about celtic straits

Rievaulx Abbey

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

      The Lindisfarme Gospel of Matthew Courtesy of the British Museum
      The Lindisfarme Gospel of Matthew
      Courtesy of the British Museum
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20 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your love for Celtic Christianity from someone who’s ancestors lived in County Longford in central Ireland. I resonate with the major foci you listed.

  2. I come from the Nordic strain that built and occupied Dublin for a couple centuries. Probably how the Norse got the flaming red hair! The Celtic/ Patrician tradition resonates with me too….with some differences of course. I am Reform in my basic understanding of the condition of man and the sovereignty of God…but also value the Mystics, the heart that established the Green, White and Red Martyrdoms, the value of the Word that speaks to us each as individuals in Christ, sharing His Life, and the equality of the Saints before the Throne of Grace (I love that women could be an Abbotess in Partrician Eire) -but more than anything else, the Patrician Tradition knew the value of conversational Prayer, where the westerns tend to turn prayer into either a broadcast of praise (which has it’s place, of course) or a ‘Laundry List” (which also has it’s place – but Heavens! Do we communicate with our spouses or best friends or children in only broadcast or laundry list modes?) St. Patrick’s Breastplate should be required reading for all who name the Name. Patrick and his ilk understood what breathing, inhaling, exhaling, conversant prayer in the day to day “excluded Middle” of our lives on planet Earth was all about.

  3. My comment to your blog is to say that Paganism has been a valid Spiritual Practice for far longer than Christianity. I am certain that you have studied history and know the facts of the crusades and the times of witch burnings. When Christians came through the Celtic societies Christianity was forced on the people of that time. These were a people that honored tradition and the Earth and not only their Gods but Their Goddesses. They understood that there is a Source from which all creation has come. Christianity threw away the Feminine Face of Divinity with no regard for the ways that these people had worshipped for generations. In doing so they tried to humor them by placing Christian holidays such as Christmas on the Pagan Holiday of Yule, which honors the Solstice and the return of The Sun and longer days. Then they usurped Ostara, Spring Equinox when the days are actually longer than the nights, with Easter, when Jesus rose from the dead, like the Sun rising from the dark part of the year. They destroyed temples built to honor Gods and Goddesses and built over them with churches to honor God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Spirituality is really akin to semantics. One source with many paths. Each of us are on our individual path of Spiritual belief and practice. Yes, there are differences in the beliefs of individuals, denominations, and religions.
    All of this enforced religion co-mingled with governing bodies and practices was what our countries founders fled from. So for you to use Paganism with a lowercase P suggests you do not have any regard for the history of The Celts. That is a shame. To me that is judgmental. To me the Christians in America today should just consider one scripture which is “Judge not lest you be judged.” There is life after death and I am not sure if God/Goddess/Source/Allah, etc. will be up there judging our actions here in this life. I suspect there will be some form of accounting for our actions here in this world. However, I believe that those people that have such a deep seated judgment for Pagans should understand the history of how Christianity was spread and step back from the intolerance and take a deep breath and sweep around their own sinful natures. The divides in our country seem to be rooted deeper within religious intolerance than in political rhetoric. I pray, (and yes Pagans pray) that our divides can be healed before the tipping point comes. We are all in this together and united we will stand, and divided we will fall; no matter the religion you profess.

    • Jesus Christ, and Him crucified…the same yesterday, today and forever…it is so simple and stands alone in this scripture: John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life”. There is no mysticism to this scripture…it is just truth and stands alone regardless of history and politics.

    • My response to Vestawind’s lecture to us would be what my old Scots Reform missionary pastor would have said :

      “Lassie, the flaw in your arguement lies here : You ‘re wrong. We ‘re right.”

    • So, I understand from working in India how minority-faith people might feel judged. In India, it is the Christians who feel they are discounted. My desire is not to judge anyone. Discerning ultimate destiny belongs to God. I am sad that Christians have often been much more harsh than Christ, our founder and Lord. You’re right in that Pagans predate Christians. And i agree that many Christian holidays and traditions were influenced by English Pagan roots.

      So, can I respectfully disagree on a key point, too? My own understanding of history, and of the Celts (much from original writings in England) shows that there was an open acceptance to the Christian message from early and late missionaries like St. Columba and St. Pattrick. If was not forced on the Celts (sadly, not all Christian faith has been spread with kindness). The Celts embraced a Christian God who had created all the forests and natural things they loved. His existence answered their questions, and touched their hearts. It is why we have such passionate poetry from the Celts on Jesus and faith–they are a deeply spiritual people. They recognized that all paths do not lead to the same place. They chose a new road which focused on Jesus.

      Personally, I am so sorry Christians have hurt you. Forgive our immaturity. I appreciate that you are on an earnest journey, and seem to desire that people live together in peace. And so do I. I seek tolerance–a freedom for all to walk freely in their own chosen faiths. But this tolerance does not mean that i must believe all religions are equally true. All roads don’t equally please God, at least for me and the Celtic Christians. But I may be wrong.

      A final two questions (which rise in my soul, and which you do not need to answer to me):

      If all things have a Source, and all real Power flows from somewhere or Someone, who is your power Source? Why have you chosen this one (rejecting others), and what is it gaining you and costing you?

      And I must answer these for my way, too.

      Thank you for reading his. I bless you, and will pray for your life to be full, rich, and complete. Peace.

    • I try, so long as comments are respectful and add to the dialogue. Many are, some are not. But I admit, I am overwhelmed with all of the numbers, and so make mistakes. And I have a “day job…” Thanks for reading.

  4. My Irish ancestors came from County Mayo, landed in Maryland (Carroll’s). I hope to visit Ireland before I’m too old to travel. Though I’m not Catholic, I still feel a strong affinity for the church and worry about the corruption at the top.

  5. Thank you. Thank you for your faithfulness. Thank you for taking the time to post this story of Petra, and thank you for all the saints who went before us. What a day awaits us when we get to join hands with these saints around the throne of God.

    • That’s the beauty of the Kingdom of Heaven it’s already accessible you don’t have to wait. We can go before the throne of grace now and worship with the saints now. It’s already come and resides in our hearts. The fullness has not come but our spirit is already seated with Christ in the heavenly realms. Christ opened up the veil and granted us access into the heavenly realms where we can operate from while we are on earth. Pagans operate in darkness because their spirit remains in that place. Christ alone transfers the spirit from darkness to light. The light of Christ has attracted many pagans into the presence of God and it has terrified many pagans as well. But Christ is the light of man in which there is no darkness.

  6. Thanks for this little exposition. It resonates within my soul, and gladdens me to know there are others touched by these principles – especially by the person of Jesus Christ. The tension between being in this world but not part of it, loving the sinner but hating the sin, and reaching out to the lost while holding on to what is true continues today and is encouraged by seeing how earlier generations handled the struggle.

  7. How refreshing! I am blessed to have found your blog, after you wrote about the miracle God bestowed to Petra. I just wanted to say hello and identify myself as a fellow traveler on that Celtic path. Thanks be to the early Celts and Saints of the British Isles for directing me to the door of the Orthodox Church † May God continue to bless your journey!

  8. I find your writings intriguing. I have sensed myself heading a similar direction and fell your words were meant for me to read.

  9. As I slowly age out, I am drawn more and more to the simplest of things. I too appreciate aspects of Celtic doctrines. Tradition focused on Jesus, something deeper than flashy lights and a cool logo, compels me. No longer do I sit in prayer circles for hours. Women display God in ways that amaze me. A good beer, pipe, fire-pit, music and friends might be a glimpse of heaven. Talking over, and living out His Word with a few men and women is deeper than I ever knew. God can be found anywhere in this world, I just need to be paying attention. Others around me have a lot to teach me, I aim to be the stupidest in the room. Grace for me. Grace for him. Grace for her. His global body is a beautiful mess doing our best to point to Him. His global body is bigger than I will ever know.

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