I know it is the fourth Sunday in Lent. A purple day. But it is also just three days short of St. Patrick’s Day. A green day, if there ever was one. So, instead of the lectionary today, I am going to draw on the deep well of Celtic spirituality.
But, I will pull one snippet from today’s scripture. John, the Evangelist was the Celtic Church’s patron – not Peter as in Rome. The reasons for this are not clear, but one likely reason is the Celtic romance with words and metaphor. And John is the most poetic of the gospels.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son… God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world be saved… [and] those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
A hallmark of the Celts is their embrace of the Creator of this world, the earth, the sun and the moon and the stars. Christian Celts in several ways baptized the spirituality of the pagans who came before them.
So, let me tell you more about my romance with this ancient people.
Since way back in the AOL days, my email address has been “celticjlp”. I am more than a bit of a Celtophile.
I have made four pilgrimages to the Emerald Isle. On all things Celtic, I have facilitated forums, I have led retreats and I have tutored a disciple or two. I am steeped, as best as I can be, in the history and spirituality of my chosen people. (And I just took a 24-lecture refresher Great Courses class on the Celtic World!)
And in all five of the churches I have served I have concocted and celebrated Celtic worship, orthodox and otherwise. I am Celtic to the core and have the tattoo to prove it — a little green shamrock on my left shoulder. (A Christmas gift from my children!)
Let me recount just a few of the Celtic things that so deeply resonate with me.
A sage lyrically recounts and I paraphrase here:
“They worshipped the sun and the moon and the stars. They hallowed each and every hour with prayer. Their sanctuaries were the forests and the meadows and the cliffs. Holy spirits indwelled their streams and inhabited their oak groves. Holy winds blew on their islands and holy waves crashed on their shores. Every little blade of Celtic grass, it seemed, shimmered with the divine.”
Almost. But not quite.
Not to over romanticize my chosen people, the ancient Celts were a nomadic people who practiced human sacrifice. Not too often — but one human sacrifice is one too many! The Celts were a warrior people who liked to collect the skulls of those they conquered as trophies. They were a tribal people where both women and men exercised royal power. Yes, women in power.
Which brings me to Boudicca, the Celtic Warrior Queen.
Boudicca, for those who do not know, was queen of the Iceni, a Celtic tribe of Britain in the 1st century of the Common Era. During the time of the Roman occupation, Boudicca’s husband was able to keep his crown. Upon his death, however, the Romans rolled over the Iceni. They captured its people and confiscated their property. Boudicca was flogged and her daughters were violated.
No one would have blamed Boudicca, if she gave into defeat and despair. But heck no, Boudicca rescued her daughters, climbed into her chariot, and led the Iceni army in the charge against Rome. She put down the 9thLegion, destroyed the Roman capital, and went on to conquer London, another stronghold of the occupiers.
Tragically it resulted in a bloodbath and Boudicca was eventually beaten back. It is said she may have taken her own life to avoid capture. No one knows where Boudicca is buried.
But all of Celtic Britain knows her story, every little boy and every little girl.
And so, now fast forwarding in time a few hundred years, this brings me to Brigid. In the second half of the 5th century, there was Brigid, Bishop Brigid of Kildare.
Brigid is both the name of a Celtic goddess and the name of a saint, a saint who like St. Francis, hundred of years hence, was renowned for her radical generosity to the poor.
For the ancient Celts, Brigid is the three-faced goddess of poetry, metal work, and fire. And for Celtic Christians, Saint Brigid is the founder of the monastery at Kildare, the Church of the Oak. Kildare was a “double monastery” home to both religious men and women. And these Celtic Christian brothers and sisters were permitted to marry and raise children in service to the Lord.
And Brigid, the abbess of Kildare, Celtic history tells us was consecrated a Bishop. Carved into the stone altar rail at the Rock of Cashel, Bishop Brigid, crozier in hand, leads a procession of the twelve apostles.
The Roman Catholic Church turned her crozier into a butter churn and demoted Brigid from Bishop to milkmaid. Hopefully and forever, the hierarchy thought they had put in her rightful and inferior place.
Until, fast forwarding to the present day, there was Fildelma. Until there was Fidelma.
The real Brigid did not remain buried forever. She has been resurrected and reincarnated in the fictional and fabulous Sister Fidelma. Fidelma is the creation of Celtic scholar Peter Berresford Ellis turned mystery writer — pen-named Peter Tremayne.
Set in 7th century Ireland, the Sister Fidelma stories are a delicious combination of theology, history, and mystery. Fidelma is of royal blood, a princess of the Eoghanacht, educated to the level of dalaigh, an adovocate of the Brehon courts, just below judge. She is also a member of the monastery at Kildare and married to Brother Eadulf. Yes, married to Brother Eadulf, a Saxon monk, who is Dr. Watson to her Sherlock Holmes. And by the time Fidelma and Eadulf are solving their 20th murder or so they even have a baby.
(And now Peter Tremayne is up to Sister Fidelma mystery #31!)
Crack open one or two of these books and you will be hooked. Tremayne gives them hokey Agatha Christie titles like “Absolution by Murder”, “Shroud for the Archbishop”, “Our Lady of Darkness” and “Whispers of the Dead”.
My little lower-case “t” Celtic trinity: Boudicca, Brigid & Fidelma.
And this you may not know: The deepest roots of Anglicanism – the Christianity that took root beginning in the 4th century in the British Isles — are found not solely in Rome but in the Celtic world. We all may not be Irish, but spiritually we Episcopalians all have a little Celtic DNA.
So how might we infuse a little green into our Lenten practice?
Walking with God in the great outdoors, seeing, tasting, inhaling the beauty of Mother Earth? Respecting her and taking care of her.
Connecting with God by weaving a little trinity into our daily prayers? Bless our rising, our working, our home-keeping, our sleeping. (An Irish monk once prayed: ‘May my snores be songs of praise.”)
Finding the holy in the most ordinary of things? The sound of rain on the roof. The silence of snow. Fire in your hearth. A comfortable chair. A chat with a friend.
Digging up a dead saint or two of whom we may have never heard? Brendan the Navigator. Hilda of Whitby. Saint Mungo and the Hounds. New windows to heaven. New icons of Christ.
Praising the Creator of heaven and earth wherever and whenever we break bread? A table grace before meals beginning today at Sunday dinner sounds like a good idea. So, let me finish here with just such a prayer: Bishop Brigid’s Feast, one of my favorites.
I should like a great lake of the finest ale for the King of kings.
I should like a table of the choicest food for the family of heaven.
Let the ale be made from the fruits of faith, and the food be made of forgiving love.
I should welcome the poor to my feast for they are God’s children.
I should welcome the sick to my feast for they are God’s joy.
Let the poor sit with Jesus at the highest place, and the sick dance with the angels.
God bless the poor.
God bless the sick.
God bless our human race.
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog