A Celtic dreaming

milky way.jpg

“To hear never-heard sounds,
To see never-seen colors and shapes,
To try to understand the imperceptible
Power pervading the world;
To fly and find pure ethereal substances
That are not of matter
But of that invisible soul pervading reality.
To hear another soul and to whisper to another soul;
To be a lantern in the darkness
Or an umbrella in a stormy day;
To feel much more than know.
To be the eyes of an eagle, slope of a mountain;
To be a wave understanding the influence of the moon;
To be a tree and read the memory of the leaves;
To be an insignificant pedestrian on the streets
Of crazy cities watching, watching, and watching.
To be a smile on the face of a woman
And shine in her memory
As a moment saved without planning.”
Dejan Stojanovic

Pic from Ebor Benson Photography:”Last nights milky way on the rise, battled against the moonlight to capture this.” 30th March 2016

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For the Traveler

ben-bulben Emer O Shea

Every time you leave home,
Another road takes you
Into a world you were never in.

New strangers on other paths await.
New places that have never seen you
Will startle a little at your entry.
Old places that know you well
Will pretend nothing
Changed since your last visit.

When you travel, you find yourself
Alone in a different way,
More attentive now
To the self you bring along,
Your more subtle eye watching
You abroad; and how what meets you
Touches that part of the heart
That lies low at home:

How you unexpectedly attune
To the timbre in some voice,
Opening in conversation
You want to take in
To where your longing
Has pressed hard enough
Inward, on some unsaid dark,
To create a crystal of insight
You could not have known
You needed
To illuminate
Your way.

When you travel,
A new silence
Goes with you,
And if you listen,
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say.

A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.

May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.

May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
And live your time away to its fullest;
Return home more enriched, and free
To balance the gift of days which call you.

 ~ John O’Donohue, ‘To Bless the Space Between Us

An Irish Welcome (13th Century)

 

fireside kid

Hospitality in Ancient Ireland
Anonymous verse from the 13th century (translated by Kuno Meyer)

O King of stars!
Whether my house be dark or bright,
Never shall it be closed against any one,
Lest Christ close His house against me.

If there be a guest in your house
And you conceal aught from him,
‘Tis not the guest that will be without it,
But Jesus, Mary’s Son.

New Moon Rising

moon treesMay thy light be fair to me!
May thy course be smooth to me!
If good to me is thy beginning,
Seven times better be thine end,
Thou fair moon of the seasons,
Thou great lamp of grace!
 
He Who created thee
Created me likewise;
He Who gave thee weight and light
Gave to me life and death,
And the joy of the seven satisfactions,
Thou great lamp of grace,
Thou fair moon of the seasons.

Celtic Circle: An Irish Blessing

circle

May you always find the best within all people;
may you continue to learn throughout your life;
may your word be trusted by all you meet.

May you search for the similar within the separate;
may you show compassion; may your sacrifices benefit others;
may you be diplomatic when it is most difficult.

May you always remember you were loved before you were born;
may the transitions of your life ripple on the pond of time into the future;
may your journey come to exemplify the Celtic Circle.

(David Morris 1997)

Trees are sanctuaries.

tree_roots_by_paulinemoss-d4e0rd1

Trees are sanctuaries.

Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth.

They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life.

The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark.

I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me.

I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me.

I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts.

Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent.

You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home.

But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother.

Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all. (Hesse)

Reflecting on the Cross of the Scriptures at Clonmacnoise

clonmac crossThe High Cross at Clonmacnoise stands an impressive four metres tall, built of Clare sandstone around 900 AD.  The scenes depicted upon it are sometimes difficult to decipher and this has given rise to many alternative explanations.

There are two aspects, however, which are beyond dispute, and declare with a timeless eloquence the central paradox of Celtic Christology: that of the suffering and the glory of Christ.  On this face (above), the central figure is the crucified Christ. The usual explanation of the four roundels (at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock), are the four gospels, pictorialized as lion, ox, eagle and man as the various metaphors explaining aspects of  Christ’s life and ministry (and/or of the gospel writers).

Here’s a detail of the central scene:

clonmac cross detail

 

Peter Harbison writes “Christ, represented as if wearing a short trouser-like garment and with his legs bound, is shown with his outstretched arms falling at an angle and with his large hands bearing the nail heads in the centre of the palms.”  (Harbison 1992, 52)

There are other interesting features in this scene.  The figures to the left and right of Jesus are traditionally identified as Stephaton (left), who offers Jesus vinegar on a pole and  Longinus (right) who stabs Jesus with a lance.  Stephaton and Longinus appear (unnamed)  in the passion story in the Gospel of John 19:28-34.

clonmac cross detail 2

On the reverse face, the center of the head of the cross and the arms form one integrated scene.  This is clearly a portrayal of Christ in glory and judgement.

Harbison writes:  “Christ stands . . . carrying a sceptre  . . . over his right shoulder and a cross-staff over his left shoulder.”  (Harbison 1992, 49)

It’s as if the very emblems of his humiliation have become the badges of office as He rises, rules and reigns in power.

What is the sermon the High Cross is intending to preach?

It’s a declaration of the two sides of Christ and how one aspect teaches the other. If there was only a depiction of power and glory then one would be left with a triumphalist, omnipotent god bent on conquest and ruling in total authority.

That’s true, of course, but only partly so.

If there was only a depiction of suffering and death, then one might be left with the notion that pain and sorrow was the end of the story, or that they were somehow redemptive and valuable by themselves.

Again, there is a sliver of truth here, but both sides have to be brought together.

This is how the apostle John approached the paradox: he began his gospel with an account of the glory of God in creation and revelation but then said “And the word was made flesh and dwelt among us. And we beheld His glory.” We behold the glory of God “made flesh”.

Yet it was a strange sort of glory, and many who saw and heard him perceived no glory at all. What is striking about John`s presentation is that, although his glory was manifested powerfully in his miracles or “signs”, it was above all to be seen in his present human weakness, in the self-humiliation of his incarnation.

As He came in lowliness we have an example of the paradox that John uses so forcefully later in the Gospel, that the true glory is to be seen, not in outward splendour, but in the lowliness with which the Son of God lived for men and suffered for them.

This becomes especially clear from the way in which John links glory with the cross. We may not be as surprised at this as we should be, since our awareness of the splendour of Christ`s accomplishment at Calvary can cast over his cross a cloak of spurious sentiment and so obscure something of its horror. But a horror it was to the first century world, a place of unspeakable agony, and, above all, of shame and curse. To explain the paradox was, indeed, a great part of John`s purpose in writing the gospel. Part of his goal, in writing an evangelistic book for Jews and proselytes, is to make the notion of a crucified Messiah coherent. The intrinsic offense of the cross he cannot remove. What he can do is to show that the cross is at one and the same time nothing less than God`s astonishing plan to bring glory to himself by being glorified in his Messiah.

But what do we do with the paradox? What should our reaction be?

As we come to Easter, those two aspects come into their sharpest focus. The cross at Clonmacnoise reminds us that Good Friday and Easter Sunday belong together, to speak out the one gospel of the living Christ.

A Celtic Charismatic: Now Published

This book is a study of the spirituality of Patrick through his own writings, the Confession and the Letter. It is shaped as a series of thirty meditations which may be read in the course of a month, including the author’s own reflections upon Patrick’s use of Scripture, and songs from the Carmina Gadelica.

It is the author’s contention that Patrick can be fairly understood as A Celtic Charismatic, in his commitment to Scripture, his emphasis upon mission and in a lifestyle directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
This book is intended as a conversation-starter, perhaps mostly with the Christians of Ireland, towards the recovery of a vital faith and vigorous response to the challenges of our day.
“He who wants can laugh and jeer, but I shall not keep silent nor keep hidden the signs and wonders which have been shown to me by the Lord…”

"A Celtic Charismatic: Now Published

This book is a study of the spirituality of Patrick through his own writings, the Confession and the Letter. It is shaped as a series of thirty meditations which may be read in the course of a month, including the author’s own reflections upon Patrick’s use of Scripture, and songs from the Carmina Gadelica.
It is the author’s contention that Patrick can be fairly understood as A Celtic Charismatic, in his commitment to Scripture, his emphasis upon mission and in a lifestyle directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
This book is intended as a conversation-starter, perhaps mostly with the Christians of Ireland, towards the recovery of a vital faith and vigorous response to the challenges of our day. 
“He who wants can laugh and jeer, but I shall not keep silent nor keep hidden the signs and wonders which have been shown to me by the Lord…”"

Climbing the Reek

walking-croagh-patrick-clew-bay

 

Croagh Patrick is an impressive mountain in Mayo in the west of Ireland, where, according to legend, Patrick spent forty days and nights in a Lenten fast in 441 AD. Its name comes from the Irish Cruach Phádraig meaning “Patrick’s stack”. It is known locally as “the Reek”, a Hiberno-English word for a “rick” or “stack.”

On Reek Sunday ( Domhnach na Cruaiche)- the last Sunday in July-  there is an annual day of pilgrimage when pilgrims climb Ireland’s “holiest mountain,” some in their bare feet. The pilgrimage has been held yearly for about 1,500 years, but the Reek’s reputation as a holy place and a place of pilgrimage predates even that event and there have been archaeological finds there that suggest it had a ritual significance for centuries before that.

This melding of ancient Irish traditions with more recent Christian ones is not unusual. In their efforts to bring Christianity to Ireland, Patrick and those who followed him adopted a successful strategy of holding Christian celebrations in places that were already used for pre-Christian worship, thus easing the transition to a new religion; Croagh Patrick was one such place.

While it is not a high mountain, the tradition that pilgrims should make the climb barefoot is no mean feat since the slope is covered in rough loose shingle and sharp stones. The loose surface makes coming down again as hard as getting up.

There are a number of factors that make the climbing of Croagh Patrick a suitable metaphor for the pursuit of Patrick’s spirituality.

First, it is a journey into Ireland’s past, where legend and history seem to lose independent structure and cohesion. People speak of the “mists of time” and Croagh Patrick, with its endless swirls of fog and low cloud exemplifies both metaphor and geographical reality. The legends speak of the mountain as a place of confrontation between Patrick and the powers of paganism that threatened to overwhelm him.

Second, it’s a journey into Ireland’s present, with its overlay of “green beer” tourism, faux-culture and religious superstition across a deep sense of humility and God-consciousness.  Some find a value, a meaning for their lives which continues to sustain them. Others try on spiritualities like new clothes, and abandon them when they become tired of them.

Climbing Croagh Patrick indicates a different thing altogether – a spirituality which is very simple. It is a journey, and an unexpectedly arduous one. The majestic summit is clearly visible from a great distance but as one approaches, the summit vanishes and all we can see is the intervening slope. It requires grit and determination to succeed, and the way is often confused by the encroaching fog.

Patrick offered clarity in the confusion, and purpose for the lost. His sense of vocation was quite straightforward. He believed himself loved, blessed and called by God to Ireland, and to that sense of calling he responded. And he responded with a sense of loyalty and determination which made the most arduous journey possible.

It is an appropriate metaphor.

 

 

A shade art thou in the heat,
A shelter art thou in the cold,
Eyes art thou to the blind,
A staff art thou to the pilgrim,
An island art thou at sea,
A fortress art thou on land,
A well art thou in the desert,
Health art thou to the ailing.

Carmina Gadelica

The right way of Dying for Ireland

st alban

The Matrydom of St Alban

 The good God often freed me from slavery, and from twelve dangers which threatened my life, as well as from hidden dangers and from things which I have no words to express. I wouldn’t want to hurt my readers! God knows all things even before they are done, and I have him as my authority that he often gave me warnings in heavenly answers, – me, a wretched orphan! (35).

The word “often” is noteworthy. Apart from the six or seven years of his youth that he spent as a slave, there are two or three other periods of forced captivity mentioned offhandedly in Patrick’s Confession. But God often freed me (so why should I go on about it!).

We don’t know what the twelve life-threatening dangers were exactly, though, again, the Confession itself provides material for a numerated estimate. What is more interesting is mention of hidden dangers and from things which I have no words to express.  Elsewhere Patrick uses this kind of language to express satanic attack and forms of spiritual warfare, and that would seem to fit here too.  He displays an intelligent reticence (I wouldn’t want to hurt my readers!) rather than modesty. These things are not really that important (he seems to say), and, in any case, Patrick is driving towards a different point.

He does note, however, that God  often gave [him] warnings in heavenly answers. Spiritual attack was met by supernatural provision.

The real point comes up in section 37:

It was not by my own grace, but God who overcame it in me, and resisted them all so that I could come to the peoples of Ireland to preach the gospel. I bore insults from unbelievers, so that I would hear the hatred directed at me for travelling here. I bore many persecutions, even chains, so that I could give up my freeborn state for the sake of others. If I be worthy, I am ready even to give up my life most willingly here and now for his name. It is there that I wish to spend my life until I die, if the Lord should grant it to me.

The point is quite clear here. It is, if I can phrase it this way, that Patrick had found the right way to die for Ireland.

There is no way that this passage can be construed to say that Patrick was seeking martyrdom –even that wasn’t the real point. The point, the all-consuming point, was the mission to which Christ had summoned him.

That was worth dying for.

God had made a way for him (It was not by my own grace, but God who overcame it in me) against all odds and obstacles so that I could come to the peoples of Ireland to preach the gospel.

But if God had made the way, Patrick still had to walk it, and there seems to be a developing resistance in both missionary and mission-recipients.  I bore insults from unbelievers, so that I would hear the hatred directed at me for travelling here.  The progression is obvious: persecutions… chains… [slavery] leading on, logically to the possibility of death. And so he stakes his case quite straightforwardly: I am ready even to give up my life most willingly here and now for his name. It is there that I wish to spend my life until I die, if the Lord should grant it to me.

It is there I wish to spend my life.

God has called me, and thus far God has helped me. He has protected me from many dangers and supernaturally warned me about them. If I’m honest, I can expect to die –perhaps quite soon- in this place where God has called me to be, but that’s just it. This IS the place where God called me to be, and I am His, whether to live or die. I’m at his disposal.