Slì (pronounced slee) means “the way” in Irish.
Christ present in daily life became the bedrock of the Celtic Christian spiritual path with no separation between the spiritual and the secular life. Prayer was not a formal exercise; it was a state of mind. Because of the way they saw their world they were ready to accept, enjoy, transform whatever lay at hand. The pattern of the day and of the year was lived in God’s presence.
I will kindle my fire this morning
In the presence of the holy angels of heaven,
God, kindle thou in my heart within
A flame of love to my neighbor.
Of course, to be able to pray, always we must set aside time – moreso in our own frenetic cultural atmosphere – to be alone with God in prayer. The heart of the Carmelite Community of Apostolic Hermits’ (CCAH) life is the desert experience. “I will espouse you, lead you into the desert, and there I will speak to your heart,” Hos. 2:14. Both the Carmelite and the Celtic monk strove to withdraw into this interior solitude so as to hold oneself in the presence of the living God. Our overall effort at Holy Hill is to create a lively human atmosphere of prayer so that we become God-conscious as were the early Irish people. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full,” Jn. 10:10.
In the natural world, we confront darkness, violence, and a need for complete redemption. The darkness and the emptiness, the pain and the grief, sometimes boredom and loneliness, are all part of being human; we have to face them in ourselves and in the world. Celtic monks sought out desert places to face them more directly. But despite its darkness, the world is still good. Humanity is essentially good. And our God is extremely good. (Celtic Christianity by Timothy Joyce, p. 155 and onwards).
Celtic Christianity is not creation-centered, rather it is creation-filled.
Is there a place for Celtic Christianity today?
We remember the coming of humble, zealous Patrick with his cunning way of baptizing the best of the culture. He ordained bishops and consecrated virgins and paved the way for a monastic culture.
His famous Breastplate is a cry for help, having confidence in the powers. It calls upon the Majesty as well as the tenderness and nearness of the person Christ. It brings the whole universe into one strongly unified harmony. It’s a celebration of creation and redemption, healing wholeness, and the oneness in plurality.
Later the monasteries evangelized the culture. Each had its own bishop and priests who went out among the people. At the centre were the monastic community who taught the laity how to pray constantly through prayer and recollection in their daily routine.
Bless to me, O God,
Each taste that goes to my lips;
Each note that goes to my song,
Each ray that guides my way,
Each thing that I pursue,
Each lure that tempts my will,
The zeal that seeks my living soul,
The Three that seek my heart…
Here is a morning offering that can be recalled throughout the day:
Bless to me, O God,
My soul and my body;
Bless to me, O God,
My heart and my speech,
And bless to me, O God,
The handling of my hand;
Strength and busyness of morning,
Habit and temper of modesty,
Force and wisdom of thought
And Thine own path, God of virtues,
Till I go to sleep this night. (E. De Waal)
Soon the stone high crosses were erected throughout the country to claim the reign of the conquering Christ. Sound theology was well taught on both the crosses and in the prayers and psalms.
Often the central carving was of Christ on the cross, God giving himself totally so that this same God could invite his beloved creatures into his divine life. One side might be the resurrected Christ.
As well the key to life’s meaning, the high cross signified how a suffering God is victorious in battle.
We know that Western culture is in serious decline. Ewart Cousins in the 1990s was predicting that after the West had tired of its adolescent phase of fostering autonomous individuals with power, promoting greed and violence, that it would shift. Individual and communal consciousness would interweave. It would recognize the scientific understanding that sees the unity of all matter and energy so that as things grow more complex and differentiated, they might also become more unified.
A Renewal of Celtic Christianity?
As we mine the sources we find much that is attractive.
- The passionate presence of God permeates all of life, in the ordinary – in love, eating, working, playing. Everything is grace and blessing. It aims to celebrate the holiness of each moment.
- It recognizes “thin times” such as the wake and funeral, and “thin places” such as the mountain (Croagh Patrick) and the holy wells, as well as the hearth of a home.
- The saints are nearby as friends. Mary is very close as is the “Other” world.
- Jesus is our hero, our sweet friend, as well as the local high king. He leads us into life with his Father and shares his Spirit with us.
- The Trinity is reflected in many daily, earthly rituals that recognize the 3-fold dimension of all reality as touched by God:
- The Father is the high King of heaven; a gentle beneficient father, a wise and just ruler.
- Jesus is our hero, our sweet friend, as well as the local High King. He leads us into life with his Father and shares his Spirit with us.
- The Spirit is a tangible comforter and protector (from evil and the dark forces in the world).
- The Church is our family in which we find assistance and support and a sign of God’s presence.
The Celtic language sounds warm, human, and poetic. Her sense is mystical, always aware of another realm of being that is very close. Nature fills her thinking; she is grounded in the earth. Her prayers have a wholeheartedness, a lightness of touch even when treating of the dark side. Her basic theology is attractive for today: In him all things live and move and have their being. God is near and at the same time totally ‘Other’.
A prayer attributed to St. Ciaran
O star-like sun, O guiding light, O home of the planets,
O fiery-maned and marvellous one, O fertile, undulating, fiery sea,
O fiery glow, O fiery flame of Judgement,
O holy storyteller, holy scholar, O full of holy grace, of holy strength,
O overflowing, loving silent, one, O generous and thunderous giver of gifts,
O rock-like warrior of a hundred hosts,
O fair-crowned one, O victorious, skilled in battle,
Notice how this prayer is totally God-centred, with no self-absorption, prayed with all one’s mind and strength. How can we surrender to some orthodoxy that will overthrow the superficial obsessions of the self and put our life in contact with a transcendent ideal that will empower us to be our best selves for the sake of our distressed world? In our day, the sacred wound has been opened and is making way for something new.
Teilhard de Chardin during WWI prayed this prayer:
“I love you Lord Jesus. You are as gentle as a human heart, as fiery as the forces of nature, as intimate as life itself. I love you as a world, as this world which has captivated my heart.”
For him, Christ was real, personal, and immense.
Do we today not long for such a Christ? Our new world is more complex and more differentiated. Do we not, once tired of ourselves, long for the transcendent? For the joy of the Gospel, for reverence for our common home, for the personal presence of God Himself?