Lord Teach Us to Pray: St Columba’s Vigil by Greg Valerio

The post for today is part of the Lord Teach Us to Pray series.  Today’s contribution is made by Greg Valerio.  Greg is a follower of Jesus and explorer of Columban Spirituality. He is a co-founder of the Contemplative Network and is currently studying an MA in Celtic Christianity at Trinity St Davids University of Wales. His day job is as a Jeweller and Activist and one of the principle architects of Fairtrade Gold. He is the Founder of CRED Jewellery and co-founder of Fair Jewellery Action and advocates for human rights and environmental justice.

‘Let your vigils be constant from eve to eve, under the direction of another person’

The Rule of Columba

This year I have begun exploring the practice of vigils. For clarity’s sake my efforts have been a toe in the water, yet as I have continued to explore Columban spirituality and the broader Celtic spirituality in which St. Columba was a leading figure, I have not been able to ignore his expectation that those who seek the heart and mystery of God will take part in vigils.

A vigil is a conscious journey towards GOD set within a specific time frame. It usually takes place at night when people would normally be sleeping. Just as fasting is a deliberate deprivation of food in order to suppress the natural appetite and focus on one’s dependency upon God for sustenance. So a vigil is a deliberate denial of sleep in order to be nourished by God through prayer and mediation.


Photo by Greg Valerio

On 9 June three of us gathered at my tipi retreat space on the South Downs to explore a half night vigil and to explore two practices that were used as disciplines by the early British and Irish church.

  1. A search for and/or discovery of our mystical name in God
  2. A search for and/or discovery of our internal prayer

Our setting was outside, within the cradle of creation. John Scottus Eriugena contends ‘Creation is the theophany of God’. Here, exposed to the elements of our landscape, where we can hear the evening birdsong, feel the breath of the wind, the dance of the trees, the warmth of fire, we are drawn into the natural rhythm of creations conversation with the Creator. And to this we can add our voice, our name and our prayerful imagination.

What is your mystical name?

Your name in God is both hidden and revealed. For Columba he had a name Colum cille that means ‘The Dove of the Church’. Yet his name hidden in the spirit was ‘Cul ri Erin’, meaning ‘back turned to Ireland’ as recorded in the poem Columcille fecit. For Columba, a spiritual exile for Christ from his homeland of Ireland, this was his daily reality as a peregrinus.   Equally Elijah, which means ‘Yahweh is my God’ was also known as ‘the troubler of Israel’ (1 Kings 18 v18) a mandate he carried exceptional well.

Your mystical name is the name you hold that describes your identity in God. It is the name that best describes you in the intersection between heaven and earth. A name that you carry in your hidden prayers and draws you closest to your intimate relationship with God. Meditating on this fact allowed us to begin the journey towards understanding our true selves, a journey that takes a lifetime that can for those who stop to listen be caught in name.

Red Darth dance at sunset. Wolstonbury Hill.

Photo by Greg Valerio

The Prophets Bed

The Prophets Bed is a derivative of an ancient practice undertaken by Celtic bards and poets to ‘find their poem or story’. Here we used it to listen for our prayer. Prayer takes shape in words, sound, physical motion, posture and expression that facilitate you to be open and transparent before the Creator. This prayer can linked to your name and takes the shape of a blessings, a Lorica or protection prayer; the most famous being Patrick’s Breastplate, and is rooted in your authentic voice before God. God always hears our authentic voice.

If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish and it will be done for you (John 15 v7).

In the darkness we allowed our minds to focus on God alone. By relaxing in the arms of creation, you are relaxing in the arms of the Father creator. Doing this in the darkness is important as God dwells in original darkness , the uncreated light of God, and from this darkness the great conversation of creation and Word of Light emerged (Gen 1 v1-2). In the stillness we allowed our prayer to emerge in feeling, expectation and the presence of God. It is here we begin to travel along the edges of time. It is here the eternal voice of the Father and our voice find unity in prayer and conversation. As this conversation emerged we wrote it down or acted it out. We did this in isolation, with no pressure to feedback or explain the encounter. These moments are sacred prophetic times and need maturing and distillation, not instant regurgitation.

The Bards and Poets of Ireland would often lie down and fast during this time. To avoid falling asleep they would place a stone under their heads or on their chest. Columba was trained as a bard by the aged Master Bard Gemman from Leinster. Indeed it seems Columba kept this practice up throughout his life as he reputedly slept on a stone pillow throughout his life.

I finish with a quote from one of us,

“The isolated location was great and certainly helped. In addition I was surprised at how helpful the darkness and isolation was to the second meditation, connecting with the environment and Gods essence within. I did have to fight falling asleep, but that I guess is part of the process”.

L’église est fermée — By Greg Valerio

This morning’s post in the series Easter is Coming: What Do We Hunger and Thirst For?  is  by Greg Valerio. Greg is a follower of Jesus and explorer of Columban Spirituality. He is a co-founder of the Contemplative Network (https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Contemplative-Network/) and is currently studying an MA in Celtic Christianity at Trinity St Davids University of Wales. His day job is as a Jeweller and Activist and one of the principle architects of Fairtrade Gold. He is the Founder of CRED Jewellery (www.credjewellery.com) and co-founder of Fair Jewellery Action (www.fairjewelry.org) and advocates for human rights and environmental justice.

Alongside Ruth (wife) and Mali and Jemba (children) they aim to enshrine a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity and activism in both the local community and the wider world. He describes himself as a ‘Contemplative Activist’.

He blogs at www.chasingcolumba.com and www.gregvalerio.com


“Monsieur, L’église est fermée”, said the old man as I wondered round the Sint-Niklaaskerk (Church of St Nicholas) in Ghent St Pierre in Belgium at 9 am. An hour I did not think was particularly excessive.

Saint Nicholas Church“Pardon”, I replied, “Comment l’Église peut être fermé?” or in English, “How can the Church be closed?”

I am currently in Belgium for three days contributing to a series of talks and presentations on the ethics, (or lack thereof), in the gold business. I try where ever possible to maintain a rhythm of morning prayer. Ghent St Pierre, is a beautiful Renaissance City so a morning stroll through the town to the local Church seemed in order.

At this point an old lady, who was busy brushing down the altar turned to me and in a sweetest English accent said “The Church is always closed”.

So welcome to my morning meditation. The Church is always closed. I despair. I was not even sad about it, I was furious. How the fuck can the Church be closed? No wonder the state of the community of Christ is in such a trauma across western Europe with a practice like that.

The sweet old lady informed me that they had just finished mass, and I could come back at 10 am when the Church opened for tourists. I explained I was not a tourist and I wanted to find somewhere to pray. She was clearly perplexed by my reply as I also indicated I would like to take part in mass. “You cannot do that”, she said “we have finished, you should have got up earlier”. The old man repeated I should leave as the “L’église est fermée”.

The Adoration of the Mystic LambWith these words ringing in my ear, I wandered further up the road to St Bavo’s Cathedral, the home of The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by Hubert and Jan van Eyck. As I prayed in front of this iconic painting, the anger of a closed Church burned in my head. The deception of a philosophy of Christendom as a twisted witness to the authentic Jesus of Nazareth came into sharp focus for me. My anger began to give way to the grace of tears as the realisation that with the collapse of Western Christendom almost complete, I am free to enjoy these ecclesiastical art galleries, as the Cathedral of Christ can only be found in creation.

The post Christendom landscape of Europe presents us with a wonderful opportunity to find the real witness to Jesus, without the baggage of religious ideology fused with State patronage. The doors of Christendom’s buildings may be closed, but the community of Christ is open. Is open to imagination, open to opportunity, open to encounter and open to a rediscovery of ancient pathways made new.

In the build up, during lent, to our Celtic Easter celebration on 15 April, I am conscious this is where I am, in the landscape of re-imagining. Walking an ancient indigenous British path, rediscovering its rhythm of practice, learning to walk under the sun of the Son. The Monastic Church of the British Isles, a distant memory to the contemporary Church, is awakening again. A Monastic Church that in the fire of its youth, did not swallow the lie of the Emperor Constantine’s settlement of Christianity as the religion of the empire.

As I stared at the Mystic Lamb upon the sacrificial altar in the Van Eyck painting, I could see the early Churches emphasis on the redemptive sacrifice of Christ, the helpless lamb, led to the slaughter, a willing sacrifice for the horrors of humanities cosmic error. This willing submission to powerlessness and service as authentic witness is the road on which the true disciple walks. My prayer is that I will have the courage to keep walking.

December Synchroblog – Jesus Came Did You get What You Expected?

The Massacre of the Innocents by Rubens

The Massacre of the Innocents by Rubens

My post yesterday was part of a December synchroblog and below I have posted the other posts in the series. Interestingly many focus on the unexpected pain of this season which seemed appropriate to me as I am posting this on the day in the church calendar known as The Feast of the Holy Innocents when we remember those innocent children who were slaughtered by Herod when the wise men disappeared without telling him who the Messiah was. As Greg Valerio mentioned in his post this morning: They have come to represent the voiceless, the feeble, the baby, the truly helpless who through no fault of their own, become the victims of a world that treats people as collateral damage.

The unveiling of God so often comes in the midst of pain, suffering and death. We don’t understand why but it makes even more poignant our longing for a world in which Christ is at last fully revealed. Our hope is that when Christ and his kingdom are revealed in their fullness, the sting of pain and death will indeed be completely conquered.

Then when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: Death is swallowed up in victory. O death where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? For sin is the sting that results in death and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54-56

Glenn Hager – Underwear For Christmas

Jeremy Myers – The Unexpected Gift From Jesus

Tammy Carter  – Unstuck

Jeff Goins – The Day After Christmas: A Lament

Wendy McCaig – Unwanted Gifts: You Can Run But You Can Not Hide

Christine Sine – The Wait Is Over – What Did I Get?

Maria Kettleson Anderson – Following The Baby We Just Celebrated 

Leah – Still Waiting For Redemption