With The Rev. Deacon Joe Dzugan
Listening for The Heartbeat of God, Celtic Christian Spirituality – Part 7
Opening Prayer for Saturday Morning
In the silence of the early morning, your Spirit hovers over the brink of day, and new light pierces the darkness of the night.
In the silence of the morning, life begins to stir around me, and I listen for the day’s first utterances.
In earth, sea and sky, and in the landscape of my own soul, I listen for the utterances of your love, O God.
I listen for the utterances of your love.
J. Philip Newell, Celtic Benediction, p. 74.
Remember the Key “Threads” in Celtic Christian Spirituality
Celtic Christian Spirituality – Creation Emphasis – The Fifth Day: The Creatureliness of God
“And God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.’” (Genesis 1:20)
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.
Out of the waters of God’s life comes the creatures of earth and sea and sky. They are “endowed with the five senses.” With the birth of the creatures, there is the emergence of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. The light of the sun and the whiteness of the moon can now be seen. The wind blowing through the leaves of the trees and the crashing of ocean waves can be heard. The early morning fragrance of the earth can be smelled. Its fruit can be tasted, and its textures touched.
This, of course, is not just about the birth of the creatures but about the gift of our creatureliness and thus the creatureliness of the image in which we have been made. [Celtic spiritual tradition] says that every creature “can be called a theophany [a showing of divine presence].” It is “the manifestation of the hidden”, or the “visibility of the invisible.” This is not to say that what is shown in a creature is the essence of God, for God is essentially unknowable. Rather, what is manifested is an expression of God’s essence. Nothing in creation exists in and by itself. The soul of every creature is derived from the one Soul. God, therefore, is not simply in every creature but is the essence of every creature. At heart, creation – including our creatureliness – is a showing forth of the mystery of God.
[ Spiritual Exercise]
The Irish monk Columbanus said, “If you wish to know the Creator, come to know his creatures.” It is interesting to note that Columbanus’ sixth-century mission to the Continent included the founding of the monastery of Bobbio in Italy, where St. Francis later was trained. One of the common characteristics between Franciscan spirituality and the Celtic spiritual tradition is the emphasis placed on a relationship with the creatures. There are many well-known stories of the Celtic saints befriending animals, but what is this tradition asserting about God, and about the divine image in the human, when it contends that the birth of every creature is a theophany [a showing of divine presence]?
In part it is pointing to the senses of God, or to God’s way of knowing, and to the inner senses of the image in which we have been made. “To see with the eyes of the heart” is a phrase often used in the Celtic spiritual tradition. It speaks of perceiving at dimensions of reality deeper than the outward. The inclusion of creatures in the garden of God in Genesis is pointing not simply to the outward dimension of the creaturely realm. It also is showing something of the way of God’s seeing or sensing, and naming the creation of the inner senses in us.
Without the use of the inner senses, we are cut off from the heart of life, and therefore from a knowledge of God. This is not to say that our inner sight or our inner hearing is infallible. We know how misguided we can be at times in our sense of truth and of what we should or should not do. This, however, will usually have more to do with our neglect of the inner senses than with their fallibility. It is not enough simply to say that the knowledge of God is to be found in the Bible or the Church. Neither of these nor the book of creation can be read without the use of the inner faculties of sense. This would be “as if you were to tell a blind man that he has light to guide him”, or “as if you were to affirm in regard to a deaf man that he needs not ears because there is a voice speaking to him.”
Our knowledge of God is not an external deposit of truth, watched over in unaltered form from age to age by the authority of the Church. Rather, it is an experience of God that comes to us in the use of our inner senses, whether that be through the scriptures and sacraments or through the creation and one another. It is not a doctrinal or propositional knowledge, but belongs “to some deeper part of the human being.”
In the Celtic spiritual tradition, there is the conviction, as we have noted, that our deepest desire is for the Love that is at the heart of life. It is a desire to see, to hear, to smell, to taste, and to touch the One whom we desire. While the essence of God is beyond anything that can be seen or handled, creation is the expression of God. It is the divine embodiment that we may sense and touch in love. Confused desires have led us in all sorts of directions in our lives, to such an extent that sometimes we come to believe that the awakening of desire is a dangerous thing. But until the deepest of our desires is addressed, we will be like people who are not truly alive.
Our Western religious inheritance often has led us to mistrust our creatureliness rather than to recognize its essential goodness. Although not many of us will have been taught explicitly that our physical senses are by nature servants of sin, most of us in one way or another will have been discouraged from confidently naming our creatureliness as of God. So aware have we been made of this unruliness of the senses that, when our creatureliness is led astray, we have been given the impression that the problem is our creatureliness rather than its capacity to be unruly.
There are many stories that associate the great Celtic saints with the creatures of earth and sea and sky. Particularly sacred to the Celts, both in Christian and pre-Christian legend, are birds. Two of the most cherished saints in Celtic spirituality – St. John the Evangelist and St. Columba of Iona – were identified with the creatures of the air. The Gospel writer’s mystical insights often are associated with the vision and sharpness of an eagle’s eye, and Columba’s name, “Columcille”, means “the dove of the Church.” It was typical of Celtic Christianity to adapt to the Church’s usage of symbolism that had sacred associations in its pre-Christian cultural past. One of the most significant examples of this is the use of bird imagery to represent the soul of Christ. In some of the Irish high-cross carvings, the depiction of the Easter morning visitation of women in the tomb shows a bird re-entering the mouth of Christ to bring back life.
J. Philip Newell, The Book of Creation, chapter five.
Closing Prayer for Saturday Morning
In the busyness of this day, grant me a stillness of seeing, O God.
In the conflicting voices of my heart, grant me a calmness of hearing.
Let my seeing and hearing, my words and my actions, be rooted in a silent certainty of your presence.
Let my passions for life, and the longings for justice that stir within me, be grounded in the experience of your stillness.
Let my life be rooted in the ground of your peace, O God; Let me be rooted in the depths of your peace.
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 & 77.
“Listening for The Heartbeat of God”, Deacon Joe Dzugan, St. Francis Episcopal Church, 2022.
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