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...]

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...]

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...]

Thin Places: Are they Celtic, pre-Celtic, or Universal?

I first heard of the notion of Thin Places the first time I visited Glendalough, the ancient monastery nestled in a glacial valley south of Dublin. We were there on a crisp October day, the forest filled with hardwoods dancing with autumn colors. Even as I stood in the carpark after first arriving, I could sense something special about the place; and when our tourguide told us about “thin places,” my eyes danced with the gleam of recognition.“Glendalough is a thin place,” he said. “What i … [Read more...]

The Three Streams of Celtic Spirituality (and Three Lessons We Learn from it)

Friends, I am in the process of writing a book about Celtic spirituality. This will be the first book on Celtic wisdom that I have written since becoming a Catholic in 2005. Over the next few weeks I hope to post excerpts from the manuscript to this blog, both to share with you what's on my mind these days but also to garner any comments or feedback you'd like to share. Please remember that this is "unvarnished" writing — the book itself will be carefully edited and revised, so the text that you … [Read more...]

How the Deserts of Egypt Inspired the Saints of Ireland

In the Celtic lands, you’ll find places with names like Dysart or Dysert. There’s Dysart in Scotland, a suburb of Kirkcaldy, where a Celtic holy man named St. Serf once lived. Or there’s Dysert O’Dea in Co. Clare, Ireland, the site of a monastery said to have bene founded by St. Tola in the eighth century.Others can be found, sprinkled across the land, often with some sort of connection to a saint or monastery of old.These places are named for the Gaelic word díseart, which means “hermita … [Read more...]