At the Edge of Waiting — A Celtic Approach to Contemplation

The Irish word for contemplation — or contemplative prayer — is rinnfheitheamh. Yes, that’s a mouthful! I only have enough Irish to be dangerous, and the pronunciation of Irish depends on which of several dialects you’re speaking, but to the best of my knowledge the pronunciation is something like RINN-eh-hev.So why such a big word, for such a simple concept? To answer that question, let’s take rinnfheitheamh apart.Rinn means a point or a tip, as in the sharp point of a sword. Fheitheamh … [Read more...]

The Heart of Celtic Spirituality is Hospitality

The heart of Celtic spirituality is hospitality. Indeed, from even before the coming of Christianity, the Celts recognized hospitality as a core value of their civilization.The reigns of mythic kings were judged on their hospitality (or lack thereof). Once, when Bres, a warrior of the Fomorian people — the “bad guys” of Celtic myth — became king of the Tuatha Dé Danann, he quickly became renowned for his parsimony. Bards complained that visitors to his house could count on leaving with no … [Read more...]

Saint Brigid (Part Two)

This is the second of a two-part series on Saint Brigid. Click here to read part one.As the abbess of Kildare, Brigid soon became renowned for her holiness and spiritual leadership. The stories told about her are both charming and illuminating. Perhaps my favorite story about Brigid involves the season of Lent, the 40-day period before Easter when Christians fast in preparation for their high holy days. The story goes that Brigid, and two other nuns from Kildare were traveling during the … [Read more...]

Saint Brigid (Part One)

Patrick may be the best known of the Celtic saints, but for many people, the heart of the Celtic tradition belongs to Brigid.Born in the middle of the fifth century, Brigid is according to legend the daughter of a pagan chief and his Christian slave. The story goes that Brigid’s mother worked in the dairy of her master’s household, and that she gave birth at dawn on the morning of February 1, precisely at the moment she was stepping over the threshold into the dairy.So Brigid is very … [Read more...]

Beyond the Green Beer: Getting to Know Saint Patrick

Patrick of Ireland may be a well-known saint, but that is thanks to the day that bears his name — March 17 — which for most people is more about green beer than anything else.But Patrick himself is shrouded in myth and legend — so much so that it’s virtually impossible to separate history from fable.Some of the most charming and memorable stories associated with the saint — such as his using the shamrock to explain the holy trinity to the pagan Irish, or commanding the snakes to leave Ire … [Read more...]

Celtic Monks Observed Three Lents Each Year — Perhaps We Should Too

When we think of Celtic spirituality in our day, we might think of nature mysticism, or of poetry and storytelling, or even of a holistic spirituality that embodies the best of both paganism and Christianity. But what we often forget is how important monasteries were to the ancient Celts.St. Brigid was the abbess of a great monastery. So was St. Kevin, and St. Brendan, and St. Columcille. The sites we think of as great Celtic Holy Sites: Kildare, Glendalough, Clonmacnoise, Skellig Michael, … [Read more...]

Holy Wells: “Icons” of Celtic Spirituality

In my last post I made several references to Holy Wells as thin places. From the Chalice Well in western England, to Tobernault in northwest Ireland, to countless wells throughout the Celtic lands dedicated to St. Brigid or other much loved saints — Holy Wells (water sources that serve as places of prayer and veneration) are icons of the Celtic spirit.There is no “standard” Holy Well — they come in many forms. Some are wells are in the traditional sense, complete with round walls surrounding … [Read more...]