Celtic Spirituality – the Distinctives

I often get asked “Why are you interested in Celtic Christian spirituality?”  Below is a summary of the distinctives of this form of Christianity that make it attractive to me and have resulted in Mustard Seed Associates using it as the foundation for the annual retreat we hold.  This year’s retreat will be on Camano Island August 14th.

Distinctive Features of Celtic Christianity

  1. Central to Celtic spirituality is incarnation and an intense sense of the presence of God. “The Celt was very much a God-intoxicated man whose life was embraced on all sides by the divine Being”
    1. The presence of Christ was almost physically woven around their lives
    2. God was treated with awe, reverence and wonder but was essentially a human figure intimately involved in all creation and engaged in a dynamic relationship with it.
    3. The Trinity was seen as family and each family unit, clan or community was an icon of the Trinity
    4. All creation responds to God’s creative presence and sustaining love. God not only encircles and protects creation but also enlivens, activates and inspires it.
  2. A belief in the thinness of the veil between this world and the next.  Heaven and earth are interconnected and interacting.
    1. Celtic Christians prayed consciously as members of the great company of hosts – the persons of the Trinity, angels and archangels, the risen saints and disciples were all seen as close companions on their journey.
    2. Through this same host of witnesses God protected them from evil forces and enemies.
  3. Importance of little things – no task is too trivial to be sanctified by prayer and blessing
    1. Even mundane little task like washing dishes, milking the cow and sowing crops have sacred significance
    2. This is parallelled in their identification with the little people, the marginalized & the oppressed.  All persons represented God and might be heavenly visitors in disguise.
    3. Extending hospitality opened a door to the kingdom of God and welcomed Jesus into their midst.  It was an important expression of love both toward God and neighbour
  4. All of life flows to a rhythm of ebb and flow reflected in the natural world. This is reflected in the monastic rhythm that flowed between prayer and study, work and rest, community and solitude.
  5. A strong sense of sin and of the presence of evil forces in the world resulted in a strong recognition of the need for penitence which often led to austerely ascetic lives. Some become perpetual pilgrims or lived as hermits to avoid the comforts and temptations of a settled existence in which evil might flourish.
  6. Celtic Christians adapted well to the culture in which they operated. They are sometimes accused of syncretism because of their use of pre-Christian symbols which they transformed into the symbols of faith.

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Building Community

Our 19th Annual Celtic retreat is only 2 weeks away.  This is my  favourite event of the year and I have been busy putting together the program for this exciting event.  So I thought that over the next few days I would give a sneak preview of some of the prayers and framework for the retreat.

The theme this year is Building Community and below is the introductory explanation we are using.  Some of what I share here you may have seen before but this is such an important but neglected topic that I don’t think any of us will suffer from having it reinforced.  Building community is not always easy – we have our disagreements, our misunderstandings and our conflicts.  Communities don’t always survive and we can all point our fingers at those who have tried to build intentional communities but failed.

Unless we believe that community is important we will not even try to build God’s worldwide community and the foundations we build on will be like sand – easily washed away.

Building Community

Early Christians believed that God comes to us in community.  They reasoned that as the essential nature of God is love and because it is impossible to practice love in isolation, God the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit must model perfect community.  Celtic Christians too held a deep love for the Trinity and were very comfortable with a God whose nature was portrayed as a companionable relationship between members of a community.  They felt that it was impossible to reflect God’s image as isolated individuals and were very aware that coming into God’s presence signified being drawn into community not just with the Trinity but with the entire human family and even with God’s creation. They believed that every family, clan and tribe reflected the Trinity which intensifying their commitment to building community.

The strongly monastic character of the Celtic church produced a community minded ministry model which we hope to replicate in the Mustard Seed village on Camano Island.  To become a disciple meant building communities of mutual love and care with sisters and brothers in God’s worldwide family. “Ministry…was undertaken by teams of men and women, ordained and lay, who lived together in community and operated from a common central base from which they went out among the people preaching, teaching, baptizing, administering the sacraments, caring for the sick and burying the dead.

Alone we are a very poor reflection of God.  As Richard Twiss expresses it: Every day our lives are painted in colour, in light, and in mystery.  We walk in a world of day and night, wind and rain, heat and warmth.  We share this planet with myriad species of living thing.  We dwell with women and men of many languages, cultures, appearances and nations.  This is a gift of God, and it is in this diversity we get a glimpse of God.

God comes to us in the diversity of many ethnicities, in rich and poor, young and old, sick, lonely, disabled, marginalized homeless and abandoned. It is only as we build communities of unity, love and mutual concern and enter the life journeys of brothers and sisters from around the world that we can hope to truly reflect the image of our loving God.  We need to learn to accept and embrace others as persons made in the image of God not looking for where we think that image is damaged and scarred but rather for where it shines through as the person God intended them to be.  We must learn to be vulnerable and share our own pains, struggles and heartaches with others.  Then we must allow them to reach into our lives and lead us too into the freedom of God’s shalom world.  We are called to show God’s love by sharing our talents and resources to enable others to enter into the freedoms of Christ’s kingdom.

What Do I Believe About the Holy Spirit? – Advocate & Guide

The Holy Spirit tends to be the least understood of the part of the tripartate nature of God.  Those of us that were nurtured in the charismatic movement often think of tongues of fire and speaking in tongues, manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s presence.

However the Holy Spirit is far more than a few showy effects that are meant to convince us that God is with us.  The Holy Spirit is the indwelling presence of our loving God “the seal of our inheritance”, counsellor, comforter, revealer of truth.

I believe it is the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and our world to bring us out of hiding and help us to confront those parts of our lives that are still distorted and disconnected from God.  It is the  power of the Holy Spirit that reveals the sin still hidden within us, draws us to repentance and  and brings about the transformation that will reveal God’s image deep within us.

It is, I believe, the Holy Spirit that is the ongoing revelation of God in our lives and our world, helping us to understand mysteries about God that have been hidden earlier in our life and often even earlier in the history of the world.  As counsellor the Holy Spirit instructs us in the ways of truth (like making us aware of issues of slavery in cell phone production that I mentioned in my last post) and helps us to turn our lives around to live more authentically as God’s representatives in the world as it is today.

Is Your Cell Phone Drenched in Blood

this morning I received an email from one of my favourite environmental organizations suggesting that I change my cell phone company away from the big multi national corporations to one that they approve of.  What does this have to do with my previous post on Who Is Jesus, you may wonder?  Well the email really bugged me because I know that elements of most of our cell phones are produced by slave labour and very destructive mining methods issues that as Christians we should be concerned about.

Cell phones were once a luxury, something that people thought were sort of frivolous. But in today’s age of ever-advancing technology, we’ve come to consider them an absolute necessity. Now practically everyone owns one – and we replace them with new ones every 1-2 years. But at what cost? It turns out that a vital raw material used in many cell phones is often mined illegally, and by slave labor.  read the entire article

I know it is easy for us to get overwhelmed by the extent to which our world is corrupted by greed, injustice and atrocities.  Slave labour is not confined to the making of clothing and the production of food.  The mining of gold and gemstones is very dependent on slave labour as many became aware through the film Blood Diamond.  But cell phones – that cuts a little too close to home.  They have become the air we breathe and the lifeline we depend on for many of our culture.

Ironically in the very countries that mine coltan essential to cell phone production numbers of entrepreneurial small businesses have arisen in which people provide cell phone access to their neighbours as this article Upwardly Mobile in Africa suggests.

I still have a cell phone, but I think that this is another issue that we all need to be aware of and if possible do something about.

Time to Turn, a Netherlands based Christian advocacy group did just that in 2008.

We asked people to write a postcard with a personal message to the cellphone industry. We collected those cards and offered them – as a text message bundle – to representatives of the phone & electronics industry, that met in Washington on November 19th, 2008.   Read more

What do you think?

What Do I Believe About Jesus – Redeemer/Saviour/Lord?

This week I am posting a series on What do I believe about God?  This is the third in the series and in some ways both the most important and the most challenging.  What do I believe about Jesus?  Who is this person that took hold of my life 45 years ago, and has faithfully led me ever since?  Who is this Son of Man who turned my life upside down, transformed not just me but also my values and in fact who continues to turn my life upside down and transform me?

I believe that Jesus was the incarnate presence of God.  He is the best representative the human race has ever had of what God is really like.  All that he did on earth gives us a glimpse into a God of love and compassion who cares deeply for our world and all that is in it.  Jesus acts of healing the sick, raising the dead, speaking out against the injustice of the religious leaders are all glimpses into the character of a God who wants to restore all of human kind and in fact all of creation to the wholeness God intended for it.  This is the good news of God that Jesus preached.

I believe that Jesus call to repentance – to “turn around” – is not just a call to believe in God in our hearts but it is a call to commit our lives to the same things that Jesus committed his life to – sight to the blind, healing to the lame, justice for the poor and the formation of a new community of love and mutual care.

This is beautifully summed up in Luke 4: 16 – 21 where Jesus inaugurates his ministry:

Luke 4: 16-21 (The Message)

He came to Nazareth where he had been reared. As he always did on the Sabbath, he went to the meeting place. When he stood up to read, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written, “God’s Spirit is on me; he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,
Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, To set the burdened and battered free, to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”

He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent. Then he started in, “You’ve just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place.”

Let me finish with this prayer that I wrote for my new book Light for the Journey: Morning and Evening Prayers for Living into God’s World, which will be available in a couple of weeks.

We believe in Jesus Christ, word made flesh,

Incarnate presence of God,

He came amongst us not in power, not in might, but as a child,

Born of a woman, raised as a refugee, servant of the poor

Lowly and humble he came,

Washing feet, embracing kids, touching outcasts

He came as a servant king

Loving, caring, compassionate he walked beside us

Shouldering our burdens, suffering our pain, healing our sicknesses,

He came as a God who hears our cries

Bringing freedom for the oppressed, justice for the poor

Providing food for the hungry, salvation for us all

He came as a God of celebration and joy

Sharing meals, celebrating feasts, laughing and rejoicing

He came to give us life

So that we might find life in doing his will.


Why I Believe in God – by Thule Kinnison

The following post was sent to me by Thule Kinnison who sent it to me saying: “I needed to write about Christ today.”  Like Thule I find I need to write about Christ today and everyday.

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I believe in God because I’ve lived most of my life as a drug addict and have now been sober for 6 1/2 years. I did not grow up in church and had no religious beliefs before going to Alcoholics Anonymous in 2003, but after my first year there, I knew a new way of life; a life created from principles of a 12 step program and a ‘Big Book’ that taught me how to be a ‘good’ servant in this world that is so far from ‘good’ a lot of the time. I didn’t meet God in a church house or bible; I met God in AA. [The Kingdom of God is near – and sneaky]

Jesus came along in my third year of sobriety. I attended a church house weekly, named Mercy Street, and added to my relationship with God there. I started to wonder ‘ who is this Jesus dude? There’s got to be more to God than just God’. So I started seeking Jesus. I went to bible study led by Sean Gladding and became mesmerized by the teaching of who Jesus was and what his mission was and how he loved.

Soon after I started the bible study, I met Shane Claiborne at Ecclesia and my heart immediately changed. Jesus became my focus and my life and for a year and a half I consumed myself with teachings about Jesus from Shane, Sean and Rebecca Gladding, Matt Russell and Chris Seay and read Word Made Flesh magazines. This Jesus that I could relate to as far as compassion, and passion for truth, and for forgiveness and sacrifice for goodness, blew me away. My passion for homeless folks amazed me. My relationship with folks who are the least of these in Houston, TX humbled me like never before. It was so ‘natural’ to be with my homeless friends and to love them, no matter what, and to feed them, to ask them their name, and smile and laugh with them, and speak truth about who I was and who I am now, to share my experience with them, and listen to theirs, and be comforted and protected in the midst, every time!

This was just the beginning of my Jesus Journey. It hasn’t always been great. For a few years I lived in self will again; fighting God, Jesus and the world, being selfish and not understanding, struggling with other addictions, and making it back to freedom again, without physically dying. My Jesus carried me, again! He teaches me how to be a part of Kingdom life, in todays world.

Ok, now about this Holy Spirit thing. My experience with this is that on several occasions I cried, uncontrollably, when I’ve encountered random homeless folks. I was told that I feeling compassion and sadness that Jesus felt for them, through the Holy Spirit in me. My heart is changed each time it happens and my faith and awareness become stronger each time. And of course, reading The Shack helped me understand the trinity and I believe that the voice I hear, whether I’m in silence or in chaos, is the Holy Spirit guiding me because there are choices and decisions I’ve made that are NOT what I’d want, but I hear and respond, and always have a deep sense of connection and freedom. That’s what the Holy Spirit means and is to me.

God the Creator is who created everything, and is bigger than anything, and yearns for me to be a part of Kingdom on earth. He is my guidance, Jesus is the truth and love, and the Holy Spirit is the voice and feeling.
What makes me a follower of Christ is the faith I have. I can’t explain why or how I have so much faith, I just do. There are no words to describe it. I’ve battled many things, including drug addiction and myself in the past 37 years, and when I think of Jesus, I’m comforted and embraced. The simplicity of who Christ is keeps me focused. My longing to be shaped in the image of Christ is bigger than anything else in my life today. My desire to know more and live what I know keeps growing. When I struggle and ask ‘WHY?’ I know I’m heard and I have faith that I’m being led closer to being whole, yet knowing that I am still broken and will be until my eternal life begins.

Who is God the Father/mother/creator to you?

Yesterday I talked about the need that all of us have to articulate what we believe.  This morning I wanted to express some of my beliefs about God the Father/mother/creator and would encourage you to do the same.  i have used Father/mother/creator because our God does not fit into a simple box and is not confined by gender.   So what are the essential characteristics of the God we believe in.  After all there are a lot of gods out there wanting our attention and loyalty.

First and foremost, the God I believe in and worship is a God of love who created our world, sustains our world and is revealed through every aspect of it.  This loving, caring God aches for us in our brokenness and will do everything possible to draw us back into the personal wholeness and loving, caring relationships he intended for us – not just with God himself but also with each other and even with God’s creation.

I believe that because of this great love God sent Jesus, his Son who is the most perfect revelation of what God is like that the world has ever seen.  (more about that tomorrow).  But God didn’t stop there.  God also sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within each of us so that we can grow in the knowledge of his love and compassion and demonstrate it to the world around us.

James calls love “the royal law” (Jm 2:8); Jesus calls love of God and love of neighbour the most important commandment. (Mark 12: 28 – 34).  And why is it most important – because love is the very essence and nature of God.

NT Wright sums this up well in Surprised by Joy

Love is not a duty; it is our destiny.  It is the language that Jesus spoke and we are called to speak it so that we can converse with him.  It is the food that they eat in God’s new world, and we must acquire a taste for it here and now.  It is the music God has written for all his creatures to sing and we are called to learn it and practice it now.