With The Rev. Deacon Joe Dzugan
Listening for The Heartbeat of God, Celtic Christian Spirituality – Part 11
Opening Prayer for Wednesday Morning
In the silence before time began, in the quiet of the womb, in the stillness of early morning
is your beauty.
At the heart of all creation, at the birth of every creature, at the center of each moment
is your splendor.
Rekindle in us the sparks of your beauty that we may be part of the splendor of this moment.
Rekindle in us the sparks of your beauty that we may be part of the blazing splendor
that burns from the heart of this moment.
J. Philip Newell, Sounds of the Eternal – A Celtic Psalter, p. 38.
Remember the Key “Threads” in Celtic Christian Spirituality
Celtic Christian Spirituality – Creation Emphasis – The Seventh Day: The Stillness of God
“God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.” (Genesis 2:3)
The story of the seventh day points to the restfulness of God. It is not opposed to the wild creative energies of the second day but is the revealing of another dimension of God’s creativity. The seven days of Genesis, as we have noted, are not a chronological account of the emergence of the universe in the past but a meditation on the ever-present mystery of creation. The life of creation is a theophany of God. It is a visible expression of the One who is essentially invisible, an intelligible sign of the One who is beyond knowledge. Just as the first day points to the light that is always at the heart of life, so the seventh day reflects the stillness that is part of God’s ongoing creativity.
This is a pattern that we find woven through the whole of creation. Night is followed by day, sleeping by waking. Similarly, in the rhythm of the seasons, the winter earth and its stillness is followed by the spring’s energy and blossom. The time of enfolding is related to the period of unfolding. The fallowness of the ground is part of the earth’s cycle of fruitfulness and abundance. The one does not occur without the other. Creation’s outward profusion of life is rooted in its inner capacity for rest and renewal.
In the Genesis account of creation, a refrain occurs after each day. “There was evening and there was morning”, it says. The day is seen as coming out of the night. The energy and creativity of the daytime emerge from the dark stillness and restfulness of the night. “The day begins with sleep.” If we are to be creative in the day, we must first give ourselves up to the silence of the night.
As the pattern of restfulness and creativity is seen to be part of the nature of God, so is this combination woven through the fabric of human nature, made in the image of God. The extent to which we are divorced from the complementary rhythms of restfulness and creativity is the extent to which we are cut off from patterns of well-being within ourselves and in our relationships. If we fail to establish regular practices of stillness and rest, our creativity will be either exhausted or shallow. Our countenance, instead of reflecting a vitality of fresh creative energy that is sustained by the restorative depths of stillness, will be listless or frenetic. This is true collectively as it is individually, and applies as much to human creativity as it does to the earth’s fruitfulness. Creativity without rest, and productivity without renewal, leads to an exhaustion of inner resources.
Some of the most beautiful prayers in the Celtic tradition are night benedictions. Their intimate inclusion of the Trinity indicates a reverencing of sleep. Rest is viewed almost in sacramental terms.
I lie down this night with God, And God will lie down with me;
I lie down this night with Christ, And Christ will lie down with me;
I lie down this night with Spirit, And the Spirit will lie down with me;
God and Christ and the Spirit, Be lying down with me.
The prayers are unusual, not only in their portrayal of God as One who rests, but in their sense of personal intimacy with the Trinity. They do not thereby lose an awareness of the otherness of God. This is not a sentimental piety, nor does the tradition excessively anthropomorphize the Unknowable. God is present to us and to the whole of creation in our times of stillness. Dimensions within us are renewed. Restoring energies are given to us in the night.
Nature has provided us with patterns of stillness and creativity, of night followed by day and fallowness by fruitfulness. As we have noted all along in the Celtic tradition, grace is viewed not as opposed to nature but as restoration of what is truly natural. Whether within ourselves, or in our relationships with one another and creation, if we have forgotten the integration of rest and creativity we will likely be undermining our own well-being. A lack of rest is destructive of nature’s goodness. Like evil it destroys rather than creates. It saps energy instead of building up life forces within us. Grace is given to restore our memory, to remind us of the place that rest has in the sustaining and liberating of our God-given beauty and vitality.
The Celtic tradition, unlike the Calvinism that suppressed it in many parts of the Celtic world, is not Sabbatarian in its perspective. The emphasis is not on set apart times of rest, or so-called “holy” days and “holy” places that are distinct from every day and every place. Rather, it encourages a type of restful awareness in everything we do. It is about holding a stillness of perspective in the midst of busyness. It is about being alert to the light of the sun in the midst of morning work or to the mystery of the moon at night. It is about tasting the goodness of God in the fruit of the earth and the love of God on the lips of another. It is about knowing that in all things we are “surrounded by eternity.”
It is perhaps above all else in the Celtic tradition’s death prayers that there is a sense of regenerative nature of rest. Once again, grace is viewed as restoring us to our true selves. The stillness of death alone will bring the depth of sleep that can heal our innermost wounds. The “Carmina Gadelica” refers to death’s “healing balsam” or to the “salve that is needful for my soul”:
Give Thou to me, O God, The death of the priceless oil; Give Thou to me, O God, That the Healer of my soul be near me; Give Thou to me, O God, the death of joy and of peace.
What is being sought is life through death, or as one of the prayers says, “death without death.”
While such prayers were known as “death prayers”, they are more profoundly “life prayers.” They speak of entering rest, whether in life or in death, in order to be more alive, in order to be more awake to the Life that is within all life.
J. Philip Newell, The Book of Creation, chapter seven.
Closing Prayer for Wednesday Morning
That in the elements of earth, sea, and sky we may see your beauty, that in wild winds, birdsong and silence we may hear your beauty, that in the body of another and the interminglings of relationship we may touch your beauty, that in the moisture of the earth and its flowering and fruiting we may smell your beauty, that in the flowing of waters of springs and streams we may taste your beauty,
these things we look for this day, O God, these things we look for.
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, Sounds of the Eternal – A Celtic Psalter, p. 41.
“Listening for The Heartbeat of God”, Deacon Joe Dzugan, St. Francis Episcopal Church, 2022.
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