|Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, Ireland|
Holy Delighting is at the heart of the Celtic mystical tradition.
Edward Farrell, in his spiritual classic, God is Very Fond of You shared a story about an elderly Irish man who described his relationship with Holy One as a loving gaze between friends in which no words are necessary. As he sat in the quiet, the man simply knew that God was very fond of him.
So, as we begin our sharing, let us take a few minutes to experience God's love embracing us in Celtic holy delighting. If you have Celtic instrumental music, you may wish to play is softly in the background as you journey to your spiritual center.
I invite you to close our eyes and take a few deep breaths... Let go of the tensions of the day... Let go of any distractions, simply let them float away as if they were leaves floating down a river... drifting away...
Imagine God sitting with you, calling you by name and saying, “I love you”...."You are the Beloved"...
Be aware that God is very fond of you...
Give thanks for your Belovedness...
Give thanks for the Belovedness of your family, friends, everyone....
Delight in God who loves you beyond your fears and in your dreams....
Open yourself to the God of Surprises as you embark on this pilgrimage....
A Celtic spirit sees God's action as integral to moment-to-moment living. Every aspect of life is enabled by God and enlivened by God. It is the kind of God-awareness that inspired many Irish mothers (including my Mother, Bridie) to begin each day with the phrase: "In the name of God." The awareness of being immersed in the holy in the midst of a circle of love like a cocoon or a womb which God has woven around you. This is core to the Celtic understanding of life.
For the Celtic soul, there are moments and places where the veil between present reality and the next world are so thin as to be nearly transparent. These are holy places or holy moments and are often referred to as thin places. Holy wells, cemeteries, high crosses, ruins of buildings-these are thin places where one cannot help being drawn to awe-filled prayer in the presence of the holy. The Celtic soul sees with a vision that can only be called "faith-eyes."
A loved one is never far removed, whether merely absent or with God, since the Celtic life of faith lives more in God's ever-present time (kairos) that in our chronological time (chronos).
In 1999, I returned with my Dad to cottage where Mom and Dad were married and where I lived the first 8 years of my life, It was the near the first anniversary of my mother's death. Dad and I were still grieving her loss in our lives. Then, as Dad and I stood outside the cottage, gazing at the river reflecting on the years that we lived here in the small gray cottage bordering the river, we saw two beautiful white swans gliding serenely on the surface of the Erkina River. For Dad and I just standing there was a moment of contact with family roots, a thin place where
we could feel Mom's presence. It was as if Mom was with us, assuring us that she was just a breath away.
Celtic spirituality is imbued with the sense of the family of God, the communion of saints, as a spiritual bond connecting the living and the dead. The Irish wake, the tradition of accompanying the dead person on the journey into heaven reflects this view. When my grandfather Patrick Beale, died, he was waked in his cottage where family and friends gathered for an all-night vigil of storytelling, music, song, tears, and food, and laughter. The next day a large procession of family and neighbors accompanied Pat to the church for the liturgy and to the cemetery for Christian burial. In the Irish tradition, there is a Mass celebrated for the deceased one month after death, and it is common for family and friends to pray for a deceased loved one, for he or she is, after all, only a prayer away from us.
In the theology behind Celtic spirituality, and contrary to Augustine's view of sin as an evil disruption of original innocence, is the gentler insight that saw human beings as essentially God-centered, since the creating light of God dwells within all persons. The divine light had been covered over and stifled by the inroads of sinful choices, but not extinguished. We are, as John's gospel says, begotten by God's light which is the light of humankind. The Celts are more comfortable with a theology of original blessing than Augustine's concept of original sin.
The Celtic soul calls us to contemplate earth's beauty and join in the dance of life in celebrating the magnificence all around us. The Celtic soul calls us to spend time outdoors where mountains stretch our minds, and lakes and rivers refresh our spirits. In fact, the connection between water and spiritual power is a characteristic of Celtic spirituality. Lakes, rivers, springs, and wells are prominent in Celtic myth and associated with certain figures. In ancient times, women even went to holy wells to give birth. In Christian times, the Virgin Mary and several women saints including Brigit, Ita, Gobnait, Monenna, Dymphna, Non, Tegla, and Winefride, are associated with springs, and water from these places is used in rituals and prayers for healing.
Celtic holy wells continue to be healing sanctuaries and reminders of the influence of pagan traditions on aspects of Christian faith. In our present-day evangelizing efforts, a growing awareness exists of the incorporation of indigenous rites, rituals, and customs into Christian practice where these can be adapted. We are realizing that those peoples to whom we are reaching out already have keenly developed spiritual insights regarding the power of the Divine in their lives, for the same Holy Spirit draws and inspires every human being. Fortunately, in evangelizing the Celtic people in the early centuries of Christianity, the missionaries adapted all that was compatible with Christianity. That is why holy wells and their accompanying rituals are still common in Celtic spiritual practice.
One of these holy sites, Ladywell, near Ballinkill in County Leix, is still a popular pilgrimage site. Every year from before anyone can remember, people from Leix County gather at Ladywell to drink from and bathe in its waters, making a pilgrimage there especially on August 15 when a Mass is offered to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Into Heaven. The Ballyroan Brass Band plays, and stories of cures and answers to prayers are retold.
A Celtic heart is a pilgrim heart. Celtic saints often undertook a journey to what they termed their place of resurrection usually a site far away where they were to perform some good work, and die there, stepping into eternity in exile from their earthly roots and home. Such a pilgrimage to one's place of resurrection was usually a long journey. Every pilgrimage, whether short or long, is an enactment of our life's journey. It represents the yearning heart, longing for an encounter with God. It is more than a trip or tour, because the pilgrim is seeking ardently for a meeting with the Divine without knowing exactly what surprise is in store. The pilgrimage is actually a response to God's invitation to relinquish control, to step out and risk all, without knowing the full consequences.
In Celtic tradition, the pilgrimage was far more rigorous than anything we might undertake today. The pilgrim set out, often by sea, to a totally unknown destination, believing that God was leading. It was always away from the familiar and the familiar was Ireland, so dear for its hearth and family ties. Ireland's landscape with its forty shades of green, its brilliant rainbows, its starry nights and air-crisp freshness was dear to every pilgrim-voyager who left with an awareness that there would most likely be no return. Such were the journeys of Colmcille to Iona and Brendan the Navigator to Britain, and of the women: Ia to Cornwall, Melangell to Wales, Cannera, Dymphna and others who traveled to far countries. For that matter, the same is true of Gobnait, who traveled without settling anywhere until she would see nine white deer grazing together. That sign would signal the site for the establishment of her monastery, and the place where she was to await her resurrection. A loose grasp of a faith-journey in which the Christian allows God to be the captain of the ship and the guide of the traveler's steps is a mark central to the inner listening of Celtic spirituality. Such drastic pilgrimages of those early saints were called a "white martyrdom."
One author of a book on Celtic pilgrimage sites has observed that for centuries The religious patterns or rounds [used at the holy wells] usually consisted of recitations of the rosary and repeated circling of the well with the pilgrims perhaps on their knees performing acts of penance.. A longing for healing was a major motivating factor in such visits to the wells, with the water being bathed in, drunk, or carried home....Modern scientific analysis has in many cases shown that the mineral content of certain wells does indeed contain medicinal qualities and may assist in the healing of certain sicknesses. Typically the one seeking healing would leave behind at the well, tied to a tree or a bush, a small rag torn from his or her garment, symbolizing the leaving behind of the ailment. (Sister Cintra Pemberton, Soulfaring, Harrisburg, Pa: Morehouse Publishing, 1999). At several holy wells in both Ireland and Wales, we noticed symbols left behind visitors: rags hung on trees at Monenna's well in S. Armagh, coins in Saint Brigit's well and Saint Dymphna's well in Ireland, and flowers at Saint Non's well in Wales.
My exploration of Celtic holy women and their healing wells took two years of research and resulted in a book entitled, Praying with Celtic Holy Women co-authored with a friend and companion Regina Madonna Oliver. I led a Celtic Sacred Journey to Mystical Ireland in 2000. Both book and pilgrimage are a celebration of the feminine spirit, the mystical vision, the creation-inspired heart, the generous hospitality, the sense of joy, the holistic approach to life that is found in the richness of Celtic spirituality and culture. So we welcome everyone, regardless of age, culture, gender, or ethnic origin to join us in an adventure of the spirit in our journey to the soul of the Celtic soul. (in both book and pilgrimage to Ireland in 2014)