Recently I was interviewed by a journalist from a religious journal who wanted to know my understanding of Celtic Spirituality. I had thought about what he might ask so I was somewhat prepared for his questions. I wasn’t prepared for how little he knows about Celtic Spirituality. It was quite a challenge. I don’t know how successful I was in explaining that, to me, Celtic Spirituality is not to be found in an institution but that it is a way of life; a way of living; a way of relating to God without a set of rules and regulations or demands.
What I did tell him was that since childhood I have instinctively known about a God that lives in everything. What I didn’t say is that even though the church wasn’t able to convey that understanding directly, I somehow found it in the church’s music and in community. I was able to say that my final parting with institutional religion probably began fifty years ago the day they placed my first new-born in my lap and I looked into those deep blue eyes and asked her: “What do you know about God that you cannot tell me and that you will forget?” I cannot for a moment believe when I look at a newborn baby that it was conceived in sin and needs to be saved by faith in an institution.
I do believe that God has revealed God’s self through the many and various understandings of God held by man and whose writings found their way into the canon we call The Bible. I also believe that God reveals God’s self in other ways. Celtic Spirituality looks to two sources to know God: The Bible and Creation.
In the fifth century it was St Augustine of Hippo who preached the concept of original sin. His argument was that sin entered the world through Adam and Eve and that we have inherited it through the loving act of our parents. Consequently, to be saved, we need the church to absolve us. Liturgically, we are constantly remined of our guilt and need to repent.
Pelagius, a Celtic monk from the British Isles, clashed with Augustine when he was living in Rome. He taught that God is revealed in the newborn child. Ultimately, Augustine’s argument became the accepted one. Pelagius was excommunicated and probably returned to the British Isles where Celtic Spirituality continued along with, but also in tangent to Roman Christianity. History tells us that years later at the Synod of Whitby (664-664) the two expressions of the church finally clashed, and the decision was made to align with Rome. For me, at least, God was institutionalized once and for all. Celtic Spirituality, that thrived in a monastic way of life, began to fade although it never disappeared.
I find theophany, the showing of God, in writings other than the Bible. In 1806 the poet William Wordsworth speaks of Creation and he speaks of the human soul. I do not doubt that the poet understood Celtic Spirituality. I share with you some of his lines that express Celtic belief.
There was a time when meadow, grove and stream, the earth, and every common sight, to me did seem appareled in celestial light, the glory and the freshness of a dream. It is not now as it hath been of yore; -- turn whatso’er I may, by night or day the things which I have seen I now see no more.
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting. The Soul that rises with us, our life’s star, hath had elsewhere its setting, and cometh from afar. Not in entire forgetfulness, and not in utter nakedness, but trailing clouds of glory do we come from God, who is our home.
William Wordsworth Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Childhood
Anne Dolbier is a friend and support of Celtic Way.