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Listening for The Heartbeat of God, Celtic Christian Spirituality- Part 1

With The Rev. Deacon Joe Dzugan

 

January 30th, 2022

Celtic Cross

Celtic Cross

Opening Prayer for Sunday Morning

I watch this morning for the light that the darkness has not overcome.

I watch for the fire that was in the beginning and that burns still in the brilliance of the rising sun.

I watch for the glow of life that gleams in the growing earth and glistens in the sea and sky.

I watch for your light, O God, in the eyes of every living creature and in the ever-living flame of my own soul.

If the grace of seeing were mine this day I would glimpse you in all that lives.

Grant me the grace of seeing this day. Grant me the grace of seeing.

 

- J. Philip Newell, Celtic Benediction, p. 2.

 

Introduction to Celtic Christian Spirituality

Celtic Christian Spirituality is an essential part of our identity as Christians in the Anglican tradition.

“Most people think of the Anglican tradition as the Via Media, halfway between the Roman Catholic and

the Protestant traditions. Kind of like splitting the difference and meeting in the middle between those two.

But there has always been something more than that. There has always been the third element, the energy,

and the spirit of this Celtic expression of Christianity which flourished on the British Isles, before the

Catholics and long before the Protestants ever arrived. It is part of our DNA. I think of this Celtic tradition as

something like a recessive gene, but it is definitely part of our DNA. And like a recessive gene, it may be

dormant for a time but then it suddenly emerges.” (The Rev. Timothy Patterson, sermon, March 26, 2017.)

 

There were early Celtic Christian communities in Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Brittany, and the Isle of

Man. “In the year 664, in a mixed religious community under the leadership of a woman, a Synod of the

Church Catholic met to take a decision that was to alter the complexion of Christianity in Britain and

perhaps much of the Western world. It was the Synod of Whitby and the abbess was Hilda. The monastery

was a Celtic religious settlement of men and women in Northumbria, and in attendance were

representatives of two missions, the Celtic and the Roman. The former had come through Aidan of

Lindisfarne and before that from Iona and deferred to the authority of St. John. The other had come

through Augustine of Canterbury and before that from Rome and recognized the preeminence of St. Peter.

It is a tragedy that a decision was taken in favor of only one of these missions so that the spirituality of the

other began to be displaced.”

 

“The synod had been convened by Oswy, King of Northumbria, in whose kingdom the missions had

clashed. There were differences in form and style, but essentially the conflict was between two spiritual

perspectives or ways of seeing. The Celtic mission, inspired by John, remembered him as the beloved

disciple who leaned against Jesus at the Last Supper [John 13]. He had become an image of the practice of

listening for the heartbeat of God. This spirituality lent itself to listening for God at the heart of life. The

Roman mission, on the other hand, argued for the authority of Peter as the rock on which Christ had

promised to build his Church [Matthew 16]. He had become a symbol of faithful action and outward unity.

This spirituality favored a listening for God in the ordained teaching and life of the Church. [King] Oswy

decided in favor of the Roman mission, which became the authorized religion of the land, while the Celtic

mission began its formal decline.”

 

Celtic Spirituality “is a spirituality that characterized the young British Church from as early as the

fourth century. Although it was pushed out to the Celtic fringes of Britain after Augustine of Canterbury’s

Roman mission in 597, it has always managed to survive in one form or another, usually on the edges of

formal religion. It is a spirituality of deep and rich perspective, with origins in the mystical traditions of the

Old and New Testaments.” (J. Philip Newell, Listening for The Heartbeat of God, pp. 1-3.)

 

Celtic Tradition of Spirituality

What do we mean by the Celtic tradition?

There is such a spectrum of opinion on this matter that some critics have preferred to say that

historically no such tradition can be clearly identified. Attention to the writings of early Irish, Welsh, and

Scottish Christian teachers, however, as well as observation of the poetry, prayers, and art of Celtic cultures

over the centuries, point to distinctive characteristics of what I believe can be called ‘a tradition’ of

spirituality.

 

There are two major features of the Celtic tradition that distinguish it from what in contrast can be

called ‘the Mediterranean tradition.’ Celtic spirituality is 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. The Mediterranean tradition,

on the other hand, in its doctrine of original sin has taught what is deepest in us is our sinfulness. This has

given rise to a tendency to define ourselves in terms of the ugliness of our failings instead of the beauty of

our origins.

 

The second major characteristic of the Celtic tradition is a belief in the essential goodness of

creation. Not only is creation viewed as a blessing, but it is also 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. The

Mediterranean tradition, on the other hand, has tended towards a separation of spirit and matter and thus

has distanced the mystery of God from the matter of creation.

- J. Philip Newell, Celtic Benediction, Preface.

 

Closing Prayer for Sunday Morning

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.

 

- J. Philip Newell, Celtic Benediction, p. 5.

 

Photo Credits: 

"Celtic Cross" edgeplot via Flicker
Pastor Sam, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

 

“Listening for The Heartbeat of God”, Deacon Joe Dzugan, St. Francis Episcopal Church, 2022.

Posted by Mark Hamby at 3:40 PM
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