"Every Earthly Blessing" by Esther de Waal (part 2)

"Every Earthly Blessing: Rediscovering the Celtic Tradition" by Esther de Waal (part 2)

The book by De Waal goes on to provide information on the history of the Celtic Church and I personally find this second chapter almost a supplement to Hunter's book. The first monasteries are compared to fortresses. These early monasteries were founded by large families, and the abbot was often chosen from among the heads of these large families. Each monastery was independent but at the same time exercised its power over other small communities scattered all over the territory. Therefore, the Church of Ireland was defined as monastic rather than diocesan. De Waal confirms the fact that monasteries were community places of aggregation and exchange:

[...] monasteries brought numbers of people together, a wide and varied community, with many differing vocations and occupations gathered into a place where they could all in some way or other share the same values and deepen the quality of life”.

The monastery was the place in which a person could practice contemplation and the life of prayer that would have led him/her to Christ. The monastery was the place where you could have met God: “From the hour I set my mind on God I never took it away from him”, said St. Brigid. Monasteries were also centres of learning and culture. They were a kind of melting pot where pagan culture met Christian culture, merging into a successful mix - think of St Brigid having the same name as the deity associated with spring, protector of poets, healers, druids and fighters, common in Celtic mythology.
Another distinction is made between 'hermit' and 'monk'. In the Christian tradition, the hermit's life is an early form of monastic life that precedes the monastic life in cenobium. The hermit is one who lives in prayer and solitude and is in a sense opposed to cenobitism (also if some hermits might have lived in a hermitage attached to a monastery - examples may be St. Columba or the twentieth-century monk Thomas Merton). The solitary places became the hermit’s “places of resurrection”. These deserted and lonely places were only apparently empty because the hermit could see God all around him, in Nature (a successful example of this link can be found in the sort of creation-oriented creed proclaimed by St Patrick to two heathen princesses who asked him some questions about God).

No one lived closer to nature than the monks and the hermits. Their lives became intertwined with the times and colours and rhythms of the world around them”.

All creation was God's work. And so he lived with what God gave him every single day and prayed to thank Him for the gifts he had been given. The solitude that a hermit or a monk may experience is

an inner attentiveness to God, a continual stream of contemplation which becomes possible even in the midst of crowds, noise, and the demands of daily life
such as in the New Monasticism.
The monk/nun, on the other hand, lives a community life of exchange and cooperation with his/her fellows, but sometimes also the monk/nun might retire into solitude and then, later on, reemerge to join in a more active life. He/she leaves the community to "recharge" his/her "spiritual batteries" - one might say, and then brings that renewed strength and energy into a new active life of service to others: 
[...] a life of activity in the world is only made possible if it is nourished by times of withdrawal into solitude and silence”.
Today, 8 monastic rules of the ancient Irish Church have come down to us. Four of these emphasise the importance of the Gospel and can be Rules of Life for any Christian. Only later were these Rules adjusted with specific references to community life in the monastery. The common themes among all the rules can be identified in the need to receive and give love, patience, hospitality and humility. The importance of having and accepting the guidance of a holy and wise man is also emphasised (Anam Chara or soul-friend), because “though you may think you are very solid / it is not good to be your own guide”.

Another aspect that distinguishes Celtic Christianity is peregrinatio - pilgrimage. We are all pilgrims in this life, but in history, there have been - and there are today - people who have decided to literally live their lives 'on the road'. To be a pilgrim is to entrust yourself every single day and every single minute into the hands of God and His goodness, rejoicing in what you find and encounter and giving thanks for what little you need to survive. I really like the term "hospites mundi" that is commonly used to refer to pilgrims: we are all guests in this world, and as such we have to respect others and all that is around us. To be a pilgrim is to be on a continual "quest" for God, it is to never be fulfilled because the human soul always tends towards the infinite - which cannot be exhausted in material things. Being a pilgrim means giving up everything that binds you to earthly life. Your monastery is the world in its entirety. You can truly call yourself a pilgrim when you are departing with both body and spirit from your land, along the footsteps of the Apostles. If one of these two qualities - body or spirit - is missing, you cannot speak of a true pilgrimage. Nowadays, the concept of 'pilgrimage' has changed a lot compared to past centuries. Today, many people visit shrines mainly to "experience something new" and pilgrimage routes have become a kind of business. Few people walk for religious and/or spiritual reasons - not necessarily related to a particular faith.
Today's pilgrims make a round trip ticket, and on their return, they often forget the experience or count it among the many journeys they have made in their lives. In ancient times, on the other hand, the pilgrim followed a road that would last a lifetime. The pilgrimage was understood as a kind of exile necessary to penetrate further into the Nature of the world and things - not things in themselves, but the creator of the things (J.H. Griffin). It is not therefore pantheism.
The pilgrim-monk often also became a missionary, preaching the Gospel, opening the eyes of the people s/he met on his/her path to the beauty of creation and the Creator. He was a living example of His Word. “They were ready to feed on nothing but herbs of the earth and water and to sleep in caves”. The experience of Celtic Christianity was therefore a reflection of a dynamic and living power from God.
In conclusion, I can say that Celtic Christianity is a way to bring the world back to its primordial beauty, a way to rediscover the simplicity of a life without masks and without artifice, to rediscover the sense of the Sacred in Creation, to see things in a different light from our own egocentricity:
The integration of humankind with the birds and the animals as part of a common creation was something the Celtic world not only grasped intellectually and effectively but also lived out as well”.
When we look at things in a different way, we see how even creatures we consider fierce can be like us. This reminds me very much of St Francis of Assisi - who may well have come into contact with the spread of Celtic monasticism in northern Italy.
In the Celtic tradition there are many legends which tell of the warm and fulfilling relationships established between monks who chose a life of solitude, and the wild animals of the forests amongst whom they lived. [...] There was a real opening up of the whole universe, [...] all became brothers and sisters, part of common creation”.

The last thing I really liked about the text is De Waal's in-depth discussion of the significance of the Celtic Cross. Some believe that the circle around the four arms of the cross is reminiscent of the Sun God of the ancient Druidic peoples, later converted to Christianity; others believe that the circle is a symbol of the Chi-rho, symbolising the Alpha and Omega of the book of Revelation.
I like to think that the cross, with one of its longest arms, is the rootedness and possible connection between earth and heaven. The circle is a symbol of circularity and infinity, of something that has neither a beginning nor an end.
The number Four is the most perfect number, being the root of all other numbers and of all things. It is the generating virtue from which all combinations derive. It is the emblem of motion and infinity, representing both the corporeal, the sensible, and the incorporeal. The number 4 can be broken down into 1 + 3, the monad (the one) and the Triangle. It symbolises the Eternal, the man who carries within himself the divine principle. There are four elements: Fire, Water, Air and Earth; there are four seasons; there are four cardinal points, etc.
Once again, through this powerful symbol of Faith, the way to Salvation is shown.

In the Light and Warmth of the Sacred Flame,
Sr. Hallyson Abigail

Post più popolari