Thursday, October 31, 2013

the Celtic Calender

-The Celtic calendar year was divided into two parts, light, summer and Spring and the dark, Fall and Winter  with four great feast days marking the year:

Samhain (November 1) (our Halloween) which was the Celtic New Year, marks the end of the harvest, and the beginning of the dark half of the year. All lights are extinguished until relit by a central bonfire. This day is a "gap" in time and consciousness when travel to the other world and through time was possible.

Imbolc (February 1) (our Ground Hog Day) St.Bridget's Day, which marks the first day of Spring and the middle of the dark half, the time for the reemergence of green things. This marks the first flowing of milk in the udders of the ewes. Associated with the goddess Bríd.

Bealtaine (May 1) The first day of the light part of the year. Cattle are driven through great bonfires to protect them and ensure fertility. Young couples jump through the fire also.

Lúghnasadh (August 1) marks the beginning of harvest and celebrates the victory of the god Lúgh against the earth spirits that would keep the harvest. Lúgh is very much a "Christ" figure in that he died for the sake of humans, pierced and hanging from a tree.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Natural Symbols of Celtic Christianity

the Deer

= St.Patrick 

the Salomon

= knowledge


the Shamrock

= the Trinity

the Eagle

=  St.John

the Wild Goose

= Holy Spirit


= new life, Resurrection

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Anam Cara (pt 6 )

excerpt from the writing of john O'Donohue

In the Celtic tradition, there is a beautiful understanding of love and friendship.  One of the fascinating ideas here is the idea of soul-love; the old Gaelic term for this is anam ċara.  Anam is the Gaelic word for soul and ċara is the word for friend.  So anam ċara in the Celtic world was the “soul friend.”  In the early Celtic church, a person who acted as a teacher, companion, or spiritual guide was called an anam ċara.  It originally referred to someone to whom you confessed, revealing the hidden intimacies of your life.  With the anam ċara you could share your innermost self, your mind, and your heart.  This friendship was an act of recognition and belonging.  When you had an anam ċara, your friendship cut across all convention, morality, and category.  You were joined in an ancient and eternal way with the “friend of your soul.”  The Celtic understanding did not set limitations of space or time on the soul.  There is no cage for the soul.  The soul is a divine light that flows into you and into your Other.  This art of belonging awakened and fostered a deep and special companionship.  In his Conferences, John Cassian says this bond between friends is indissoluble: “This, I say, is what is broken by no chances, what no interval of time or space can sever or destroy, and what even death itself cannot part.”

In everyone’s life, there is great need for an anam ċara, a soul friend.  In this love, you are understood as you are without mask or pretension.  The superficial and functional lies and half-truths of social acquaintance fall away, you can be as you really are.  Love allows understanding to dawn, and understanding is precious.  Where you are understood, you are at home.  Understanding nourishes belonging.  When you really feel understood, you feel free to release yourself into the trust and shelter of the other person’s soul.  This recognition is described in a beautiful line from Pablo Neruda: “You are like nobody since I love you.”  This art of love discloses the special and sacred identity of the other person.  Love is the only light that can truly read the secret signature of the other person’s individuality and soul.  Love alone is literate in the world of origin; it can decipher identity and destiny.

It is precisely in awakening and exploring this rich and opaque inner landscape that the anam-ċara experience illuminates the mystery and kindness of the divine.  The anam ċara is God’s gift.  Friendship is the nature of God.  The Christian concept of God as Trinity is the most sublime articulation of otherness and intimacy, an eternal interflow of friendship.  This perspective discloses the beautiful fulfillment of our immortal longing in the words of Jesus, who said, Behold, I call you friends.  Jesus, as the son of God, is the first Other in the universe; he is the prism of all difference.  He is the secret anam ċara of every individual.  In friendship with him, we enter the tender beauty and affection of the Trinity.  In the embrace of this eternal friendship, we dare to be free.  There is a beautiful Trinitarian motif running through Celtic spirituality.  This little invocation captures this:
The Sacred Three
My fortress be
Encircling me
Come and be round
My hearth and my home.

Consequently, love is anything but sentimental.  In fact, it is the most real and creative form of human presence.  Love is the threshold where divine and human presence ebb and flow into each other.
All presence depends on consciousness.  Where there is a depth of awareness, there is a reverence for presence.  Where consciousness is dulled, distant, or blind, the presence grows faint and vanishes.  Consequently, awareness is one of the greatest gifts you can bring to your friendship.  Many people have an anam ċara of whom they are not truly aware.  Their lack of awareness cloaks the friend’s presence and causes feelings of distance and absence.  Sadly, it is often loss that awakens presence, by then it is too late.  It is wise to pray for the grace of recognition.  Inspired by awareness, you may then discover beside you the anam ċara of whom your longing has always dreamed.

The Celtic tradition recognized that an anam-ċara friendship was graced with affection.  Friendship awakens affection.  The heart learns a new art of feeling.  Such friendship is neither cerebral nor abstract.  In Celtic tradition, the anam ċara was not merely a metaphor or ideal.  It was a soul-bond that existed as a recognized and admired social construct.  It altered the meaning of identity and perception.  When your affection is kindled, the world of your intellect takes on a new tenderness and compassion.  The anam ċara brings epistemological integration and healing.  You look and see and understand differently.  Initially, this can be disruptive and awkward, but it gradually refines your sensibility and transforms your way of being in the world.  Most fundamentalism, greed, violence, and oppression can be traced back to the separation of idea and affection.  For too long we have been blind to the cognitive riches of feeling and the affective depth of ideas.  Aristotle said in De Anima, “Perception is ex hypothesi a form of affection and being moved; and the same goes for thinking and knowing. . .  .  Thinking particularly is like a peculiar affection of the soul.”  The anam-ċara perspective is sublime because it permits us to enter this unity of ancient belonging.

John O'Donohue was an Irish poet and philosopher, best known as for his books and recordings on Celtic spirituality. He had degrees in philosophy and English literature and was awarded a Ph.D in philosophical theology from the University of Tubingen in 1990. With  two collections of poetry, Echoes of Memory and Conamara Blues; and two international bestsellers, Anam Cara and Eternal Echoes. John's writing draws the reader into intimate conversation with neglected or unknown regions of the soul. . As a lecturer John's poetic gift and ability  to draw from traditionals sources and relate them to the questions and hunger of contemporary heart made him a much sought after speaker. John o'donohue passed away peacefully in his sleep in the night of January 3, 2008.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Celtic Christian Values (1)

Women in the Celtic Church

 "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus."                         -Galatians 3:2

“Both men and women were included in the pagan Druid priesthood, having equal status, and this equality was kept in the Irish Christian Church.  Besides the priesthood, the pagan Druid religion also had an order of wandering poets and prophets, called filid, who taught their religion to the common people. The Celtic  Christian Church enthusiastically adopted this ministry. Ordained to the office of “bard,” men and women had the duty of proclaiming the messages of the Catholic gospel in songs and ballads.  

In pagan Ireland, as Elaine Gill describes, Beltane celebrated the balance of female and male energy in sexual, spiritual, and emotional ways. This idea was embodied in the dual monasteries, where men and women had separate accommodations, but shared a common concern for the well-being of the entire community. 

The acceptance by the Catholic Church at the time of the idea of equality in Ireland also probably contributed to the swift embrace of Catholic beliefs, in that the two ways of life, pagan and Catholic, were very similar. In that sense, the Catholic way of life was not completely foreign to the pagan Celts, but was adapted by them to their own customs and traditions. *

 It would appear that Women within Celtic cultures had the possibility of higher autonomy and place, compared to other women in the ancient world^, Celtic Women were able to function within their society  a much more equal footing with men.  In Ireland, as one example, the Roman Church had less influence.  Women had a viable place both within the Druid religion.

The Irish Brehon law gave more rights and protection to women than any other western law code at that time or until recent times. Women had political equality, and could even lead the tribe and were often seen along side their male counter parents as warriors. They could ascribe to any office or profession open to men. They had equal right to divorce and to a share of property in such matters. They were able to own and inherit property. 

Given the attitude towards women in Celtic society as a whole, it was inevitable that the “Celtic church” would also afford women a position of honor, which is in stark contrast to the misogyny shown by the Roman church, influenced by Augustinian attitudes towards human sexuality and women in particular.

Certainly, the universal church custom to only ordain men was the practice in Britain and Ireland, but there was also no clergy/lay divide; women were therefore no more marginalized than a lay brother was.
Women like Brigid, Ebba and Hilda were leaders of mixed monasteries, where men and women lived and worked in co-operation. Their counsel was welcomed and expected at the court of kings. They also exercised authority over ordained clergy who worked alongside them. Women leaders also acted as a soul friends to monks.

Women were also affirmed as mothers, givers of hospitality and in their domestic work. This was as much a holy calling, and to be honored, as their leadership in the church.
* (Robert Van de Weyer, Celtic Fire: the Passionate Religious Vision of Ancient Britain and Ireland (New York, Double Day, 1991
^ Greek women, on the other hand, had no political rights, were subject to arranged marriages and had no right of inheritance.
Roman women became a possession of the husband at marriage, could not own anything and had few political rights.

compiled from several sources

Sunday, October 20, 2013

"Christ has no Body, but Yours"

A Prayer of Teresa of Avlia

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

 Born in Spain, Teresa entered a Carmelite convent when she was eighteen, and later earned a reputation as a mystic, reformer, and writer who experienced divine visions. She founded a convent, and wrote the book The Way of Perfection for her nuns. Other important books by her include her Autobiography and The Interior Castle.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Celtic Thanksgiving Reflection

King of Mysteries

You existed before the elements

before water covered the ocean floor

You are without beginning and without end

You created the land out of shapeless mass

You carved the mountains and chiseled the valleys

and covered the earth with trees and grass

You measured each object

each span within the universe

the height of the mountains

the depths of the oceans

the distance from the sun to the moon

from star to star

You created men and women

to be stewards of your earth

And to always praise you for your boundless love

excerpt from a 9th century Celtic Psalter

graphic: celtic tree of life knott

reprint of one of our most popular articles 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Margery Kempe (c. 1373 – after 1438)

Margery Kempe  is known for dictating The Book of Margery Kempe, a work considered by some to be the first autobiography in the English language.. This volume chronicles, to some extent, her extensive pilgrimages to various holy sites in Europe and Asia, as well as her mystical conversations with God. She is honored in the Anglican communion..

 She was born Margery Brunham in Kings-lynn, Norfolk, England. Her father, John Brunham, was a merchant in Lynn,a five-time mayor, and member of parliament. At the age of 20, Margery Brunham married a Norwich man named John Kempe. She had 14 children with him.

 The narrative of Kempe's book begins just after her marriage, and relates the experience of her difficult first pregnancy. While delivering this child, she became gravely ill and feared for her life. She called for a priest to hear her confession, as she had a "secret sin" that had been weighing on her conscience for some time. The priest began to censure her before she could divulge this sin in its entirety, and then left. Fearing eternal damnation, she fell into a delusional state, where she describes seeing devils around her, and was considered a danger to herself and others. She was chained in a storeroom for six months, until, as she describes, Jesussat down at her bedside, and asked her, "Daughter, why hast thou forsaken Me, and I forsook never thee?" She relates, at first, intending to become God's servant, but admits she could not "leave her pride nor her pompous array." Kempe undertook two domestic businesses—a brewery and a grain-mill—both common home-based businesses for medieval women, both of which endured for a little while, then failed.

Though she tried to be more devout, she was tempted by sexual pleasures and social jealousy for some years. Eventually turning away from her vocational choices, Kempe dedicated herself completely to the spiritual calling that she felt her earlier vision required. Striving to live a life of commitment to God, Kempe negotiated a celibate marriage with her husband, and began to make pilgrimages around Europe and Asia to holy sites, including Rome, Jerusalem, and Santiago de Compostella. Her book consisted of her accounts related to these travels, although a final section includes a series of prayers. The spiritual focus of her book is on the mystical conversations she conducts with Christ for more than forty years.

 Two different scribes wrote for Kempe, under her strict supervision.

 Part of Margery Kempe's significance lies in the autobiographical nature of her book: it is the best insight available of a female, middle class experience in the Middle Ages. Kempe is unusual among the more traditional holy exemplars of her time, such as Julian of Norwich, a member of a religious order. In describing her visit to Julian in Norwich, Kempe tells of their discussion of Kempe's visions and assessment as to their orthodoxy. They decided that because the visions led to charity, they were of the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Teresa of Avilia (1515-82)

Born in Avilia, Spain, on March 28, 1515, to a family of converted Jews Theresa became a Carmelit nun and later founded the Reformed order of Carmelites. John of the Cross was her protege'.

She was given to mystical experiences in prayer. She encouraged an openness to such things yet did not encourage dependance on them.

Her focus was on nurturing a relationship with Christ through engaging God's presence. She taught that that divine presence was to be received with joy and not treated as a right.

She penned an extensive biography and a number of books, that she wrote during the fifteen years when she was actively engaged in founding new communities of reformed Carmelite nuns. The Way of Perfection she composed the Way of Perfection and Foundations for the special guidance of her nuns. Her best know The Interior Castle was written with a larger audience in mind, in it she writes with unwavering authority on the spiritual life.

Her orders way of life was austere and her reforms radical.

In the autumn of 1582, Teresa, although ill, set out for Alva de Tormez, when she arrived at the convent, Teresa went to bed in a state of exhaustion. She never recovered, and three days passed away.

living water repeat from 2008

Monday, October 14, 2013

Thanks Giving (6)

Now Thank We Our God

1 Now thank we all our God
with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done,
in whom his world rejoices;
who from our mothers' arms
has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.

2 O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us,
to keep us in his grace,
and guide us when perplexed,
and free us from all ills
of this world in the next.

3 All praise and thanks to God
the Father now be given,
the Son and Spirit blest,
who reign in highest heaven
the one eternal God,
whom heaven and earth adore;
for thus it was, is now,
and shall be evermore

                            Martin Rinckart 1586 - 1649

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Francis and the Celtic Connection

When Fancis of Assisi came on the scene in 1200 he embraced a style of Christianity with an emphasis on creation, care of the poor, the place of women in monastic communities that seemingly came out of nowhere.

In 613 Columbanus a Celtic missionary monk responsible for planting over 50 monastic communities throughout Eruope arrives in Milan. The King of Lombardy offers Columbanus a site seventy miles south to establish a community. The location is where the Bobbio stream flows into the Trebbia. Columbanus gladly accepts. In 614 before the winter sets in, a new Irish monastery called Bobbio takes shape in the foothills of the Apennines. It is to be the last of Columbanus' foundations and his final resting place.

When Columbanus died, every branch of knowledge known in his day was represented in the library he established at Bibbio. The school of Bobbio became the intellectual center of northern Italy. His memory was so stamped upon the history of the region that the Roman Church sainted him despite it's opposition while he was alive.

Bibbio is 167 km from Assisi.

The similarities between Francis's vision of monastic life and the values of the Celtic monastics has not been lost on some historians. It is very possible Francis was wittingly or unwittingly influenced by the substantial mark left by Columbanus and his foundation some 600 years earlier in the area.

photo: the tomb of Columbanus in the Basilica of San Columbano in Bibbio

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Francis of Assisi (1181-1226)

We know more of Francis than of any other medieval saint. We have his own words, his Rule, Testament, letters, poems, and liturgical writings. As well the accounts of several of his disciples, written within twenty years after his death. Francis captured the imagination of his contemporaries as well as modern men by his simplicity and pure grace of spirit.

Baptized John Bernardone his Father a wealthy cloth merchant nicknamed Francesco. By his own account Francis lived a wild life and selfish life as a youth. He and his young friends went to war for the Pope against the Germans. During the campaign Francis was captured imprisioned and fell ill. On his return to Assisi he experienced a time of deep spiritual crisis during which he was quietly searching for something worthy of his complete devotion.
While out Riding one day in the plains below Assisi, he encountered a leper whose condition horrorifid Francis. Overcoming his revulsion he kissed the hand. This was a turning point in his life.
He started visiting hospitals, especially the refuge for lepers, which most persons avoided. While praying in the little church of St. Damian outside the walls of Assisi, he felt the eyes of the Christ on the crucifix gazing at him and heard a voice saying three times, "Build my Church My house, which you see is in ruins." The building, he observed, was old and ready to fall.

Convinced he had now found the right path, Francis went home and took cloth out of his father's warehouse and sold it, together with the horse that carried it, brought the money to the poor priest of St. Damian's church, and asked if he might stay there. His father pursued him to St. Damian’s and angrily declared that he must either return home or renounce his share in his inheritance-and pay the purchase price of the horse and the goods he had taken as well. Francis made no objection to being disinherited.

Cut off from his family he began a strange new life. He roamed the highways, singing God's praise. When he returned to St. Damian's the priest welcomed him, and Francis now began in earnest to repair the church, begging for building stones in the streets of Assisi and carrying off those that were given him. He labored with the masons in the actual reconstruction, and, by the spring of 1208, the church was once more in good condition. Next he repaired an old chapel dedicated to St. Peter. By this time many other youg people of Assisi had joined him in the restoration and care of the poor.

On the feast of St. Matthias, in 1209, the way of life he was to follow was revealed to him. The Gospel appointed for this day was Matthew 10 : 7-19: And going, preach, saying The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.... Freely have you received, freely give. Take neither gold nor silver nor brass in your purses . . . nor two coats nor shoes nor a staff.... Behold I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves.... These words suddenly became Christ's direct charge to him.

He cast off his shoes, staff, and leathern girdle, but kept his rough woolen coat, which he tied about him with a rope. This was the habit he gave his friars the following year. In this garb he went to Assisi the next morning and began to speak to the people he met on the shortness of life, the need of repentence, and the love of God. His salutation to those he passed on the road was, "Our Lord give you peace."

For a year Francis and his now numerous companions preached among the peasants and helped them in the fields. A brief rule which has not been preserved was drawn up. Apparently it consisted of little more than passages from the Gospel which Francis read to his first followers, with brief injunctions to manual labor, simplicity, and poverty.

Soon the abbot of the Benedictine monastery gave them Portiuncula chapel and the ground on which it stood. On the ground around the chapel the friars quickly built themselves some huts of wood and clay, enclosing them by a hedge. This was the first Franciscan monastery.

Francis never wanted to found a religious order -- this former knight thought that sounded too military. He thought of what he was doing as expressing God's brotherhood. His companions came from all walks of life, from fields and towns, nobility and common people, universities, the Church, and the merchant class.

Francis practiced true equality by showing honor, respect, and love to every person. The early years were a time of training in poverty, mutual help, and brotherly love. The friars worked at their various trades and in the fields of neighboring farmers to earn their bread. When work was lacking, they begged, though they were forbidden to take money. They were especially at the service of lepers, and those who were helpless and suffering.

Francis was reverently in love with all natural phenomena—sun, moon, air, water, fire, flowers; his quick warm sympathies responded to all that lived. His tenderness for and his power over animals were noted again and again. Francis felt that nature, all God's creations, were part of his brotherhood. The sparrow was as much his brother as the pope.

Francis did not try to abolish poverty, he tried to make it holy. Following the Gospel literally, Francis and his companions went out to preach two by two. At first, listeners were understandably hostile to these men in rags trying to talk about God's love. People even ran from them for fear they'd catch this strange madness! But soon these same people noticed that these barefoot beggars wearing sacks seemed filled with constant joy. They celebrated life. And people had to ask themselves: Could one own nothing and be happy? Soon those who had met them with mud and rocks, greeted them with bells and smiles.

Francis and Cardinal Ugolino drew up a rule for the fraternity of lay men and women who wished to associate themselves with the Friars Minor and follow as best they could the rules of humility, labor, charity, and voluntary poverty, without withdrawing from the world: the Franciscan tertiaries or Third Order. These congregations of lay poeple became a power in the religious life of the late Middle Ages.

Francis' final years were filled with suffering as well as humiliation. As his health was growing worse, he consented to put himself in the hands of the Pope's physician. For two weeks he lost his sight, but finally triumphed over suffering and depression and composed the beautiful, triumphant "Canticle of the Sun," and set it to music.

As the end drew near, Francis sent a last message to Clare and her nuns. While the brothers stood about him singing the "Canticle of the Sun," with the new stanza he had lately given them, in praise of Sister Death, he repeated the one hundred and forty-first Psalm, "I cried to the Lord with my voice; with my voice I made supplication to the Lord." He called for bread and broke it and to each one present gave a piece in token of their love.

Francis died on October 4, 1226 at the age of 45.

complied from numorus sources
graphic: fresco by Giottio

living water reprint from 2008

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Druids Prayer

Original Welsh
Dyro, Dduw, dy nawdd;
ac yn nawdd, nerth;
ac yn nerth, deall;
ac yn neall, gwybod;
ac o wybod, gwybod y cyfiawn;
ac o wybod y cyfiawn ei garu;
ac o garu, caru Duw.
Duw a phob daioni.

 The "Druid's Prayer" (Welsh: Gweddi'r Derwydd) or "Gorsedd Prayer" (Gweddi'r Orsedd) is a prayer composed by Iolo Morganwg
English translation
Grant, God, thy refuge;
and in refuge, strength;
and in strength, understanding;
and in understanding, knowledge;
and from knowledge, knowledge of what is right;
and from knowledge of what is right, the love of it;
and from loving, the love of God.
God and all goodness.

Rev. John Williams ab Ithel,  ed.: Barddas; or, a Collection of Original Documents, Illustrative of the Theology, Wisdom, and Usages of the Bardo-Druidic System of the Isle of Britain: Longman & Co. (1862) 

Grant us, O God, your protection;
and in your protection, strength;
and in strength, understanding;
and in understanding, knowledge;
and in knowledge, the knowledge of justice;
and in the knowledge of justice, the love of justice;
and in that love, the love of existence;
and in the love of existence, the love of God, God and all goodness.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Creation Reflections

If you want to know the creator, understand created things

Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him all ye Heavenly Host
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost

The heavens declare the glory of God and the ferment showeth His handy work.
Psalm 19:1
photo: b culver

living water reprint from 2008

Saturday, October 5, 2013

"Everything is Grace."


Saint Therese the Little Flower Speaks

 "Jesus does not so much look at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them." 

"I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifice to all ecstasies. To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul." 

 "How happy I am to see myself as imperfect and to be in need of God's mercy." 

 "Do not fear to tell Jesus that you love Him even without feeling it. That is the way to force Jesus to help you, to carry you like a little child too feeble to walk."

 "For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy; finally, it is something great, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus."

 "Jesus does not demand great actions from us, but simply surrender and gratitude."

 "It is only love which makes us acceptable to God."

 "What offends Him and what wounds His Heart is the lack of confidence...Your heart is made to love Jesus, to love Him passionately...We have only the short moments of our life to love Jesus!"

 Whispered to a novice while standing in front of the convent library: "Oh! I would have been sorry to have read all those books...If I had read them, I would have broken my head, and I would have wasted precious time that I could have employed very simply in loving God."

In loving memory of Brother John Henry Tilma