Indigenous Spirituality - Our Celtic Christian Heritage

EarthQuaker Issue 97

Jo Cooper’s article in the last issue of EarthQuaker re-sparked my interest in the Celtic form of Christianity. I lived in Northumberland for 26 years, with St. Cuthbert’s monastic heritage on Holy Island (Lindisfarne) to the north and the great Durham Cathedral to the south.

I was able to go to the Lindisfarne Community website and remind myself of the main aspects of Celtic Christian spirituality. This is what I noted.

Celtic Christianity had a similar approach to spirituality as Quakers – there was nothing secular, all was sacred. They saw the Divine in and through things. It was sensory – what we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch all speak of the Divine: “We must take time to learn to play the five-stringed harp” (i.e. our senses).

At any moment, an ordinary activity or object can become a place of encounter with the Divine. Their prayers were based around ordinary activity: getting up, lighting the fire, getting dressed, milking the cow, etc.

Time – past, present, future – was all seen to be linked to the Divine’s “Now”. Time was there to be used wisely and well.

Celtic monks had a great love of learning – for wisdom but not necessarily knowledge. They thought of the arts as windows on heaven. They used dreams, imagery, symbols and storytelling to pass on what they had learned about life in the Divine.

The monks hoped to encourage people to become followers by a lived exampled approach: “Do as I do.” They used the principle, “Teach what you live by living what you teach.”

Life was seen as a pilgrimage. Personhood (being) was put before productivity (doing).
Celtic Christian spirituality was about connection, not perfection, with the Divine being present in the mess of our unfixedness.

To end, I refer to the well known Celtic blessing:
    May the road rise up to meet you
    May the wind be always at your back
    May the sun shine warm upon your face
    The rains fall soft upon your fields
    And, until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hands

The Celtic blessing expresses the sensory nature of their spirituality and their recognition of the importance of reverence for the gift of life held in the four elements of earth, air (wind), fire (sun) and water (rain).  As a result of what I have re-discovered, I am focussing on being more sensorily aware of the Divine in ordinary daily living and the spiritual importance of behaving with reverence for the four elements that together form the wonderful gift of life.

Kathryn May