It 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.