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Tony and Barbara Holden - articles arising from our Christian commitment

Barbara Holden 'Celtic Spirituality'

I was very pleased to share with our LMC Girls Group on Celtic spirituality. I am ‘enthralled,’ as some of you know, by human difference and cultural diversity. And within this there are all the differences between Christians with our historic traditions and present-day adaptations.

My identity and life is bound up with my South Wales Valley upbringing. From the outset I enjoyed being Welsh including of course music and singing. My generation were not taught the language. I was not aware of feminism [let alone Christian feminism!]. Indeed my own religious life was in the Methodist Church but that was set within very strongly non-conformist Welsh and independent strands. Then, as I grew older and learnt about what was happening in Welsh politics I also began to learn about Celtic spirituality.

So, I looked once again at the accounts of the Celts as the Iron Age people of Western Europe between say 500 BCE and 500 CE.

Their distinctive form of Celtic Christianity came to Ireland, Scotland, England [Cornwall], Wales, Brittany and the Isle of Man [Columba 563 and Iona and Cuthbert of Lindisfarne died 687].

And at the Council of Whitby [664] the choice between the Roman Christian tradition [Augustine at Canterbury from Rome 597] and the Celtic one was, to an extent, settled.

My experience growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s in a small mining village was of a sense of identity that emphasised a language, traditions including Eisteddfod, the Church of Wales, the emergence of Plaid Cymru. Unsurprisingly generations, communities and regions argued. When we left Wales in 1966, we wouldn’t have expected Wales to become bi-lingual or have its own Parliament.

So, what are the marks of Celtic spirituality?

◙ an emphasis upon God’s presence - God in our everyday life’s work

◙ the natural world as God given and as something to be treasured - water, Druidic rituals, healing, holy ‘thin places’, pilgrimages, Iona, Lindisfarne

◙ an understanding of the connectedness of nature and people and faith

◙ the use of distinctive artwork – sinuous lines and decoration, Celtic crosses, weapons, pots, jewellery and of course illuminated Manuscripts such as the Lindisfarne Gospels

◙ the sharing of the Christian story through prayer, music, poetry, artwork, storytelling

◙ the responsibility of people and communities to each other through hospitality, care for those in need, everyday action – in contemporary terms it’s ‘all’ both interpersonal and political

◙ and for me today! I recall going with LMC to Iona [August 2009]. Our grandson Philip [living in the NE] has chosen to work as a volunteer on Lindisfarne for several seasons. And there are prayers and poems that I have valued

►So, to give one example - Esther de Waal ‘God under my roof’ [1989]

“My walk this day with God

My walk this day with Christ

My walk this day with Spirit

The Threefold all-kindly

Ho! Ho! Ho! The Threefold all kindly.”


● End note - I especially liked books by Barry Cunliffe ‘The Celts - a very short introduction’ 2001; R S Thomas; Esther de Waal; David Adam; Avery Brooks ‘Celtic Prayers’ Alexander Carmichael 1832/ 1981, Julian of Norwich/ Monica Furlong, Christian Aid prayers.

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