Previously I have written about how, in ancient times, Celtic monks observed three “Lents” — which is to say, three forty-day periods of fasting, prayer, and sacrifice, in preparation for three sacred moments in the year:
- The actual season of Lent (forty days prior to Easter)
- A summertime “Lent” (forty days prior to the Feast of the Transfiguration)
- A forty-day period of Advent (prior to Christmas).
I love the spirit of the three Lents, because, all told, it means that about 1/3 of the year (120 days) are devoted to times of particular prayer, reflection, discipline and generosity. Especially if we approach Lent not as a morbid period of excessive austerity, but rather as a joyful time of letting-go and immersing ourselves into Divine Love, then the idea of three “Lents” becomes especially appealing.
Unfortunately, none of the mainstream churches or faith communities observe the three Lents — as I bemoaned in my previous post, very few Christians nowadays even bother with the one Lent! So if you are interested in embracing the Celtic spirituality of the three Lents, you may be doing it on your own.
However, there is now a trilogy of devotional books written specifically to help folks like you and me to embrace the spirituality of the three Lents. I heartily encourage you to explore these titles and see if they might be a blessing for your faith journey. They come from the hand of David Cole, who is the newly appointed Deputy Guardian of the Community of Aidan and Hilda, a dispersed new monastic community anchored in the Celtic tradition. Disclaimer: David is also a good friend of mine.
The first book of his Celtic trilogy is 40 Days with the Celtic Saints. While this devotional guide could be profitably used at any time during the year, it is especially appropriate for the season leading up the Feast of the Transfiguration (June 27 – August 5). Each day Cole introduces us to a different saint of the Celtic world, from the well-known (Brigid, Columba, Patrick) to many lesser-renowned gems (Æbbe, Boisil, Melangell). He’s done a good job at including saints from throughout the Celtic lands, with figures from Cornwall, Northumbia, Wales and Brittany featured alongside the more internationally-recognized Irish saints.
Each daily meditation begins with a brief biography of the featured saint, followed by a meditation prompt, a scripture passage (suitable for lectio divina) and a blessing, of course. It makes for a rich devotional guidebook that can be the centerpiece for your daily spiritual practice over this forty-day period.To supplement the first book, the author has now produced Celtic Advent and Celtic Lent. As the titles indicate, each book is geared toward the preparation period leading up to Christmas and Easter, respectively.
Whereas most churches that mark Advent follow a standard season consisting of four Sundays (approximately 22-28 days in length), Celtic Advent invites the reader to join with the ancient Celts in marking a full forty days prior to Christmas — thus beginning on November 15. It makes for a much more meaningful season of preparation — and, perhaps, a more helpful antidote to the commercialization of the pre-Christmas season.
The forty-day period is divided into sections: five days of orientation toward the advent season, followed by ten days devoted to each of the three advents of Christ — the first advent at Bethlehem, the second advent into the heart of each believer, and the final advent at the end of history. The final five days focus specifically on the joy of Christmas.
Following a format similar to the Celtic Saints devotional, each day includes a meditative reading, a prompt for contemplation, a scripture passage, and a prayer suitable for the day.
Completing the trilogy is Cole’s newly released book, Celtic Lent. It’s due to be released next week, so I haven’t seen it yet, but I trust it will follow a similar format, only this time leading us into the wisdom of preparation for the paschal mystery and the joy of Easter. The publisher has this to say about the book:
This inspirational book takes the reader through the 40 days of Lent to the celebration of Easter through the eyes and beliefs of Celtic Christianity. Drawing on primary sources of pastoral letters, monastic rules and the theological teaching of the Celtic church, the author presents a different perspective on the cross of Christ and draws us to see our own life journeys with a new and transforming vision.
These three books, taken together, offer a rich invitation to the reader: to allow the saints, wisdom, and unique viewpoint of the Celtic tradition to encircle your daily walk with Christ, throughout the rhythm of the year. it’s a tradition imbued with joy, optimism, zeal, and wonder. And David Cole is a fine guide to making this mysteries truly present in our daily lives.