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Listening for The Heartbeat of God, Celtic Christian Spirituality – Part 4

With The Rev. Deacon Joe Dzugan

 

February 20th, 2022

 

Celtic Cross

 

 

Opening Prayer for Wednesday Morning

 

With the rising of the sun, life rises again within me, O God.

In the dawning of the morning light, you lead me from the mists of night into the clarity of the day.

In the new light of this day bring me to a clearer knowing of the mystery that first bore me from the dark.

Bring me to a clearer knowing of the love from which all life is born.

  • J. Philip Newell, Celtic Benediction, p. 38.

 

Remember the Key “Threads” in Celtic Christian Spirituality

 

Celtic Christian Spirituality – Creation Emphasis – The Second Day: The Wildness of God

       “And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters and let it separate the waters from the waters.’” (Genesis 1:6)

        In the Celtic tradition, the “seven days” of creation in the Book of Genesis are not a chronological account of the making of the earth. Rather, it is a meditation on the ever-present mystery of creation. The waters of Genesis 1 are interpreted as the dark mystery of God that enfolds all things. Into this essentially unknowable and infinite realm of God, a dome of space and time is created. It is like a womb or matrix of life. In it will appear all that is to be created. St. Paul speaks of the One “in whom we live and move and have our being” [Acts 17:28]. Creation is planted, as it were, in the waters of God’s life. It is rooted in the Unseen. All that is born in this matrix of life has its inception in the Infinite. Creation’s life partakes of the essence of God’s life, and to that extent is a theophany or manifestation of the mystery of God.

        A mighty wind sweeps over the face of the waters [Genesis 1:2]. This is envisioned as a swirling movement of the four elements. Earth, air, fire, and water, the constituents of everything that will be, are in a whirlwind of motion. It is a wild wind carrying the incipient life of the universe in its wings. If the “first day” of creation is compared to the cosmic burst of light at life’s initial moment, the “second day” can be viewed as the ongoing explosion of elemental particles hurling through space. There is nothing neat and tidy about this mighty creative energy. From it the matter of life emerges, as does lifeless matter, flung almost “discardedly” across space. Its power and expansiveness are overwhelming.

        The Celtic tradition has a strong sense of the wildness of God. Like nature it is unrestrainable. A true worship of God, therefore, can neither be contained within the four walls of a sacred building nor restricted to the boundaries of religious tradition. The early Celtic Church was characterized by patterns of worship and prayer under the open skies. The high-standing crosses were gathering places and focal points of contemplation. Often, they were situated in wild, exposed sites, as were the many Celtic monastic communities dotted along the coastlines of Ireland and Britain. Earth, sea, and sky, rather than enclosed sanctuaries, were the temple of God. Small wooden churches and chapels were constructed by the Celtic mission, but the central and enduring symbols of its religious architecture point to the conviction that the holy mystery of God is unbounded.

        This emphasis on worshipping in the context of nature can be traced with some confidence to pre-Christian religious practice in Britain. Few details are known of the Celtic nature mysticism that preceded Christianity for it was an oral tradition and left no written account of its beliefs and rituals. There were, however, sacred rivers and woods, many of which the Celtic Church “baptized” into its mission rather than rejecting. St. Bride’s sixth-century monastic community, for instance, was formed on the site of a holy oak grove. Its name ‘Kildare’ simply means “the Church of the Oaks.”

       Contemporary Roman accounts refer to the pre-Christian holy men or ‘druids’ as living in “deep groves” and “solitary places.” With a note of astonishment, they describe the druids as worshipping “without making use of temples.” It was typical of the Celtic Church to see its worship of Christ as building on the truths and symbols of the mysticism that had preceded Christianity in Britain. Aspects of its ancient mythology and nature religion were the equivalent of an Old Testament for the Celtic mission. Christ was the fulfillment of all that was true, whether that was of the priestly and prophetic traditions of Judaism or of its own Celtic druidical past.

       The Celtic tradition deeply affirms the unbounded side of life. It seeks a wild naturalness of place and an untamable energy of power. In the prayers of the Hebrides [Scottish Isles], the elemental forces of earth, sea, and sky are recognized as potentially destructive. The goodness of their wild energy, however, is invoked:

              Power of storm be thine, Power of moon be thine, Power of sun.

              Power of sea be thine, Power of land be thine, Power of heaven.

              Or as another blessing puts it:

              Thine be the might of river, Thine be the might of ocean, . . . The might of victory on field.

              Thine be the might of fire, . . . Thine be the might of element, . . . The might of the love on high. 

                     [From the “Carmina Gadelica” (“the songs and poems of the Gaels”)]

      The Celtic tradition reverences the power of elemental forces, while not being naïve to their destructive potential. To be aware of creation’s power and natural wildness is a grace that can help us recover the depths of wild creative energy that are within us as well.

       In the Celtic tradition, the search is always for the Mystery that is deep within creation and yet infinitely other than anything we can know or name. It is a search that takes us into the wild and untamed places within ourselves as well as within nature.

       In meditating on the mighty wind of the first chapter of Genesis one man saw the roof of his church being blown off. It is an image in keeping with the Celtic tradition. The wildness of the mystery of God is uncontainable. What we hear in the great book of creation may have a type of music about it, but it is no “easy harmonization.” Rather, the wind and the sea with their “unruled masses of sound” speak of “a restlessness, a moving-ness” deep within creation. This is what we hear in the book of scripture as well. The One who is the beginning and the end speaks in the mighty reverberations of “seven thunders” [Rev. 10:4]. Likewise, the Son of Man, revealing truth with a two-edged sword in his mouth, is described in elemental terms. “His eyes were like a flame of fire” writes, St. John the Divine, “his voice was like the sound of many waters . . . and his face was like the sun shining with full force [Rev. 1:14-16]. At the heart of the Celtic tradition is a reverencing of Christ as “Son of the Elements” [“Carmina Gadelica”]. In his body and blood is the wildness of God. With a passion of love, he comes “to bring fire to the earth.” [ Luke 12:49].

  • J. Philip Newell, The Book of Creation, chapter two.

 

Closing Prayer for Wednesday Morning
O Sun behind all suns

O Soul within all souls – grant me the grace of the dawn’s glory

grant me the strength of the sun’s rays – that I may be well in my own soul and part of the world’s healing this day

that I may be well in my own soul and part of the world’s healing this day.

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 & 41.

 

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

Posted by Mark Hamby at 6:30 AM
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