With The Rev. Deacon Joe Dzugan
Listening for The Heartbeat of God, Celtic Christian Spirituality – Part 6
Opening Prayer for Friday Morning
In the morning light, O God, may I glimpse again your image deep within me, the threads of eternal glory
woven into the fabric of every man and woman.
Again, may I catch sight of the mystery of the human soul fashioned in your likeness, deeper than knowing,
more enduring than time.
And in glimpsing these threads of light amidst the weakness and distortions of my life, let me be recalled
to strength and beauty deep in my soul.
Let me be recalled to the strength and beauty of your image in every living soul.
J. Philip Newell, Celtic Benediction, p. 62.
Remember the Key “Threads” in Celtic Christian Spirituality
Celtic Christian Spirituality – Creation Emphasis – The Fourth Day: The Harmony of God”
“And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and for years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so. God made the two great lights – the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night – and the stars. (Genesis 1:14-16)
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 unbridled wind of God’s creativity gives birth not only to the ‘beautiful firmness’ of the earth on the third day but now to the lights of the skies, or to what has been called the “celestial luminaries.” The sun, moon, and stars, in their harmonies of movement and light, are further theophanies [a showing of divine presence] or showings of God. Shining out of the darkness of space they express something of the inexpressible. “There is no speech, nor are there words,” says the Psalmist, “yet their voice goes out through all the earth” (Psalm 19:3-4). The sun by day and the moon by night declare the mystery of God. What is it that they are saying?
The great luminaries of the sky are born of the “Father of light” (James 1:17). Through them, “God is expressing himself.” Like all that has been created, they are utterances of the Word. To not listen to them is to ignore the self-disclosure of God.
The Celtic tradition has been characterized over the centuries by a great awareness of the heavenly bodies. In the Western Isles, there was the belief that a love of the lights of the skies, like a love of any aspect of creation, brought with it a type of grace from God. The mystery at the heart of creation is Love. To be in love with the gift of nature is to be well within oneself. Invocation blessings in the “Carmina Gadelica” tradition sought the grace of well-being that accompanies a reverencing of creation.
Grace of the love of the skies be thine, Grace of the love of the stars be thine,
Grace of the love of the moon be thine, Grace of the love of the sun be thine.
The Hebridean awareness of the skies partly grew out of the crofting and seafaring nature of life in the islands. The light of the sun by day gave growth to the crops in the fields, and a moonlit night safely guided fishermen home through dark seas and around dangerous reefs. The moon was thus referred to with great affection. But this was more than simply an appreciative awareness of the sun and moon. It was also a reverencing of the light that is in them.
Until well into the nineteenth century it was common practice in parts of the Western Isles for people to venerate the lights of the sky at the beginning of the day and at night.
By the late nineteenth century, there was considerable opposition to the ancient prayers and customs of the Celtic tradition. In Scotland, the rigid Calvinism of the day was declaring these practices to be pagan and pre-Christian. They may well have had pre-Christian influence. The reverencing of the sun and the moon that was being repressed, however, was explicitly Christian. These acts were accompanied by making the sign of the cross. In Celtic art, of course, the design of the cross incorporates a sun symbol into its very structure. The sun at the center is held in the arms of the cross. This was not nature worship. It was a Christ mysticism that reverenced nature. Like St. Paul’s vision of all things, both visible and invisible, being held together in Christ (Colossian 1:17), it saw spiritual light and physical light as interwoven. And yet the fear of this mysticism and the repression of it grew until, by the time of the compilation of the “Carmina Gadelica”, a reverencing of the sun and the moon was being visibly practiced only here and there in the Hebrides. So oppressive was the opposition by parish ministers and schoolmasters that Alexander Carmichael, the compiler of the “Carmina Gadelica”, found the people reluctant to impart to him the prayers and hymns of their tradition, for fear of persecution.
Alexander Carmichael, however, did manage to transcribe many of the sun and moon prayers. The following is one that was used either at the rising of the sun over the mountain peaks to the east or at its setting into the western sea:
The eye of the great God, The eye of the God of glory, The eye of the King of hosts,
The eye of the King of the living, Pouring upon us at each time and season,
Pouring upon us gently and generously.
Glory to thee, Thou glorious sun. Glory to thee, thou sun, Face of the God of life.
Both the sun and the moon were regarded as messengers of grace, as the following blessing from the “Carmina Gadelica” makes clear. They were placed in the same company as saints and angels.
The love and affection of heaven be to you, The love and affection of the saints be to you,
The love and affection of the angels be to you, The love and affection of the sun be to you,
The love and affection of the moon be to you, Each day and night of your lives.
We may feel distant from much of this. At another level, however, some of our deepest experiences of the mystery of light will resonate with the reverent awareness of the sun and moon in this tradition. We know what it is like to see the brilliance of the morning sun emerging out of the darkness of night to awaken the earth. We have felt on our faces and bodies the sun’s revitalizing energy at times of exhaustion and weakness. Similarly, we have known, sometimes in ways that render us speechless, the power of the moon to convey a sense of the mystery of creation. //
In Celtic tradition the twilight, or the period of the “two lights’, is a mystical time when an encounter between the visible world and the invisible world is more likely to occur. It is the transitional moment of seeing that is neither the day’s’ nor the night’s but the merging of the two. It is the marriage of the time of the sun with the time of the moon. It is a theophany of the harmony of God.
J. Philip Newell, The Book of Creation, chapter four.
Closing Prayer for Friday Morning
Glory be to you, O God, for the gift of life unfolding through those who have gone before me.
Glory be to you, O God, for your life planted within my soul and in every soul coming into the world.
Glory be to you, O God, for the grace of new beginnings placed before me in every moment and encounter of life.
Glory, glory, glory for the grace of new beginnings in every moment of life.
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 & 65.
“Listening for The Heartbeat of God”, Deacon Joe Dzugan, St. Francis Episcopal Church, 2022.
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