Celtic Christianity

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BY REV. SHIRLEY BOWEN

I would like to ask you to close your eyes or lower them seeking a single point on which to focus, so you can pull up an image.

We heard in John’s Gospel that at the last supper John, the disciple Jesus loved, sat reclined beside Jesus and leaned against him when asking which disciple would betray him.

For just a moment, try to picture that moment – of John laying his head on Jesus’ breast, of hearing the heartbeat of Jesus, hearing the heartbeat of God.

Sit with that, pondering the blessing of that moment.

So, you might begin to think, that was well and good for John, but what about us today. How could we possibly listen for the Heartbeat of God?

How?

We listen to each other!

One of the foundations of Celtic Christianity, which is my focus this morning, is the radical idea that we are not only made by God, but of God. Creation didn’t come from nothing; it came from, and is of, God’s essence. This is the light that is in all things.

That turns some of our more traditional beliefs about humanity in creation on its end.

For, if we are of God, any time we are engaging with the rest of Creation, we are encountering God – it is what, a Theophany, or a a visible manifestation to humankind of God. We are encountering God every day, every encounter, every breath, every flower and critter and human. Again, take a moment to let that sink in. EVERY encounter is with God’s essence. If we understand that everything and everyone we encounter is of God, is sacred, how might this world be different?

One of the deep questions of Christianity is… How do we know how to respond to God’s desire to bring us closer? According to a Celtic theologian, Eriugena, it is through two primary sources that we come to know the Creator: through those things that God created: 

  • “‘through the letters of scripture and
  • through the species of creation.’”

Look at the image on the front of the service bulletin – the Celtic cross. Celtic crosses are a merging of those two sources of coming closer to God. The cross, which through scripture we have come to know Jesus the Christ, and the orb, that reminds us of Creation. They are inseparably interwoven. They share the same center, emerging out of the heart of God’s being.

I want to take us deeper now into how Christ and Creation are understood in Celtic Christianity.

Who/what Christ is:

Christ as memory

  • Christ offers to us the memory of what we have forgotten – who we are as original blessings, Let me repeat that, we are original blessings.
  • The theology of original sin is not compatible with the Celtic understanding of the inherent goodness of all people. Because we are made of God our original essence is goodness. And Jesus was and is our model on earth.
  • Christ as a call to wake us up and to call us back to ourselves and to the relationship that is deep in all things.
  • The emphasis is not on becoming other than ourselves, but on becoming our true selves.

Christ as of the substance of God

  • God came to us in human form, to help us understand that we are also of the substance of God.
  • And therefore, we can embrace all of the physical, spiritual, and intellectual aspects of who we are as well as those we encounter.
  • The natural world isn’t a blob of matter existing only to provide a space on which our physical selves reside. We and the natural world are holy and living energy from the hidden depths of God.
  • The universe is a single organism; it is a body with one Heartbeat.

Christ as the sound of Love

  • The deepest note in the universe is love and the longing for union. John Philip Newell writes that “The key to hearing what is at the heart of the human soul is to listen to our deepest longings.  ‘The desire of the soul is the desire of God.’ And at the heart of these holy desires is what Dame Julian calls ‘love-longing.’ It is the most sacred and the most natural of yearnings.
  • It is from that love-longing that we approach our true selves which is best expressed when we give ourselves away to one another in love. THIS when we come closest to finding our true selves. And Christ is the perfect example of this love.
  • Because of the understanding of the sacredness of the whole of creation, an emphasis on individual salvation stands in the way of that oneness. It gives the impression that one part can be complete while other parts are broken. I’m OK while others are suffering, human race is healthy while we’re killing the earth.
  • Wholeness does not come in isolation
  • Individual threads cannot be removed from the fabric and be whole within itself.
  • My well-being can only be accomplished in relation to OUR well-being and that of the whole of creation. Salvation only comes through and with one another.

Christ as choir master is another beautiful image

  • It encourages the joining of our individual songs with that of the rest of creation.
  • There is a single song that we are all part of; it is both vast and intimate; a sounding of the Eternal Presence.
  • The Hymn of the Universe is not complete without all of its parts
  • An example of that Hymn of the Universe is the Heartbeat we experience through drums – If you have experienced any drumming from various indigenous cultures, you know that the rhythm that digs deep into our internal core.

I know I have thrown out several teachings from Celtic Christianity – some simple and some complex. If you would like to explore more, there is a large number of sources. John Philip Newell is a great place to begin. At its core Celtic Christianity is the imperative to embrace the sacredness of all things – because all are of God’s essence. My growing understanding of discipleship is to continually strive to return to my natural goodness that I might hear the Heartbeat of God in the rest of creation and to give of myself so others might do the same. My prayer for each of us is to hear the heartbeat of God in each other and all of Creation.

Amen.