I was raised Lutheran, my parents dragged me to church every Sunday. The dominant feeling I remember from church was one of boredom – endless hours of reciting words and singing hymns that held no meaning to me. It just felt empty. So when I left home for college, I stopped going to church and rarely looked back.
Later in life, when I found meditation, I felt something deep and meaninful. After learning to quiet my mind and open my heart, I felt a connection to the Divine, a connection to God, that I never felt in church.
If fact, I don’t remember anyone ever talking about feeling connected to God, or speaking with any reverence or heartfelt emotion about anything relating to church and Christianity. Services seemed like a purely intellectual and physical exercise, hallow words punctuated by sitting, kneeling, and standing. I didn’t feel God’s Love did not fill the air as it did during meetings with my meditation group.
So when Lynn, the Abbott, recommended “Christ of the Celts” by J Philip Newell, I must admit I purchased a copy with great hesitation.
But immediately upon reading the prologue I was drawn in by passages like this:
“There is widespread disillusionment within the Christian household today… So many of its teachings and practices seem either irrelevant to the deepest yearnings of the human soul or flatly opposed to them.”
That spoke to me, that put words to my experience of church: it felt irrelevant to the deepest yearnings of my soul. Church never taught me anything about looking into my soul, I only learned that through studies of meditation and the teachings of various spiritual traditions.
Additional passages also grabbed my attention, such as:
“Never before has humanity been more aware of the oneness of the earth, even though that awareness is being opposed by some of the world’s mightiest political and religious forces. The growing consciousness is that life is interwoven, that reality is a web is interrelated influences, and that what we do to a part we do to the whole.”
Again, this passage gave words to my own experience: a growing awareness of the interconnectedness of all life, which I have been discovering during the past two years of semi-nomadic wandering. Much of my time was spent in small villages in Costa Rica and tiny towns in Northern Wisconsin, places far removed from large urban centers. I realized that immersion in nature also deepens my connection to the Divine. Sitting in the stillness of the wild, surrounded by the perfection of the natural world, I learned to feel deep peace and love.
Sunsets especially enrapture me – the magic hour, when the bustle of the world gives way to the tranquility of night as the sky is filled with dazzling hues of orange, pink and purple. Lost in awe of the glorious beauty surrounding me, my connection to the Universe deepens with each ravishing sunset.
So when Newell described a sunset in New Mexico as “We watched creation’s lifeblood pulse through the land and the sky around us,” and explained the Celtic practice of listening for the heartbeat of God within all things, those words reverberated through my skull.
Even though I turned away from Christianity as an adult, its seeds were still planted deep in my consciousness by that childhood exposure. The concept of God is still rooted in my heart, but it has withered and shrunk without proper nourishment.
“God speaks to us through the elements of creation. The cosmos is like a living sacred text that we can learn to read and interpret… We have been educated out of listening to the sacred sounds of creation… There are ways of perceiving that have been beaten out of us. Our inner ears have been silenced, either because of modern materialisms that have stripped matter of its ancient music or because of religious dualisms that have separated the spiritual from the material.”
When I read words like those, it feels like life-giving water sprinkled on the presence of God in my heart. Perhaps something that lay dormant for years is beginning to stir once again…
The Celtic understanding of Christianity, which developed for hundreds of years free from the influence of the Roman Empire, provides a radically different picture of our relationship to God and the world from that presented by Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.
Celtic Christianity is influenced by the traditions of the Celts, the indigenous peoples of a large swath of Europe – the ancestors of a substantial portion of present-day Americans and Europeans, myself included. Perhaps these traditions resonate in some way with the long-buried cultural heritage of my ancestors.
I am eager to learn more in our upcoming series on Celtic Christianity, held Saturday’s at 1pm PST on February 27th, March 6th, and March 13th. See our Facebook Event for more details.