Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Celtic Christmas: Celebrating the Sacred in All Creation Pt. 2

This is a wonderful article by Mary Earle   exploring the meaning of Christmas from a Celtic Christian perspective

Historically, at this time of the year, the peoples of the Celtic lands (Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall, Isle of Man, Galicia) marked the natural rhythm as autumn turned to winter. This was a time for watching for the light’s return, even in the midst of darkness. This was a time for pondering endings and beginnings. As Christianity came to these lands, perhaps as early as the first century, there was a ready embracing of the proclamation that Jesus was the Son of God. As far as we can tell, the pre-Christian religious practices of the Celtic peoples were inclined to celebrate the natural world as shot through with divine presence. For them, a faith tradition that celebrated the divine becoming human was plausible, welcome and true. Incarnation was not a stumbling block as it was to the Greeks. This faith that had a central story of a man who came from God and returned to God, a man who was God’s Son, did not seem so far-fetched to the Celtic mind.

The first time I went to Wales in 1994, Patrick Thomas, Welsh author and Anglican priest, told us that in every Welsh nativity scene, a washerwoman accompanies Mary, Joseph and Jesus at the manger. For the Welsh tradition, if Jesus isn’t born daily into the common household, then there’s really no point of celebrating the birth at Bethlehem. Jesus’ birth, singular as it is, also shows us the sacredness of each child, knit together in the mother’s womb by God’s own Spirit. Jesus’ birth reminds us that each household is dear to God.

Hearkening back to a time when the church was one, and having resonance with Eastern Orthodox theology, the Celtic Christian tradition is at ease with proclamations from the early church, such as this from Maximus Confessor: : “The Word of God, who is God, wills always and in all things to work the mystery of his embodiment.” The Celtic Christian tradition would agree with C. S. Lewis when he writes, “God loves matter; he invented it.” George McLeod, who founded the modern Iona Community in Scotland, said “Matter matters.”

The Celtic tradition looks at the world and wonders at the fact that there
is anything at all. The natural world is perceived as pointing beyond itself, to the divine Source. God’s presence, as A. M. Allchin has observed, makes the world. God’s presence makes you, makes your family, makes each person. God’s presence invites loving, active response. God’s incarnate presence provokes us to action, to care, to justice.
At this season of the year, when we celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus in the midst of the hubbub in Bethlehem, this tradition invites us to notice God being birthed in our midst, in one another, in our friend, in our foe. As the Welsh poet Donald Evans wrote of the baby born in the manger at Bethlehem,
He loved the earth, loved it as a lover
because it is God’s earth:
He loved it because it was created by his Father
From nothingness to be life’s temple.
Copyright ©2003 Mary Earle

For more information on Celtic Spirituality, read HOLY COMPANIONS: SPIRITUAL PRACTICES FROM THE CELTIC SAINTS by Mary C. Earle and Sylvia Maddox.
Holy Companions: Spiritual Practices from the Celtic Saints

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