Sacred Earth; Sacred Soul - Celtic Christian Wisdom & Spirituality for the Here and Now – Part 8

By The Rev. Deacon Joe Dzugan


Sacred Earth; Sacred Soul - Celtic Christian Wisdom & Spirituality for the Here and Now – Part 8


December 4th, 2022


Opening Prayer
Our beginnings are in Eden, O God; our genesis is in you.
Open to us the gateways of your presence in life and the doors that lead us further into your mystery.
Awaken our memory of the garden of our beginnings that we may find ourselves again in you.
  • J. Philip Newell, Celtic Treasure – Daily Scriptures and Prayer, p. 36.
Sacred Earth; Sacred Soul – Sacred Song: The Carmina Gadelica
     “In the Celtic world, it is poetry that has most powerfully expressed the wisdom of the human soul over the centuries. In times of loss and adversity it is the song of the soul that has safeguarded a memory of life’s sacredness and a belief in love’s graces:”
     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.
     “These words come down to us in an ancient stream of prayer from the western islands of Scotland. It is thought that some of them date back to the sixth-century community of St. Columba on the isle of Iona and even before Christianity to Eastern influence on the Celtic world. They were passed down in the oral tradition, chanted and sung by men and women at the rising of the sun and its setting or at the birth of a child and the death of a loved one. They belong not so much to formal religion as to life in the sacredness of nature, or to what the Celts called the cathedral of earth, sea, and sky. They belong to the changing of the seasons, the ebbing and flowing of the tides, the waxing and waning of the moon. In being accessed anew today, they can help reawaken in us the desire to live in relation to the sacredness of the earth and the human soul.”
     “Many of these poems and songs were collected in the nineteenth century by Alexander Carmichael (1832-1912). Born on the island of Lismore, in the Inner Hebrides, he spent most of his life in the islands. As an excise man traveling extensively throughout the Hebrides, he was able over the decades to make a vast collection of the songs and prayers of the people. He transcribed them from the spoken Gaelic, translated them into English, and in 1900 began to publish them under the title Carmina Gadelica (‘The Songs of the Gaels’).”
     “In these prayers, earth, air, fire, and water are seen as sacred, and the life-giving energies of the divine are viewed as both encompassing and interpenetrating the human.”
     “Many of these blessings were considered by their critics to be pagan in origin, which is probably true! But this makes them richer, not poorer. They carry pre-Christian wisdom into a Christian expression of faith. The Gaelic spoken in the Hebrides of Scotland is related to Sanskrit, and something of ancient India’s sense of the sacred universe can be heard again and again in these prayers. The Celtic world’s path of descent from the East is obscured in the mists of prehistory, but linguistically the commonalities are clear. These Gaelic prayers echo the East’s vision of a natural world that breathes with spirit.”
     “In a Christmas carol sung to Carmichael by Roderick MacNeill, of Barra, it was said that the earth glowed to the Christ child at his birth.”
This night is the long night, it will snow and it will drift, White snow there will be till day,
White snow there will be till morn.
     This night is the eve of the Great Nativity, this night is born to us Mary’s Son,
     This night is born to us the root of our joy.
     This night gleamed the sun of the mountains high, this night gleamed sea and shore together,
     Ere ‘twas heard that his foot had reached the earth, heard was the song of the angels glorious,
    This night is the long night. (over)
     Glowed to him wood and tree, glowed to him mount and sea,
     Glowed to him land and plain, when that his foot was come to earth.
     “The light that was in the earth, the light that was in the sea, the light that was in the sky danced with the light that was in the Child, born of heaven, born of earth.”
     “The Christmas carol speaks of what is true of every birth, every child and life-form, a fresh coming of the divine among us. So, the ‘womb women’ (midwives) would bless the newborn child as sacred.”
     “Peace, well-being, and blessing were sought not only for those known and loved, but also for the ‘other’ – travelers, foreigners, strangers. These too are sacred. In an ancient Celtic tune of hospitality, attributed originally to St. Brigid, it is said:”
     We saw a stranger yesterday. We put food in the eating place, drink in the drinking place,
     music in the listening place, and, with the sacred name of the triune God, he blessed us and our
     house, our cattle and our dear ones. As the lark says in her song,
     ‘Often, often, often, goes Christ in the stranger’s guise.’
     “And just as birth and life and loving were celebrated as sacred, so the journey of death was viewed as holy. It was a voyage into the heart of nature, a returning to God. Death was spoken of as ‘the river hard to see.’ It is hard to see because we do not know when we will have to enter it, hard to see because we fear entering it. But waiting on the other side of death’s waters are the midwives of eternity, or what the prayers call ‘the sainted women of heaven,’ waiting with outstretched arms to receive us. We may fear entering the cold waters of our mortality, but in the Celtic world, there is the hope that, just as the newborn child is received with love through the waters of birth, so upon death’s crossing we are welcomed back to the place of our beginnings:”
     Be each saint in heaven, Each sainted woman in heaven, Each angel in heaven,
     Stretching their arms for you, Smoothing the way for you, when you go thither
     Over the river hard to see, oh when you go thither home, Over the river hard to see.
     “At the deathbed of a love one, prayers were chanted, peace sought, and ancient blessing intoned.
Death was the final journey to the home of the seasons.”
     “What happened to this spirituality that saw the universe as sacred and Christhood in every newborn child?”
Words of Awareness and Wisdom
“The people of the Carmina Gadelica carried within themselves a song of the earth and the human soul. It is a song of strength and vision that we can choose to sing in new ways today.”
(Reflect for a brief time on the ways this wisdom applies to your life.)
  • Source: John Philip Newell, Sacred Earth; Sacred Soul, Chapter Four.
An invitation to our virtual participants: Discussion and comments are very much encouraged and welcomed. Online discussions can be held in the comments section in the upcoming post on Facebook for this week’s Deacon’s Reflection which is part of adult formation at St. Francis Episcopal Church.
Closing Prayer
Awake, O my soul, to the ever-new song of the earth that is within you.
Awake to its rhythms and seasons, its memories of joy and lament,
And its eternal hopes of fresh buddings and births.
Awake, O my soul, to the ever-new song of the earth that is within you. Awake, O my soul, Awake.
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. Amen.
  • John Philip Newell, Sacred Earth; Sacred Soul, p. 121.
“Sacred Earth; Sacred Soul”, Deacon Joe Dzugan, St. Francis Episcopal Church, 2022.
Posted by Mark Hamby at 6:00 AM
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