Today is Saint Patrick’s Day and while there will be plenty of parties, green beer and shamrocks to mark the occasion, there is actually a pretty deep spiritual tradition associated with this day.
Most people think Saint Patrick was the bishop who first brought Christianity to Ireland but that’s not exactly true. Back in the 5th century, the Pope sent Patrick and a group of missionary monks into Ireland to “convert” the pagan Celts. However, these missionaries very quickly discovered that the Celts they were supposed to convert were already a very spiritual people. Generations before the Christian missionaries arrived in Ireland, the ancient peoples of that land had been strongly influenced by the spirituality of the pagan Druids. The Druid priests had a profound sense of a holy presence intimately abiding in a world of nature. Although they had never heard the Christian Gospel, those ancient Celts believed that a transcendent power flowed in and through all things and all people, binding and weaving everything and everyone together.
So instead of “converting” the already spiritual Celts, Patrick and his missionaries entered into a dialogue with them. The missionaries and the native Irish people shared their stories and their faith with one another, and from that dialogue a new form of Christianity emerged- a Celtic Christianity, a "Celtic Spirituality."
In this newly emergent Celtic Spirituality, rather than thinking about “God” as a distant, heavenly being, “God” was viewed more like an ocean in whom we all live and move and have our being. “God” is always intimately present even if we aren’t always aware of this presence.
The early Celtic Christians prayed in a manner that extended far beyond the walls of a church. They would pray in every moment of routine life. They prayed while washing pots, cleaning floors, while planting crops and tending sheep. They prayed this way because there was no place that “God” was not present.
The contemporary Irish poet, John O’Donohue, beautifully expresses the basic essence of a Celtic Spirituality:
Sometimes the urgency of our hunger blinds us to the fact that
we are already at the feast.
We are always home, never exiled.
Although our minds constantly insist on seeing walls of separation,
In reality most of the walls are mere veils.
In every moment, everywhere,
We are not even inches away from the divine presence.
They say that on Saint Patrick’s Day everyone is Irish. I wonder if this might be a good day for any one of us, regardless of the path we are on, to celebrate a Celtic Spirituality. Instead of just wearing green today, maybe we might all honor the day by recognizing how intimately interconnected we all are and to remember that we are always and everywhere not even inches away from divine presence.
I am reminded of a Celtic Blessing that has its origins in the pagan Druid tradition of ancient Ireland. It seems like an appropriate blessing for us all this day:
Deep peace of the Running Wave to you.
Deep peace of the Flowing Air to you.
Deep peace of the Quiet Earth to you.
Deep peace of the Shining Stars to you.