All around the world there has been a resurge of interest in Celtic Spirituality. What is it and what does it all mean? Ray Simpson and Brent Lyon have produced an authentic and comprehensive book called “Celtic Spirituality in the Australian Landscape”.
The early Celtic Christians were able to contextualise and see where God was already at work in the lands they arrived in, drawing on the wisdom of the ancient people – unfortunately this was not initially the case in our history.
In 1985, John Paul II made this statement to indigenous Australians when he visited Alice Springs:
“You are part of Australia and Australia is part of you. And the church herself in Australia will not be fully the church that Jesus wants her to be until you have made your contribution to her life and until that contribution has been received by others.”
But, say the authors, “we still have a long way to go. Can the non-Aboriginal and recently arrived Australians receive the indigenous contribution?” There are no easy answers and the discussion continues. This book is a serious addition to any bookshelf.
You can purchase this book for a low $20.00 on this link:
What is Celtic Spirituality?
Traditionally, spirituality is concerned with the human spirit as distinct from the purely materialistic view of life. Many people are now discovering a non-dualistic view of spirituality that encompasses all of life. “Spirituality helps us in our struggle to determine who we are (our being) and how we live our lives in this world (our doing). It combines our basic philosophy towards life, our vision and our values, with our conduct and practice. Spirituality encompasses our ability to tap into our deepest resources; that part of ourselves which is unseen and mysterious, to develop our fullest potential”.3 This echoes what is written in the Gospel of John where followers of Jesus are promised life to the full (Jn. 10:10).
Christian spirituality obviously draws upon Jesus and his priority for love. We hear many people say these days “I’m spiritual but I’m not religious”. It’s clear that Jesus was cautious about religiosity. Christian spirituality anchors the wonder and energy of nature and all existence in meaning, values and habits informed by Christian revelation and experience. It is not history, scripture or dogma; however it draws insight from these. Some Christian spiritualities can be precisely defined because they arise from one person or document. For example, Saint Benedict and his Rule, and subsequent reflection on these, form the basis of Benedictine spirituality. Other Christian spiritualities cannot be so precisely pinned down.
A snap shot of Celtic Spirituality might contain these elements:
No gender bias
An anti-empire mindset
Loving nature and God’s creation
Being open to learning from the saints
A focus on the Trinity; the divine community Creating space for art, poetry and story telling Communing with God in wild and elemental places Fostering churches (monasteries) that are villages of God
What is “Celtic”?
Some archaeologists limit the term “Celtic” to artefacts found in La Tene in Switzerland and Hallstadt in Austria, and have argued that these have no connection with places such as Britain and Ireland. Some historians limit use of the term “Celtic” to defining an ancient language group (its two main branches being Irish, Scottish and Manx (Goidelic) and Breton, Cornish and Welsh (Brythonic). In politics it is used to define the so- called six Celtic nations of Brittany, Cornwall, Ireland, Isle of Man, Scotland, Wales – and sometimes places such as Galicia in Spain. The inhabitants of these places did not use the name “Celtic” to describe themselves; it was coined by Roman writers, using Latin.
In early Roman times the Keltoi or Galatai (Galatians) lived in central Europe in what is now Turkey. In New Testament times the apostle Paul wrote to Celtic Galatians and John the Evangelist fostered churches among Celts in places such as Ephesus. After that Gaul was regarded by Roman writers as the Celts’ main settlement area. Gradually, as Romans and then settlers such as the Franks occupied their lands, Celts fled to the fringes of the Empire.
The foundational period of Celtic Christianity is often taken to be synonymous with the evangelisation of the Celtic lands of Britain and Ireland after the last Roman troops left Britain in 410. This may be dated from about 432, when Patrick perhaps began his mission in Ireland, to 651 when Aidan of Lindisfarne died.
The Community of Aidan and Hilda
Ray is the founding Guardian of The Community of Aidan and Hilda. He and some other members of the Community live on Lindisfarne and offer retreats and accommodation for pilgrims of all backgrounds. However, for the most part the Aidan and Hilda community exists as an international dispersed body of Christians who seek to cradle a Christian spirituality for today which renews the church and brings healing to fragmented people, communities and lands.
The Community offers a Way of Life which we explore in depth later in this book. It draws inspiration from many sources, including desert and Celtic fathers and mothers and most obviously from its namesakes.
About the Authors:
Of his many published books, perhaps Ray’s best-known to date has been A Holy Island Prayer Book, which follows the pattern of daily worship in the Parish church of Lindisfarne where Ray lives, drawing the sacred from local holy places in his rhythmic way. Whilst he regularly visited Australia, leading retreats, this year Ray has teamed up with an interesting Australian, Brent Lyons-Lee (ordained Baptist minister) living in Geelong and involved with Australian community projects and social justice issues.
Third millennium churches can learn a lot from first millennium churches, we are given ten “waymarks”, including Journeying with a Soul Friend, adopting a “way of Life” and a rhythm of prayer – whilst focusing on principles, not rules.
Serious attention is given to Australia heading towards “the tipping points of ecology and sustainability” where “we need to embrace a spirituality that is real about the relationship between human, God and nature.”
Many will leap straight to the Liturgical resources to discover some creative and rhythmic liturgies and prayers which is quite a brief section (14 pages). The prayers are inspiring – Australian images abound. But these liturgies and prayers are more than carefully crafted words and poetry, read carefully they draw together the thoughts raised throughout the book, and present a poetic epilogue to the work.
This book deserves a close reading and is likely to find a place in Australian culture amongst writings by David Tacey and Michael Leunig.