It can not be denied that social and governmental shifts in the world around us affect the Body of Christ. This has occurred in the Christian faith since its beginnings. It was the government of Palestine that convicted Jesus of blasphemy. It was the Roman Government who sentenced Jesus to death. The societal shift after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in AD 70 caused the church as we understand it today to leave the synagogues and form their own independent bodies in houses. And the Government of Nero who persecuted Christians and it was the Government of Constantine which made Christianity the faith of an Empire.
This was no different in the highlands of Scotland in the 1700’s. In the time of heritable jurisdictions, where those who administered justice inherited that duty by birth and not by ability, justice was a concept that the average Scot saw as something that simply didn’t exist.
Who Will Give Justice?
Surviving Celtic proverbs written down by Alexander Carmichael in the Carmina Gadelica, show us how the average Celtic Christian in Scotland viewed the justice system. “A witling may give judgement, but who will give justice” and “Like the justice of a fox, crooked, cunning, corrupt”. Its clear by these sayings that the Christians in Scotland did not believe the justice system to be just. They viewed it as counter to the church and not working in the interest of the people. The absence of even-handed justice caused the Celtic Christians in Scotland to do what they had always done, appeal to the higher court of God in contemplative prayer.
An Invocation for Justice
The Celtic believers in the Isles believed God was found in everything. The stream, the rock, the deer and the person all had God in them. They also believed God was to be found in chores, in resting, in rising and even in institutions. Because of this understanding, The Celts had prayers for almost all of the actions they did. From chores, like making the bed, mealtime prayers, invocations for battle and yes, even justice. The person involved in the lawsuit would go at dawn the day of the court hearing to a place where three streams met. As the sun would crest the mountains the litigant would place their hands in the water and filled them with the water from where the three streams met. The litigant would dip their face into this water, while repeating the following prayer:
An Invocation for Justice (from the Carmina Gadelica)
I will wash my face
In the nine rays of the sun,
As Mary washed her son
In rich fermented milk,
Love be in my countenance
Benevolence in my mind,
Dew of honey on my tongue,
My breath as the incense,
Black is yonder town
Black as those therein,
I am the White Swan
Queen above them,
I will travel in the name of God,
In likeness of deer, in likeness of horse
In likeness of serpent, in likeness of king.
Stronger will it be with me than with all persons
Alliteration is Key in Celtic Writing
Although the language is a bit dated it clearly shows us the Celtic concept of Christ in everything. It also shows us how important symbolism was and still is, to the Celtic believer. The three rivers joining represented the Holy Trinity. The water across the face representing Gods covering on the plight of the litigant. The rays of the sun are representative of divine grace. The deer is symbolic of wariness, the horse for strength, the serpent for wisdom and the king for dignity. The Celtic believer knew these were only arriving from God so that the person could be an instrument of God in a broken system of justice.
Applications in the Modern World
It is no stretch to state that the judicial system in the United States is flawed. Judges are far better educated and suited for the roles now than the appointees in 1700’s Scotland, justice in some cases is still not served. As citizens of this country and especially as citizens of the Kingdom of God we must speak out when justice is not served. We must travel the road to justice in the name of God, for God is justice.
The people of God must walk in the divine Grace of God, letting love be our guiding principle as we strive toward true justice in our time, for all people.
We should be like the deer, wary of a judicial system that gives the death penalty to poor people but 25 to life for the same crime to wealthy people. We must be strong like the horse, never giving in to the pressure of a system that in some cases survives off the labor of the poor and weak in for profit prisons. Since it is the poor and weak that Jesus commands us to care for. We must have the strength to lose friends and popularity. We must be as the serpent, picking and choosing the battles and where to fight the faulty justice system. Peace does not mean passivity; we must be willing to get a bloody nose sometimes.
But we also must know when to stay silent and observe, giving the system enough rope to hang itself. And as a king, we must have dignity in victory and defeat. Fixing a system that has its roots in a 1600’s monarchy is no easy task, and battles will be lost. We must have the dignity to face those defeats and carry on the fight without losing the core of who we are.
Prayer Must Become Action
We must pray with conviction, but that prayer must then become action. Thoughts and prayers do not stop innocent men from being killed on death row, and it wont in the future. Get involved by writing politicians or protesting when necessary. If we pray and then act on that prayer, our actions will be stronger, having the strength to live out the Gospel in defense of the broken.