Celtic Spirituality: The Monastic Invitation

monastic pic.png

In our explorations of Celtic spirituality, we have sat with the Celtic relationship with the land and the way they experienced God drawing near through thin places. We have encountered St. Brigid and experienced her invitation to meet an expansive God. Brigid’s story shows that there was an active spirituality that was met and incorporated into the Christianity of the Celtic world. That Christianity was in turn shaped by the monastic communities that dotted the land. Instead of learning the Christian way of life from the traditional church, lay people were folded into the life of the monastic community. As Esther DeWaal writes in her book The Celtic Way of Prayer: The Recovery of the Religious Imagination, “Early Celtic Christianity was above all monastic. People learned their religious beliefs and practices from the monastic communities with the monastic ideal of continual prayer.” Instead of spirituality being reserved for Sundays and formal church settings, Celts took their cues from the monasteries which invited prayer into every aspect of life. She goes on to describe this monastic way of prayer: “The Gaelic race see the hand of God in every place, in every time and in every thing. They have this sense of life being embraced on all sides by God.” In the litanies and rituals that she gathered in her book, DeWaal found that prayer was not formal or separate, but woven into the fabric of daily life. She found prayers that were spoken over the fire, the cooking, the laundry, the farming, the mending – the list goes on. They truly experienced God in all things.

What a beautiful invitation this is, to encounter God in every aspect of our lives! What might it be like to experience God’s presence in all that we do? These rituals of prayer invite us to open our eyes and experience the reality of God’s loving, encompassing presence. I wonder what it might mean for me to incorporate prayer into the mundane of the everyday. Could I write prayers for turning off the alarm, for making the bed, for dressing my children, for preparing breakfast? There are so many parts of my daily routine that I move through without thinking, and with only rare glimpses of God’s presence with me.

I am drawn to the ritual of these ancient Celtic prayers, to the idea that all of life could be opportunities. God desires to meet us in our daily life and cares about what we do. It’s not that we need these prayers to summon God or to make something mundane become holy. Rather, the prayer is an invitation to us, reminding us to be awake to what already is. Instead of creating reality they name the reality of God with us. They invite us to make interior space to receive God with us in our days. Again we turn to DeWaal, who says of Celtic spirituality, “At the heart of what I have been writing about … is a deep sense of the presence of God – God here and now, with me, close at hand, a God present in life and in work, immediate and accessible.” These ritualized prayers remind us of the sacramental nature of daily life, the way all our mundane work is an opportunity to experience the presence of the living God.

A small way to begin to practice that I’ve both used myself and shared with directees is to pray when I wash my hands. I will pray a short liturgy, “Lord, thank you for this water and for these hands. May they be prepared for your work. May my hands encounter you in all they do.” As I run my hands under the water, as I lather the soap over and between my fingers, as I watch the bubbles slide off of my skin and down the drain, I connect to the Lord who longs to connect with me.

I wonder, where in your daily routine could you experience God’s presence through prayer? Maybe you could write a prayer this week for a simple, everyday task, such as making breakfast or preparing for bed. In what small way could you practice letting God meet you and hold you in all you do?