Celtic Devotions

Celtic Devotions:
A Guide to Morning and Evening Prayer

By Calvin Miller
Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2008
Review by Carl McColman

First, a confession: I don’t really like daily devotional books, least of all when they’re arranged in a structured “say this prayer on the morning of day 5″ and “say this prayer on the evening of day 13″ kind of a format. I try not to be a liturgical chauvinist most of the time, but I must admit that books designed to get you to in the habit of praying every day usually send me scurrying back to the Liturgy of the Hours.

So I’m biased against this book from the get-go. I tell you this not so much as a warning, but rather as a corrective: my praise of this book may seem less than exuberant, but that stems from my own prejudices rather than from the merits of the work itself.

For the fact of the matter is, the Liturgy of the Hours, in its 8,000+ page glory, simply isn’t for everyone; even most Catholics have no idea what it is, and faced with it would probably see it as intimidating rather than inspiring. Anglican and Lutheran variants on the daily office are not much more user-friendly. The church universal may have a grand and glorious tradition of daily prayer, but it really doesn’t impact the life of the folks in the pews much at all, except for the occasional liturgy geek (and yes, that’s me).

So books like Calvin Miller’s new Celtic Devotions keep coming along because, well, frankly, they represent “liturgy for the rest of us.” This slender volume of prayers and meditations is arranged in a thirty day cycle, with one reading and one prayer for each morning and evening. Each day has a basic theme, often steeped in Celtic sensibility, such as “the sanctity of all life,” “Lord of all nature,” or “dying with Christ.” Some of the writings are Miller’s own work, but much of the material presented here comes from original sources such as the Carmina Gadelica or the writings of one of my favorite Celtic scholars (and Miller’s own mentor), Seán Ó Duinn. Holding the entire thing together is Psalm 119 — the longest of the Psalms, an extended meditation on righteousness and a favorite among the Celtic saints (and monastics in general).

So what you get for your money is a gentle introduction both to Celtic spirituality and to a basic liturgical cycle. This book is as unassuming as the humongous Liturgy of the Hours is imposing, so it’s clearly the more welcoming way to begin a daily prayer discipline. And indeed, this is a book for beginners, and for what it does, I think it does it charmingly well. Of course, like anything geared to beginners, its strength is also its weakness: at a mere 122 pages, it doesn’t have a lot of content, and readers may find themselves quickly hungering for more. For those who want a meatier experience (or for us vegans, a tofu-ier experience) of Celtic-themed daily prayer, check out the Northumbria Community’s Celtic Daily Prayer — here is an actual breviary used by Christians today who are seeking to revive authentic (as opposed to romantic) models of Celtic Christian community. Indeed, I suspect anyone who uses Miller’s book will probably only go through it once or maybe twice, and then will want to graduate to something more substantive. But that’s really how it should be. Celtic Devotions is meant to be a threshold marker: in grand Celtic style, it offers hospitality to those who are crossing the door into the worlds of Celtic prayer — or daily liturgy — for the first time.

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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.

  • http://wildfaith.blogspot.com Darrell Grizzle

    “I don’t really like daily devotional books”

    an interesting confession from the author of a daily devotional book :o)

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    Old news, Darrell — I’ve already explored this little self-contradiction here.

    Samuel Johnson said “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.” The corollary to that is, when the money is right, even a blockhead like me can write a book of daily meditations (which is different from a book of daily devotions, but far be it from me to split hairs on so fine a matter).

  • http://wildfaith.blogspot.com Darrell Grizzle

    Glad you’re able to deconstruct yourself, my friend. (BTW, I really enjoyed 366 Celt.)

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    I think it’s one of my better books. Silly format notwithstanding.