I just got back from Iona, Scotland with a group of friends who have been meeting for the past year to prepare for what we have called a “Contemplative Adventure.” My friend is the founding director of The Celtic Way, an organization in Denver dedicated to Celtic Christian practices. Almost two years ago now I told him that going to the island of Iona—a hub for Celtic Christian spirituality—was on my bucket list and wondered if he wanted to work together on a trip. The answer was a resounding yes, and we have had so much fun reading and learning together as a group for over a year.
I have always been drawn to some of the basic tenets of Celtic Christianity–it’s value on God’s creation, hospitality, and sacred friendship–but it wasn’t until the past year of preparing for this trip that I more deeply understood why.
When we read The Re-Birthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings by John Philip Newell together, I kept thinking, “I wish this book had been out all those years ago when I first had my radical faith Unraveling.” It is not for everyone, but for those who know they can no longer espouse to the doctrines and practices embedded in evangelical Christianity and so often feel lost, a Celtic-infused spirituality can be very healing. It isn’t replacing one system with another, something that can be a tendency for a lot of faith-shifters (my friend Phyllis Mathis calls that a “spiritual bypass”).
My love for Celtic Christianity is not a spiritual bypass.
It’s a deep resonance with some of the principles in a way that my soul deeply needs.
It gives language to some of the core theological beliefs that I held in my heart and took a lot of crap about over the years. It is a stream of spirituality that I don’t have to sign a doctrinal statement for but can enjoy and embrace parts of in beautiful and simple ways that help my heart and practice become more alive.
Here are some of the reasons I love Celtic Christianity.
Core to Celtic Christianity is the beautiful theology that the divine image of God is embedded in humans as our starting place. I truly believe the teachings of total depravity have ruined many people; for me, it almost did but thankfully I had a few friends who offered insight into another stream that began to heal my shame-filled-Christian soul. As a mother, seeing a child first as a miserable wretch in need of Jesus feels so contrary to so much I now believe about God. I don’t doubt our sinfulness as humans and our propensity to do ourselves and others harm but I don’t think that’s our starting place. I believe our work as the body of Christ is to uncover what’s underneath the rubble in each other, to fan into flame the good, the holy, the beautiful, the dignity that so often got lost in life, family brokenness, human reality. As a former evangelical, this is heresy to many, but to me it’s a beautiful heresy we are in good company with over many centuries before us.
Nature is God’s revelation. Most faith shifters I know talk about experiencing God in nature but that their former faith experience didn’t value it fully. Often people have felt guilty for not experiencing God through scripture reading, singing, or other forms of traditional worship but feel their souls stirred in all kinds of wonderful ways when they’re outside. Many have left “church’ to find God outside. The focus on God’s creation in Celtic Christianity as a core tenet is so healing and freeing. Plus, goodness gracious, we shouldn’t have to choose!
Sacred Friendship is highly valued and practiced. Anam Cara, soul friends, are embedded into Celtic spirituality, and this makes my soul sing. The “me and Jesus” movement of particular steams of evangelicalism fosters an unhealthy independent experience. Often, part of our healing is learning the art of soul friendship, journeying with fellow pilgrims and people who connect with the deepest parts of our experience. Relying on people is not discounting our reliance on God; instead, it magnifies it.
Equality is assumed. In the best forms of Celtic Christianity, women are valued equally with men, teaching, leading, and pastoring alongside one another. It’s true, though, that patriarchy is so embedded into most of our systems that even the best-laid intentions don’t always translate to practice. However, the value and theology of egalitarianism is high and there are many examples of strong female leaders in the Celtic Christian stream. Iona Community, an intentional community on the island of Iona definitely doesn’t have true equality in their roots but are working passionately to foster it in their practices.
Interdependence is natural. I love that in Celtic Christianity everything is inter-connected. All of creation is connected to all of people, systems, and nature, and there’s no separation or dualism that cuts us off from each other. In the words of Richard Rohr, “everything belongs.” All the imagery in Celtic art reflects this–vines, the trinity, knots, weavings—and it’s a message that the world, so built on independence and codependence, desperately needs right now.
There are many far more eloquent than I on the history and ins and outs of Celtic Christianity, but I know this—my soul resonates deeply with these core principles.
Am I all-in on it as the new greatest thing ever? Nope. That all-in train has left the station long ago.
However, as a Rebuilder and stumbling and bumbling follower of Jesus, I love when parts of the body help illuminate and heal my faith.
That’s why I love Celtic Christianity.