Why do I call this site, “Celtic Straits?” Well, a strait is a narrow body of water between two lands. It offers distance and separation, but with a goal in the hazy distance, bidding us to cross.
I am called across the waves of time to a place called “Celtic Christianity” – the loosely held, broad title covering early Christians in the 3rd-12th centuries in Britain, Scotland and Ireland.
My own historic roots draw from this English/Irish/Scottish stream. For my doctoral work, I studied their writings and history at Oxford, as well as the writings of other Christian mystics. I was touched by their depth and breath of faith, fanned by the tireless preaching of St. Patrick, St. Columba, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and others. The ancient Celtic Church had intimate ties with a wide range of influences: a Celtic religious heritage, the Desert Fathers of Egypt, Syria, and Palestine, the Byzantine and Slavic Orthodox Churches, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Christian monastic and ascetic tradition.Yet they were also isolated from the corruption of the Roman church, the fall of Rome, and the Dark Ages which consumed the rest of the Continent.
Why do many of their writings and lifestyle choices move and resonant with me? Please read my post, “Drinking a Beer with Jesus,“ and you’ll understand my connection to Celtic Christianity better.
One Christian author writes,
“In my study of the years following the heroic age of the beginnings of Celtic Christianity I discovered that while some characteristics and practices did change, many of the original features of Celtic Christianity endured…. The basic vision endured: creation is graced by God and by the immanence of this God; creation is filled with God’s presence and with the presence of those who have died and are now in the bosom of God. The Celtic propensity for intense religious longing endured. A mythic and imaginative stance toward the world continued to be expressed in the great outpouring of literature and art…. No matter how things were changing around them, however, there were still many people living an intense Christian and Holy life.” – From Calvin Miller. The Path of Celtic Prayer: An Ancient Way to Everyday Joy.
In a recent Christianity Today article, Michael Mitton—director of Anglican Renewal Ministries within the Church of England—writes about discovering the Celtic tradition after a trip to the “Holy Island” of Lindisfarne:
I discovered a burning and evangelical love for the Bible … a depth of spiritual life and stillness … a radical commitment to the poor and to God’s creation; and the most attractive expression of charismatic life that I had yet encountered. … I am in no doubt that the Spirit of God is reminding us of the first expression of faith in these isles to give us inspiration for Christian ministry and mission today.
I do not hold to all of the Celtic doctrines (as if there were one body of works for such a thing), and I recognize that there were trappings of paganism hanging around their fires sometimes. None-the-less, I do sincerely appreciate their major foci:
- a rich worship tradition focused on Jesus
- a hunger for regular prayer in everyday language
- an affirmation of God’s work in both women and men equally
- a commitment to living in community
- a call to radical discipleship
- a passion about peace and justice
- a holistic view of life, with no divide between sacred and secular
- a willingness to engage critically and missionally with contemporary culture
- a sense that the world can be an opportunity for encountering God’s grace
- a challenge to be coworkers with God, to heal and bless the world, with all of our actions to be worthy offerings to God.
- a big picture of the Church Invisible, where all believers are united in the Body of Christ by sharing the same Faith and Sacraments, regardless of time or place