Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Top Five books on Celtic Spirituality: How the Irish Saved Civilization

I was recently asked "what are the top five books on Celtic Spirituality?" Great question and let me try to answer that question. I've had a day to think this over, so let roll out my top five (drum roll please.....)!

My number one book on Celtic Spirituality is Thomas Cahill's "How the Irish Saved Civilization" (1995).  That may come as a surprise to some so let me explain why I've ranked it as my number one. It's at the top of my list because the book does an amazing job pulling together all the main themes of Celtic Spirituality; the history, the key players, the spirituality, and then does a bang up job telling the story is a fascinating and interesting way. And all in 200 or so pages which read like a historical novel.

And there's more! The surprise of "How the Irish Saved Civilization" is that in a remote part of the world (Ireland), a group of monks kept alive the great traditions of the Greeks, Romans, Church fathers and pagan humanists. So while the rest of Europe was wallowing in what we call now the Dark Ages, the Celtic monks kept aflame a great tradition of learning by translating and copying important pieces of literature, philosophy, and theology.

"It is hard to believe" wrote Sir Kenneth Clark, "that for quite a long time-almost a hundred years-western Christianity survived by clinging to place like Skellig Michael, a pinnacle of rock eighteen miles from the Irish coast, rising seven hundred feet out of the sea" (pg.2).

There is of course, more to the story. The life of St. Patrick and his writings against slavery; the Celtic monasteries where monks could marry and women could be Bishops. And there are many parallels with the state and health of the church today.

This is an amazing story and you can find the book almost anywhere at book sales, libraries and on Amazon for pennies.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Praying mantrams

Wanted to share some excellent prayer and meditation resources. Eknath Easawaran wrote a number of books on using "mantrams" (prayers or passages)  from spiritual writers in many religious traditions, and using these in your devotions.

Been reading "Strength in the Storm", Easawaran's book on transforming stress and learning to live in balance. He includes a wonderful Gaelic prayer  called, "I Weave a Silence" (pg. 58) which I presume is from the Carmina Gadelica, that wonderful collection of prayers and songs from the Outer Hebrides.

"I waeve a silence onto my lips
I wave a silence unto my mind.
I weave a silence within my hear.
I close my ears to distractions.
I close my eyes to attractions.
I close my heart to temptations.
Calm me, I Lord, as you stilled the storm.
Stil me, O Lord; keep my from hard.
Let all tumult within me cease.
Enfole me, Lord, in your peace"

You'd be hard pressed to find a better mantram to pray and meditate on than that!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Esther de Waal: An Introduction to Celtic Christianity

I've been thumbing through some of my favorite books on Celtic Christianity and found "God Under My Roof" by the English scholar Esther de Waal. I started reading it again, and was again impressed with the Celtic vision that is presented in this small, but impressionable book. I thought to myself, "this is great stuff!".

Esther de Waal is a prolific writer on both Celtic and Benedictine spirituality. She has written two pivotal books on Celtic Christianity, "The Celtic Way of Prayer" and "The Celtic Vision". Many of de Waal's themes arise from the "Carmina Gadelica", that great collection of prayers and religious poetry from an area in western Scotland called the Hebrides.

Reading the prayers from the "Carmina Gadelica" will both challenge and change your understanding of prayer. Barriers such as the eternal and now will melt away. Prayer is meant to be of the moment, in at all times and places-not just in church building or on Sundays. Put another way, the hell with formality, prayer has to do with the moment and what is going on in the here and now!

Esther de Waal is a distinguished writer whose books have had a significance influence on the public at large and they are definitely worth reading. Recently, Ms. de Waal gave a lecture at St. Paul's Cathedral on Celtic Christianity which I found on I found a Youtube and I am linking here.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The latest in excuses

OK let's hear the roll call on excuses for blog lapses. Schedule, work, lack of time, rinse, repeat. So finally getting to one of my New Year's resolutions!

The passing of time has allowed me to spend some time re-reading some of the Celtic classics as I have been penning some book reviews on Amazon and updating some profile data. Constantly amazes me how much the internet landscape is changing. I was somewhat critical and skeptical of this "internet" world in the past, but with each passing week and day, I am convinced the online world will only get bigger, better and more part of everyone's experience.

Re-reading some of the books by J.P. Newell, David Adam and others has made me appreciate the unique Celtic contribution to Christianity and why it represents an "alternative" or foil to what we see practices in Christendom today. The focus on body (as opposed to mind) and the earth and our relationships to the earth are a reminder that our faith is something which is rooted in relationships and interactions with the community around us. This translates to caring for others, caring for the world around us, and being sensitive to the relationships which meet us at every turn.

One would think that after two thousand years, we might know this already. But for some it is a great secret!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Review of Rainer Walde's "Blessing Europe" and "My Journey to Life"

Rainer Walde’s “Blessing Europe: The Legacy of the Celtic Saints” and “My Journey to Life: On the Trail of the Celtic Saints” provide excellent introductions to Celtic Christianity and spirituality. Walde is a German author and filmmaker and also someone whose life has been deeply touched by Celtic Christianity.

Originally filmed in German-and this should tell you something of the worldwide appeal of Celtic spirituality-these elegant and visually attractive documentaries provide over two hours of material on the major Celtic saints, and key Celtic sites all the way from Bangor, to Luxeuil, to Babbio.

 Walde weaves his story around Columbanus, his strict religious rule, and missionary journeys which are seen as a prototype that many other of the Celtic saints would emulate. And as Columbanus carried the gospel message across the Irish Sea and also across Europe, he left numerous monasteries and places of learning which attracted people from all social classes, and altered the face of Europe. It was in this way that the Celtic monks saved civilization.

The documentaries also provide insightful introductions to other key Celtic saints such as Columba, Bridget, Aidan, Patrick, Kevin, and others. One of the best features of this series is the combination of hagiography, use of key literary texts, and music selections. All these factors contribute to provide the viewer with the sense that Celtic Christianity was a powerful and significant spiritual movement which produced beautiful things such as the Book of Kells and stone crosses, but also people of the highest caliber imaginable.

These productions are of the highest quality and I recommend them to anyone who is interested in learning more about the Celtic saints and spirituality. Viewing these DVDs is time well spent.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Rev. Dr. Michael Ward: Discoveror of Narnia

I had the pleasure of hosting the Revd. Dr. Michael Ward this past December. He was here in Honolulu giving some lectures on C.S. Lewis. Dr. Ward, a St. Andrian like myself, is the world's foremost scholar on C.S. Lewis, author of The Narnia Code, and editor of  The Cambridge Companion to C.S. Lewis.

Dr. Ward's recent research in Lewis has created a storm in scholarly circles. Upto recently, Lewis's  Narnia books-which most people probably know Lewis by-have never been viewed as more than  lighter works- as something he did in his spare time. In sharp contrast, most English students (including myself) have focused on Lewis's scholarly works such as English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (1954) Volume III of the Oxford History of English Literature and other books such as Mere Christianity, or The Screwtape Letters.

Now that view has all changed. The books in Narnia are now seen as deftly created and more sophisticated than ever imagined. Narnia will never be the same!

Best of all Dr. Ward is a humble, gentle person, who has taken his fame in stride!

To learn more about Dr. Ward, you can click here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Great Emergence

"Every five hundred years, the Church cleans out its attic and has a giant rummage sale".

Soome time ago, I found a copy of Phyllis Tickle's "The Great Emergence" (2008) at a book sale and picked up a copy. This is a book I have wanted to read for some time for a few reasons. First, it has caused something of a stir in theological circles, and second, this is an important book to understand  emergent churches and groups. Even though "The Emergent Church" was published five years ago, it is an easy and enoyable read which sheds light on the church today.

In "The Great Emergence", Tickel proposes that Christianity undergoes drastic changes every 500 years. The timeframe is obvious important to us as we are now living in one of those phases-and this fact underlies the importance of the book. We are fortunate to be living during one of these pivotal times. As TIckel reviews the history of the Christian Church,  she points out the important benchmarks which ocurr every 500 years. These 500 year stepping stones have included Chalcedon (451), the Great Scism (1054), the Reformation (1517) and the present age. And going backwards, these 500 years periods have included the Old Testament World as well, such as the Babylonain Captivity, and in 1000 BC, the Davidic Dynasty. I wish I had known these "benchmarks" when I was studying church history, as it certainly would have made things easier to understand.
Interesting stuff.