By The Rev. Deacon Joe Dzugan
Sacred Earth; Sacred Soul - Celtic Christian Wisdom & Spirituality for the Here and Now – Part 9
December 11th, 2022
Hope and fear, laughter and tears have been part of our journey.
Joy and pain, longing and doubt meet on the pathway. Often, we do not believe, O God,
and sometimes we doubt that your promises can be true. Grant us and our world the freedom to laugh, the courage to cry, the heart to be open and the faith to believe.
Sacred Earth; Sacred Soul – Sacred Song: The Carmina Gadelica (cont’d)
“What happened to this spirituality that saw the universe as sacred and Christhood in every newborn child? That wove together heaven and earth, flesh and angels, prayer and nature? And why is it that this way of seeing was lost in so much of our Western Christian inheritance? Formal opposition began in the sixteenth century with the Scottish Reformation, which saw Celtic prayers as little better than pagan practices. Opposition intensified in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when Calvinism denounced Celtic teachings as ‘lying Gaelic stories.’ Prudish legalism now began to replace the life-affirming spirituality of the islands. Even the rooster was locked away on the Sabbath, lest it think of doing anything ‘natural’ with the hens!”
“Suppression of the ancient ways became persecution of Gaelic culture in the widest sense, including the forbidding of its music, language, and poetry. An old woman from Islay remembered how she and others had been treated at school when they were girls. The schoolmaster ‘denounced’ Gaelic speech and song, she said. On getting out of school one day, they had begun to sing an old Gaelic song on their way home. ‘The schoolmaster heard us, however,’ she said, ‘and called us back. He punished us till the blood trickled from our fingers, although we were big girls, with the dawn of womanhood upon us. The thought of that scene fills me with indignation.’”
“Though Calvinism had tried to suppress the heart of Celtic vision and song, the greatest blow came with the Highland Clearances, the eviction of tenants from ancestral lands beginning late in the eighteenth century and growing to full force in the first half of the nineteenth. People were evicted, families and clans torn apart. The formal religion of the land did nothing to oppose this injustice, because it saw its function not as challenging the holders of political power but as sanctioning their status as ordained by God, the way religion has often been used to bless the status quo rather than to prophetically confront the abuse of power.”
“The ancient prayers of protection that had been passed down in the Hebrides for hundreds of years sounded again in the hearts of the people:”
I am placing my soul and my body under thy guarding this night, O Mary,
O tender Mother of the Christ of the poor, O tender Mother of the Christ of the tears.
I am placing my soul and my body under thy guarding this night, O Christ,
O thou son of the tears, of the wounds, of the piercings.
May the moon of moons be coming through thick clouds on me and everyone,
Coming through dark tears.
“This story of both the beauty and the sufferings of the people of the western islands of Scotland is in fact a universal story. It is the story of what has happened to native peoples and marginalized cultures throughout the world again and again. It is a story that is important to tell again not only because it can reawaken us to look for the sacred in the native and the natural, but also because it can help sharpen our awareness of the ways in which such sacredness is tragically being violated in our world today.
It is a story too that stirs our memory of the lost native and indigenous wisdoms of the earth and the human soul that we so desperately need at this moment in time if we are to find the way forward in our relationship with the earth and one another.”
“It is important to tell also what happened to the people of the Highlands and islands after the wrongs they suffered. Some were broken by experience, crushed in body and spirit. Other undertook long journeys into foreign exile, sometimes tragically perpetrating the same wrongs that had been done to them on the native peoples of the Americas and Australia, a cycle of oppression that has repeated itself again and again in history. But there were others also who were able to access the soul force of their inheritance and act with dignity and compassion in their search for new beginnings.”
“Deep in this wisdom tradition is the belief that just as new life rises from the earth every spring, so new vision is forever trying to come forth in the human soul. Anything that is of God, even though pushed to the ground, will come forth again. Anything that is true, anything born of love and compassion, anything filled with true vision for justice will rise again. As Mary MacPherson, the poet of the Clearances, said, ‘Truth will triumph, despite the ingenuity of the wicked.’”
“The people of the Carmina Gadelica are icons for us today of the power of poetry and song to keep alive a vision of the sacredness of the earth and every human being. For hundreds of years in the western islands of Scotland it was a song that helped the people remember that the physical and the spiritual are interwoven. It was a song that was used in the cycle of the seasons and in the journey of human life to keep them connected to the heart of their being, made of God. And it was a song that sustained them in their times of loss, suffering, and exile.”
“For the people of the Hebrides this was passed down in oral form. The songs, prayers, and poems were intoned by one generation to the next over many centuries. Most of us today, however, do not belong to an oral tradition. We depend instead on the written word of our literary culture and the world of online communications and recordings. So perhaps for us today, it is a matter of accessing written prayers, printed poetry, and recorded music to help awaken us on a daily basis to the sacred within and around us.”
“There are also some beautiful utterances from the past that we can weave into our lives now. One of the prayers from the western islands of Scotland that many have committed to memory is a blessing for peace. It invokes the graces of earth, air, fire, and water, and weaves these into its devotion to Christ:”
Deep peace of the running wave to you, Deep peace of the flowing air to you, Deep peace of the quiet earth to you, Deep peace of the shining stars to you, Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you.
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.
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.