Celtic Spirituality in the Australian Landscape, Ray Simpson and Brent Lyons-Lee

About the Authors:

Ray Simpson

Ray Simpson

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.

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.

Suggesting that 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.

Today We will look at a fascinating  excerpt from the book on Indigenous Wisdom pages 23 – 25.  I highly recommend this book.  I hope that you will be inspired to read it for yourself and to learn from our Celtic and Indigenous forebears.

Indigenous Wisdom 

Christ’s work is the ultimate reconciliation of all living creatures. ~ Karl Barth

Celtic Christians indigenised the gospel in a way that the church has mostly struggled to do since. From Columba’s Iona, Aidan with gentle heart but backbone of steel, brought the torch of faith to the English speaking pagans and the original Britons, even though he was of another race and language. He set their hearts on fire. He walked alongside the people and refused to accept the practices and customs that would distance him from the people and make him seem superior. Aidan’s aim was to develop an indigenous, English church. His appointment of Hilda and his establishment of a school for English boys who became monks and priests was a sign of this. The Faith did become indigenous, as it had become in his native Ireland, drawing on the wisdom of the ancient peoples.

None of the early Celtic Christians who won over the indigenous population were martyred. This was because they were able to contextualise and see where God was already at work in the lands they arrived in. Celtic Christians incorporated insights from the Druids who had the wisdom of nature. They thought that God had given people two books, the book of scripture and the book of creation. The Druids had a deep intuition.

Ancient Poulnabrone Dolmen, The Burren, County Clare, Ireland

There is an Irish story that on the day of Christ’s crucifixion King Conchubar noticed the eclipse of the sun and asked the Druid Bucrach the cause of this sign. ‘Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is now being crucified by the Jews,’ replied the Druid.

Christians recognised that the intuition of their forbears was at times in tune with Christ even before they had been taught about him. The 6th century Welsh bard Taliesin declared: ‘Christ, the Word from the beginning, was from the beginning our teacher…. there never was a time when the Druids of Britain held not its doctrines.’

As a baptised boy Columba was taught by a Druid; as an adult he supported measures to strengthen the institution of the bards, yet he tried to lead both Druids and their pupils to Christ. ‘Christ is my druid,’ he told them. Later it was the Irish monks who first wrote down the pre-Christian folk stories which continued traditional wisdom. Of course there were some ego- centric power conflicts, but these were against the general flow.

In Australia, some Aboriginal dreaming stories have amazing connections to the Christian message. Certain tribes were familiar with the kind of stories that the Christian missionaries told and in some cases they were awaiting the arrival of a ‘redeeming son’ or a ‘great resurrection’. One example of this is provided by Jerry Jangala who is responsible for the Emu dreaming story in Warlpiri country. In this story, the flying emu has a redemptive purpose and is resurrected. Jerry makes the easy connection to Jesus when he talks about this story of his people, claiming that “Jesus is a flying emu”.

Matt Lamont, from the Australian Caim Council, pilgrimaged around Iona and Lindisfarne and encountered God through stones he found. He chose a stone that looked like a tear. He shed tears for the baggage he had to leave behind. He took with him another stone, shaped like a heart, which represented the compassion which hitherto he had blocked. Back in Australia, Matt realised that he was a sixth generation  Australian, and it was time to journey – not back to his forebears homes, but inwards to the heart of his own land.

Aboriginal traditional owner and elder of Nyikina country, John Watson, shows his grandchildren his special lands in Western Australia's Kimberley area.

Aboriginal traditional owner and elder of Nyikina country, John Watson, shows his grandchildren his special lands in Western Australia’s Kimberley area.

As Matt re-called childhood visits to Boyagin Rock he intuited that this place is in some way sacred, and that he should re-visit it. Matt learned that long ago, when the Aboriginals had learned to live in harmony with their environment, travel routes were opened up and there was more contact between the tribes. The Waugal, a mythological incarnation of the Creator, presented himself in a dream to Buerma. Buerma was a true- hearted tribesman whose tribe had lost contact with their laws and kinship. In the dream the earth was flooded and the tribe drowned, but the Waugal swam to safety, carrying those tribes-people who remained faithful to their traditions, until eventually they reached a sacred rock. This rock was Boyagin. Matt’s experience did not mean that he had to adopt ancient tribal customs; it meant that he was to become aware of the divine and mysterious forces at work in the collective unconscious, then and now.

Celtic Spirituality in the Australian Landscape, Ray Simpson and Brent Lyons-Lee $20 can be  purchased online through our website http://aidanandhilda.org.au/

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