is creation viewed as a blessing, it is regarded in essence as an expression of
God. Thus, the great Celtic teachers refer to it as “the book of creation” in which we may read
the mystery of God. Celtic wisdom and spirituality do not separate the mystery of God from the
matter of creation.
Celtic wisdom and spirituality are a wisdom and spirituality that characterized the young British
Church from as early as the fourth century. Although the Celtic spiritual tradition was pushed
out to the Celtic fringes of Britain in the late sixth century, it has always managed to survive in
one form or another, usually on the edges of formal religion.
The Celtic spiritual tradition is one that has long emphasized an awareness of the Sacred
essence of all things. As John Philip Newell explains, “What is unique about the Celtic tradition
compared to most other Western traditions is that it cannot be reduced to a set of doctrines or
beliefs; instead, at its core is the conviction that we essentially need to keep listening to what
our soul already knows, either in the particular circumstances of our lives or in matters more
universal. We need this awareness among us again today, urgently. . . . When we do release in
each other a fuller awareness of the earth as Sacred and of everything that has been born as
holy, we will be changed by this awareness, and we will want to change the way the earth and
its life-forms are being treated.”
Sacred is the appropriate word to convey this Celtic way of seeing, because it is not bound by
religion. In fact, the Celtic way of seeing has been saying all along that we cannot contain the
Sacred. Inside the walls of religious practice, we speak of sacred scripture or sacred music, for
instance, but way beyond those walls, in the “cathedral of earth, sea, and sky”, we also speak of
sacred universe or sacred moments. The words point with reverence to the divine essence of
life and the true nature of relationship. When we speak of something as Sacred, we are offering
ultimate respect. We are honoring it.
“In Celtic wisdom and spirituality, the Sacred is as present on earth as it is in heaven, as
immanent as it is transcendent, as human as it is divine, as physical as it is spiritual. The Sacred
can be breathed in, tasted, touched, heard, and seen as much in the body of the earth and the
body of another living being as in the body of religion. It is the true essence of life.”
Celtic Christian wisdom and spirituality remind us that all life is Sacred, not just the life of our
family or our race or our nation, and that every species, not just the human species is Sacred.
Celtic scholar John Philip Newell writes about “the need to reclaim some of the features of
ancient Christianity in the Celtic world as lost treasure for today. Part of that treasure is the
much-cherished image of John the Evangelist, also known as John the Beloved, leaning against
Jesus at the Last Supper (John chapter 13). Celtic tradition holds that by doing this [John] heard
the heartbeat of God. He became a symbol of the practice of listening – listening deep within
ourselves, within one another, and within the body of the earth for the beat of the Sacred
“Do we know that within each one of us is the unspeakable beautiful beat of the Sacred? Do we
know that we can honor that Sacredness in one another and in everything that has being? And
do we know that this combination – growing in awareness that we are bearers of Presence,
along with a faithful commitment to honor that Presence in one another and in the earth –
holds the key to transformation in our world?”
Imagine what the world would be if we more fully rediscover that God’s heartbeat can be heard
in the whole of life and at the heart of our own lives.
I invite you to see the Sacred and to listen for the beat of the Sacred within yourselves and
within the body of the earth. To reconnect with an ancient way of seeing and hearing “that will
equip all of us to move forward into new beginnings we may not yet even be able to imagine.”
Let us pray.
Awake, O my soul, and know the Sacred dignity of your being.
Awake to it in every living soul this day.
Honor it, defend it, in heart and mind, in word and deed.
Awake O my soul, and know the sacred dignity of your being.
May the light of God illumine the heart of my soul.
May the flame of Christ kindle me to love.
May the fire of the Spirit free me to live this day, tonight, and forever. Amen.
Coming next: Reconnecting with the Earth.
- J. Philip Newell, Celtic Benediction, 2000.
- John Philip Newell, The Rebirthing of God, 2015.
- John Philip Newell, Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul, 2021.
“A Deacon’s Reflection”, Deacon Joe Dzugan, St. Francis Episcopal Church, Greensboro NC, 2022.
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