The future is bright, the future is Celtic…

wildgooseIt has been great to learn in recent days that I’ve been accepted onto an MA in Mission at Cliff College in Derbyshire where I’ll be majoring on studies in Celtic Mission and Spirituality.  It is a subject that really inspires not only my faith, but my sort of ‘stance’ towards the world.  As I’ve been more and more influenced by this stream of Christian experience, my own Celtic soul has found a real home and some peace to match.

Several things stand out for me:

1.  Rooted in reality.  Yes, the Celts had a big God, powerful and mysterious, but he was also immanently present in the everyday things.  Lighting the fire, milking the cow, moving home, sowing seeds, reaping harvests…the everyday stuff of life was transformed by the awareness of the presences of God in all things and in all situations.

2.  Love of the natural world.  Contrary to some perspectives, the Celtic Christians didn’t worship creation, they weren’t pantheists who thought that rocks and trees were God.  However, they did emphasise the very biblical notion that God’s majesty, character and glory was revealed in all that we see.  Many feel more connected to God in nature, and there is little wonder why.

3.  Honoring women.  It was not unusual at all for women to be leaders of mixed communities such as Hild at Whitby Abbey and Ita in Ireland, along with many others.  When you think that these women were in senior roles in their community in the 600s – 700s, quite remarkable.  Simply, they were appointed to lead their communities because they had the charism, anointing and grace from God to lead.

5.  Non-heirarchical structures.  ‘Church’ is kind of a loose term to apply to the early Celtic missionaries.  In its genesis, it had yet to be fully swamped by Roman Church hierarchy and instead, the focus was community and on the body of Christ in ministry.  That’s not to say that there were no leaders appointed or recognised, they simple didn’t “Lord it over” and in combination with simple, often sacrificial, lives, they were a strong witness to the life of Christ.

6.  More Johanine than Petrine.  The Celtic tradition was much more influenced by the Beloved Apostle John and Christianity in the East, than St Peter and the Roman centre.  The difference?  Well, reading John’s gospel it is clear to see.  John writes a deeply spiritual gospel with a real focus on the heart of Jesus message and his desires for his people.

7.  Not Catholic or Protestant…and outside Christendom.  We have in Celtic Spirituality a picture of what faith looked like in Britain before the regimentation of Romanism or the highly punitive theology of the Reformation.  This was a Christianity that survived on the margins, in the places at the very edge of empire amongst everyday folks.  More than that, it had massive appeal…it influenced swathes of the British and Celtic peoples in the period between 500 – 1000AD in times when the Roman Christian influence was minimal at ground level.  In these days as we watch the Christendom system fade we have much to learn from these Celtic saints.

8.  Incarnational Evangelism.  My impressions of Celtic mission is that, on one hand, it was very gentle.  They sought not to overpower those who didn’t know or believe in Christ, but rather, like Paul at the monument to the unknown God, turned the people to Christ through identification with their own backgrounds, spiritual wisdom and understanding.
On the other hand, the Celts themselves lived tough, often ascetic, lives with a commitment to poverty and wandering ministry for years and end, as they build communities and evangelised as they went.  In short, the discipleship the presented was no weakling discipleship.  Christ demands all.

9.  Artistic.  You don’t have to look very far at all to see the wonderful art that the Celtic people and the Celtic Church leave behind.  I only have to mention the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells and you know exactly what I mean.  Apart from that, the faith was a visual faith.  Very few books or writings are actually left. However, the Celtic fringes of Europe are littered with images, high crosses, illustrated gospels, music, poetry, stories and tales that are enough to inspire you for ages.

10.  Trinitarian.  Sure, most churches are Trinitarian, but the Celts delighted in the Father, Son and Spirit and called upon his presence and protection in all things.  God was recognised as community very early on.  This is a great gift.

Those are just a few things….there is so much more.  I hope, as I read, to find many things in my research that might be helpful to us as we travel in uncharted waters in these days in the UK.  We need once again a thoroughly indigenous church that both reflects, challenges and calls out the best in our society so that the Kingdom might be seen in increasing measure.

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Stillness

Well that was a wee bit of a blog lull over these last few weeks.  Thing is, its not that nothing happens or that there is nothing to say, but lulls do often mean something is brewing, or forming, or simply waiting.

I don’t know which it is.

I carry around with me at the moment a sense of intense waiting, leading me to some deep silences.  I’ve purposefully been taking a more ‘contemplative stance’ to life partly in order to be more ‘in my body’ than ‘in my head’.  Also, I readily confess that I find it easier to be in God’s presence in the stillness than any other way.

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that the thing I hold before God most is what he is calling me to.  Not really in the place specific sense, but the bigger picture.  This is what comes from many years of having one’s identity closely tied to a human organisation…institutionalisation!  What I’m left with, before God, is a call to disciple and yes, even to inspire.  Might sound big headed, but I’ve been most humbled by the way God has used my story and life to encourage others on the way.  I hope that will always be so.

These recent months have been a resubmission…maybe not the right word…but definitely a realignment.  A process of choosing what God has chosen for me and to be at home in it.  There is no better place to be than headed in the general direction that God seems to fit us for.  I have a fairly open view of the ‘will of God’ but do believe there is nothing better than getting to a place of being engulfed with the desire to honour him in every way.  This, above any specifics, is his will for us.

After a long journey round the houses, here I am back at a simple passion to make disciples, help others grow in Christ, and to make a difference and see the Kingdom come.  There is no improving on that, really.  So yes, so many things unknown, unclear and probably to you as readers so contradictory.  I can assure you there are none as surprised as me.

When you wade in with God to the extent your feet lift off the floor of the riverbank, his current can then carry you to where you need to go in the way you need to get there.  The key is to get into the water in the first place and dare to trust the river that flows from under the throne of God, out into the world, where it becomes a source of life and healing, nourishment and transformation.

As the great poet/philosopher/novelist/ Wendell Berry says

“there are no sacred places.  There are no secular places.  There are only sacred places and desecrated places.”

Ultimately, we’re called to transform just where we are as we seek God’s Kingdom where we’re planted.

Liberation

I was talking to someone today, sharing something of my personal story, on a course I was on in Durham.  At the beginning I heard myself say these words:

“I am in a period of transition, still finding my way into the freedom’s Christ gives me as his disciple, having spent the last three years recovering from 15 years of being in a tightly religious life with very little sense of freedom or ability to make my own choices.”

I went on to share how for me, the last three years have been like a reconversion, more firmly centred on Christ, his mission, his ways and his teaching.  Everything else secondary.  He is the only one who deserves my allegiance.  It is all for him.

Another great joy in recent months and years has been in exploring different and authentic-to-me-and-authentic-to-Christ ways of being, believing and enacting the faith I have in Jesus.   I feel a great liberation to preach from the heart what I hope is both at the same time hopeful, realistic and compassionate gospel and not some canned up presentation that ticks the theological straight-jacket.  The thing is, when you abandon yourself to Jesus, there is little that is likely to ever limit you again.

Some of us need to leave the church we’re in to find that freedom.  I’m always more than happy to walk the walk with those on the fringes and the margins, who don’t fit, who hold some stuff with suspicion and who don’t see God as a kill-joy or Regimental Sergeant Major.  In many ways, I am fringe.  I love the people of God, but don’t always like what we’ve made it.

It is for freedom Christ set us free.  To live in any other way is to deny his death and resurrection.  We need to keep that in mind.

Labyrinth

labyrinthOn New Year’s Day, we took a trip out to Durham Cathedral.  The town itself was very quiet, shops closed, and pouring with rain too.  Small rivers running down the slope of the path leading up to the Cathedral where a small trickle of people we entering the huge Cathedral doors.  The picture here from the Northern Echo was taken just before we started on the route…I recognise the people I walked past several times on the way into the middle!

All sorts of people in there on New Years Day:  cassocked priests, men, women, children, families, Celts, bards and a few witches to boot.  No joke.  All attracted by the presence of a labyrinth maze that had been set up at the centre of the cross section of the Cathedral, based on the design found in the Chartres Cathedral in Paris.  The imagery of the spiral journey to the centre, finding a still place, and then journeying out is not simple a Judeo-Christian spiritual concept, its much older than that.  For me, however, there was nothing better that I could think of that I wanted to do on the first day of this year than to walk and pray the labyrinth.

As I walked in towards the centred, the paths weaving in and away from the centre, clockwise and anti-clockwise, I came face to face with my own indecision, my own sense of wavering between one decision and another, between being close to God’s heart and further towards my own and seeking to bring the two together.  There has been a big question hanging for several months over our heads and it was the oscillating that filled my thinking on the way in.  On a curve, I’d stop and see the path ahead and the path behind, looking the dilemma in the face.

Walking along the pathway, passing other ‘pilgrims’ on the way, the path on the 50 square metre cloth took a good 20 minutes to navigate.  Finally, the centre space appears before you and its invitation is to rest, to hold your journey before God and to ask of him what you need for this moment, here and now, and for your return.  My interest was caught on the others I was sat with, others clearly moved by their walk.  I heard them reflect afterwards about the powerful metaphor of taking time to reflect on their lives and to recognise that they simply have to keep moving along their paths.  People just finding some solid wisdom in a shared spiritual practice.

As I started on my journey back out, I was aware of both a sense of peace and a sense of anxiety.  The anxiety arose on the outskirts of the labyrinth, when I was far away from the place I’d carried peace from and it was only that as the end of the path travelled around the centre that I became aware afresh that God is with us, very much, as we arise and enter the demands of our lives.

Just before exiting, the path took me close to the centre, facing inwards, and there in the middle was a little boy.  His hands were clasped, his face ernest, speaking words under his breath.  It stopped my in my tracks because there God was speaking to me through the simplicity of a young boy’s prayers.  I remembered the little prayers I’d offer as a little boy growing up not knowing to what or to whom I was speaking.  I thank God that he heard them all.

After the walk, a visit to the chapel where St Cuthbert’s remains are entombed…the Celtic saint from Lindisfarne that God called from the hills to be a seeker and saver of those needing a shepherd.

I am coming into 2014 more settled that I probably have felt in some time.  A certain sense of ‘God is in this’.  Its not the route I’d automatically have chosen, but its the path that has been set before me and I gladly walk it.  A line from the evening office of the Northumbria Community says:

Lord, You have always marked
the road for the coming day;
and though it may be hidden,
today I believe.

Wholehearted 2014

wholeheartedSo, last year my word was ‘generosity.’  It was my year of generosity.  I’m not going to talk about that a whole load, I guess its not something to shout about, but it was both a blessed and challenging theme to live with through 2013 and I’ve developed some positive practices.

This year, the most obvious word to shape my year is ‘wholehearted.’  This word has emerged for me through the millstone of difficult times this year.  I’ve come to this word through an ongoing process of Cognitive Bahaviour Therapy after a major depression glitch last year.   I learned that some small things were causing me to doubt myself in a big way, somethings were triggering very raw emotions from my younger years and they were affecting my response to things.  News flash:  I’m not perfect!  What I am, however, is determined to be the best I can be and to respond as my Teacher would respond.

And so, at the suggestion of my counsellor, I have something which I carry with me which reminds me of the Teacher and which reminds me that I am a caring, compassionate, passionate, committed and wholehearted man seeking to do what I can as I walk life’s path in response to His teachings.  Part of being wholehearted is to be fully human, to experience what there is to experience in life, be aware of it, and not shy from responding to it.

I want to make a wholehearted response to God, in my relationships and in life as a whole.