Why Celtic Christian Spirituality?
I am often asked why the Celtic spiritual perspective has my attention and why I am willing to be guided by this ancient and modern tradition. The answer is certainly complex and multi-layered, as I suppose any of us would have to admit about our spiritual choices, beliefs, narratives, and influences.
I start by taking my place amongst the uncountable souls that have come before me and have walked a rich and fulfilling path toward union with the Divine. I admit that I know only a portion of what is needed for the walk, but I have an evolving hope for spiritual awareness, practices, and freeing beliefs that enrich, inspire, and guide me on the journey that we are all taking with the Spirit.
Earlier in my adulthood, I was engaged with a rather dogmatic and defined way of understanding the Christian story and Christian beliefs. I did not know at that point that those beliefs were deeply informed by a Roman, Western, Enlightenment-oriented, and culturally defined worldview and belief system. I now understand that perspective to be strongly influenced by a need to raise the rational mind and a controlling ego into an illusion that I, and so many millions of others, had obtained the right and correct practices and beliefs that would ultimately result in an eternal future of my desiring. I’m now aware that such a pursuit has the human controlling ego at its heart. Although I have not left the beauty of the Christian story and the multiplicity of spiritual awareness and depth that the Christian narrative provides, I no longer think of it as a belief system to grasp and control. It is a story of rich depth, guidance, and grace which provides a wonderful invitation to a life of eternal relationality with Spirit, Self, and others.
Although overly and unfairly simplified, I see that the Roman and Western spiritual perspective has overly emphasized the sinner being brought back to God and the “wretch” disciplining himself or herself in order to stay in the good graces of God. I also notice a belief and cultural system that uses Nature instead of participating with or within her. The results are obviously devastating.
No system of belief or perspective is the exclusive or right way to respond to the heart’s yearning for meaning and relatedness with that which is bigger than oneself. However, there are certainly some belief and cultural systems that make such a life-giving experience much more difficult, and sometimes impossible. One doesn’t need to look far into the American and Western experiment to see that the guiding lights haven’t guided us to glory but rather to the brink of destroying ourselves and Nature in a myriad of ways.
As I have searched for new paths, I’ve realized that many very old well-trod spiritual paths provide much more life, dignity, and a holistic possibility for a human life lived in right relationship with self, God, others, and Nature. Many of these perspectives and disciplines live with original earth-based cultures such as Native Americans of North and South America, Aboriginal cultures, many ancient Asian cultures, African tribal peoples, and the Celts of the Northwest European Islands and Northern Continental Europe. We would do ourselves a grand favor by humbling ourselves under the teachings and guidance of any of these cultures. Although I am certainly open to the guidance of any of these, I am particularly drawn to the Celtic way of being in the world. I’m sure there are many reasons that I am drawn in that direction, some having to do with my own heritage and cultural preferences, and others having to do with my admiration of the principles for life, belief, and relationships that the Celtic people have long followed.
Thankfully, a wonderful chapter of Celtic history in the first millennium C.E. saw the combining of an Earth-honoring culture with that of the Christian story but without heavy-handed influence from the established national church of the Roman Empire. The result was a wonderful marriage of the rich story of God’s personalized love for all of humanity with the resonant tone of that same God that can be seen and experienced through all of Creation. Although this way of relating with God and the World lost its greater influence for much of the second millennium C.E., it is currently seeing a renewed influence as dry souls are turning to this ancient way of being in order to find life-giving guidance that holds new and old possibility.
This Celtic Christian way of understanding life, faith, and practice dignifies the human soul without drowning out that dignity with overemphasized talk of depravity, repentance, or unworthiness. The human is seen as honorable as the magnificent mountains, radiant sun, or deep mystery of the sea. The love of God is known through the radical inclusion of all peoples and the whole of Nature. Human imagination is joined with Divine possibilities toward redemption, beauty, and relationality. Friends are seen as responsible for one another, particularly on the spiritual journey that we must all walk. The beautiful soul of each person is seen as a participant in the soul-ishness of everything and everywhere and therefore radical responsibility is assumed for the care of one another and all of Creation. This is a life-giving posture indeed, and it holds all the glory of the Christian story as well as so many beautiful world faiths and philosophies. For me, and so many others, this lovely tradition and contemporary reclaimed faith is a grand homecoming for the soul.