Saturday, March 17, 2018

A Saint Patrick's Day Spirituality

" A Celtic Knot"
- in my meditation garden -

Today is Saint Patrick’s Day in America and amidst all the parties, shamrocks, and pub-crawling of this popular holiday, there is actually a pretty deep, underlying spiritual tradition associated with the 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, when they arrived on the Irish shores, these missionaries very quickly discovered that the practice of Christianity already existed among the people, only it was a somewhat-different form of Christianity than that espoused by the formal, organized, institutionalized Roman church of the time. The ancient practice of Irish Christianity was a unique blend of traditional Christian teaching and practices influenced by the spirituality and customs of the so-called “pagan” Celts.

Way before Christian missionaries arrived in Ireland, the ancient peoples of that land had been influenced by the spirituality of the pagan Druids who had a profound inner awareness of a holy transcendent presence intimately abiding in a world of nature. The ancient Celts believed that a transcendent power flowed in and through all things and all people, binding and weaving everything and everyone together.

The first missionaries and the indigenous 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 imagining “God” to be a distant, heavenly being, “God” was viewed more like an ocean in whom we all live and move and have our being.  “God," 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 and cleaning floors, prayed while planting crops and tending sheep. They prayed this way because there was no place that “God” was not present. 

Today I recall a stanza from the well-known “Prayer of Saint Patrick” that beautifully expresses a “Celtic Christianity.” The prayer presents an image of God/Christ as an ever abiding, connecting presence rather than a distant, disconnected power:

Christ behind me, Christ, before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

In our own times, the contemporary Irish poet, John O’Donohue, similarly expresses the 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 spiritual path we may travel, to embrace a Saint Patrick’s Day Spirituality.  Instead of just wearing green, 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 tradition of the ancient Irish Celts. 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.
Deep Peace!

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