Letter for Mike

My friend Margarita, who is a conservative Christian, has a friend of hers named Mike who is interested in Celtic culture and so she decided to give him a copy of 366 Celt. But, since the book has such a strong Pagan focus and she herself is hardly a Pagan, she wanted to give him a sense of the book’s back story. So she asked me to write a letter to the young man, situating the book both in my own spiritual journey and in my ongoing efforts to balance my devotion to Christ and Catholicism with my radical openness to the grace that flows through all wisdom traditions. Having written the letter, I thought it might be of interest to others, so here it is.

Dear Mike,

I am honored that our mutual friend Margarita has decided to celebrate your birthday by offering you a copy of a book I wrote a few years back called 366 Celt. As you can see, it is designed as a book of daily meditations, although I know plenty of people who ignore the “daily meditation” aspect of the book and just read it straight through. That’s fine by me. The book was actually written at the behest of an editor; I personally don’t like daily meditation books and never use them myself — which is why I refused to assign the various pages a specific day (January 1, January 2, etc.) on which they should be read. To me, books that instruct you which day you ought to be reading a given page are just a little too uptight and controlling. So, please feel free to read the book in whatever fashion suits you – a page a day, or the whole thing in a weekend. However you approach it, I do hope you’ll enjoy it and maybe even learn a thing or two.

Margarita asked me to share with you a little about my spiritual journey and how it is reflected in this book. I wrote the book in the spring and summer of 2004; at that time I was enjoying a rising star as a Wiccan/Pagan author – a career that I had been pursuing for several years up to that point. I was regularly receiving invitations to speak at various festivals and gatherings around the country, and had written a number of books (366 Celt was my ninth). While this may sound wonderful, change was afoot – I may have been a Pagan author, but I was undergoing a profound spiritual transformation. I had received an unavoidable call from God to let go of Paganism and to return to Christianity.

You see, I was raised a Lutheran and spent ten years of my adult life as an enthusiastic and active Episcopalian. But as I approached my midlife years, I entered a profound “dry spell” in my walk with Christ, and felt drawn to Paganism as a way to compensate. Being of Scottish ancestry and espousing strong ecological values, naturally the worlds of Celtic mythology, Druidism, and even Wicca have always been of interest to me. For years I was a Christian who entertained a “part-time” relationship with Neopaganism – a topic I explore in one my earlier books, Embracing Jesus and the Goddess. But by the late 1990s I had stopped going to church and thinking of myself as a Christian. I had become a “full-time” Pagan, and in doing so, developed my career as a Pagan author/speaker. But Christ was not finished with me yet. In 2002 and 2003 I had opportunities to spend time in Ireland, a first trip for doing research and the second trip leading an interfaith tour with both Christians and Pagans along for the ride. My experience during those two trips led me to a newfound appreciation of the deep and rich Christian heritage of the Celtic lands. As the Republic of Ireland is so profoundly Catholic, it also led me to an unexpected appreciation of Catholic Christianity as well.

Back in the United States, I found that my spirituality was increasingly moving away from veneration of the old Pagan gods and toward renewing my love for Christ. I am the type of Christian who believes that repentance is a life-long process, so I can’t really say that on a certain day I stopped being a Pagan and promptly resumed my life in Christ. Rather, it happened very gradually, over a period of months. And it was during that months-long process that 366 Celt was written. So as you read this book, you’ll notice that it is by turns both Pagan and Christian in its focus. It is mostly Pagan, since at the time I still thought of myself as a Pagan (I did not formally renew my commitment to Christ until Easter 2005). But a discerning reader will find plenty of Christian ideas in it.

But this leads to a larger question. Celtic spirituality, even after the conversion to Christianity that occurred in the fifth and sixth centuries, has always had a strong nature-based and even mythological dimension to it. In other words, the Celts, even after accepting the Gospel, have always been a relatively “Pagan-friendly” people. But does it make sense to mix elements of Paganism and Christianity, as I have done in this book? Let me share a few thoughts on this matter.

Consider this quote from the definition of “paganism” in A Catholic Dictionary (edited by Donald Attwater, 3rd edition, 1958):

In paganism … the Church has always recognized the existence of natural goodness and truth, the seeds of which the Fathers declare are to be found everywhere. All that is wise and true in the philosophies of antiquity, of Plato, of Plotinus, especially of Aristotle, has been incorporated into the Catholic system; all that is good and beautiful in their literature, arts and culture, whether of Hellas or Honolulu, is welcome to the Catholic mind.

I think this Catholic approach to Paganism is appropriate for all Christians, not just Catholics. Rather than just reflexively dismissing everything that is un-Christian as bad, thoughtful Christians will recognize that the blessings of God can be found throughout creation – even in non-Christian religious traditions. Indeed, this is the basis of all positive interfaith dialogue – not just between Christians and Pagans, but between Christians and Jews, Christians and Buddhists, or whatever.

In other words, it is my hope that a Christian who reads 366 Celt will be blessed by its Pagan material (and conversely, I hope that Pagans who read it will be blessed by the Christian material in it as well). It was never my purpose in writing this book to convert anyone or to argue for any particular point of view. I don’t think a person needs to mix elements of Paganism and Christianity in order to be “Celtic” in their spirituality. Obviously, many people are interested in Celtic Paganism and do not consider themselves to be Christians, just as others are faithful to Christ and have no interest in practicing Paganism. But I think people of either persuasion who have a genuine interest in the Celtic world can only benefit from learning about the Celtic expression of both spiritual traditions, even if they only are faithful to one or the other.

I am convinced that God called me out of Paganism and back into Christianity, and I give thanks for this every day. But I do not mean to suggest that God hates Pagans or even Paganism. God hates sin. The older I get, the more I come to realize that sin lurks everywhere. But just as Pagans and Christians are both infected by sin, so also both Pagans and Christians are recipients of God’s lavish blessings, as so eloquently pointed out in A Catholic Dictionary.

When you read 366 Celt, regardless of your own spiritual identity, I hope you will read it with an open but discerning mind. Question everything I have written to weigh whether what I commend to you is truly good, true, and beautiful. If it is, then I hope you will find a way to honor it within your own faith. If not, then please just lay it aside. Since I am neither infallible nor immaculate, I humbly acknowledge that all of my writing is subject to error, whether errors I have received or errors of my own making. In the words of a wonderful British musician, Kate Bush, I ask you to “be kind to my mistakes.” But in the words of another hero of mine, Ken Wilber, “no one is smart enough to be wrong all the time.” With this in mind, I am confident you’ll find something in my writing that may be of some modest use to you.

With my best wishes for a very happy birthday,

Carl McColman

Mysticism and the Divine Feminine: An Interview with Mirabai Starr
Pentecost and Ecstasy
Sanctity and Struggle, or, Why Saints Have Chaotic Inner Lives (Hint: It's Because We All Do)
Preliminary Practices for Christian Contemplatives
About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • Rob

    Wow. What a beautiful, thoughtful expression of the faith that I have begun to experience. As I move deeper into relationship with God, I see more and more that I (and unfortunately much of the Church) often discard truth and beauty if it doesn’t fit into a very narrow traditional view. God help us all to have such an open heart.

    And BTW, I plan to order 366 Celt as soon as possible!