Having meditated with Thomas Merton the last three days, it seems appropriate to consider Celtic consciousness and the Ground of being.
Why? Because Merton was explicit about his Celtic roots:
It is the Welsh in me that counts: that is what does the strange things, and writes the books, and drives me into the woods. Thank God for the Welsh in me and for all those Birds, those Celts.
(Bird was the family name of Merton’s Welsh grandmother.)
Celtic spirituality is a spirituality of Creation, an awareness of our presence in the sacred grace of Creation. St. Patrick is said to have introduced goodness or blessings as the key element in Celtic spiritual consciousness. As Thomas Cahill put it in his classic book, How the Irish Saved Civilization,
The difference between Patrick’s magic and the magic of the Druids is that in Patrick’s world all beings and events come from the hand of a good God, who loves human beings and wishes them success…. All nature, indeed the whole of the created universe, conspires to mankind’s good, teaching, succoring, and saving.*
In a poem attributed to Patrick called “The Deer Cry,” or “Breastplate,” he repeats twice the key phrase, The Creator of Creation. This poem, probably birthed in the seventh or eighth century, offers “the first ringing assertion that the universe itself is the Great Sacrament.”
The natural world is no longer a place of dread. It is revelatory, speaking to us heart to heart.
This sense of the world as holy, as the Book of God—as a healing mystery fraught with divine messages—could never have risen out of Greco-Roman civilization, threaded with the profound pessimism of the ancients and their Platonic suspicion of the body as unholy.
The Celtic spirit resisted the fear-ridden sexual preoccupations of Jerome, Augustine and the dominant Western church, for in its view “all the world was holy, and so was all the body.” Its attitude is one of trust and expectations.
I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of the sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.
Celtic theologian John Scotus Erigena, writing in the ninth century, says:
God is both above everything and in everything, since he, who alone truly is, is the Essence of everything and although he is whole in everything, he does not cease being whole outside of everything: whole in the world, whole around the world, whole in sensible creation; whole he makes the universe, whole he is made in the universe, whole in the whole of the universe; whole in its parts.
Erigena was the first philosopher to use the term universitas which played a big role in medieval thinking and in the invention of the university in the twelfth century. The term universitas included God and Creation. It bespeaks cosmology. The university was a place you went to in order to find your place in the universe.
*Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization (NY: Doubleday Anchor, 1995), pp. 131. Other citations are from pp. 116, 133, 135, 117.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, A Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey, pp. 251f.
Also Matthew Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths, pp.45f.
Banner Image: “Celtic Cross.” Photo by Jonathan Brennan on Flickr.
Do you see the universe as “the Great Sacrament”? What follows from that? Do you see the university as a place you go to find your place in the universe? Why or why not?
A Way to God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey
In A Way to God, Fox explores Merton’s pioneering work in interfaith, his essential teachings on mixing contemplation and action, and how the vision of Meister Eckhart profoundly influenced Merton in what Fox calls his Creation Spirituality journey.
“This wise and marvelous book will profoundly inspire all those who love Merton and want to know him more deeply.” — Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism
Passion for Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart
Matthew Fox’s comprehensive translation of Meister Eckhart’s sermons is a meeting of true prophets across centuries, resulting in a spirituality for the new millennium. The holiness of creation, the divine life in each person and the divine power of our creativity, our call to do justice and practice compassion–these are among Eckhart’s themes, brilliantly interpreted and explained for today’s reader.
“The most important book on mysticism in 500 years.” — Madonna Kolbenschlag, author of Kissing Sleeping Beauty Goodbye.
One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths
Matthew Fox calls on all the world traditions for their wisdom and their inspiration in a work that is far more than a list of theological position papers but a new way to pray—to meditate in a global spiritual context on the wisdom all our traditions share. Fox chooses 18 themes that are foundational to any spirituality and demonstrates how all the world spiritual traditions offer wisdom about each.“Reading One River, Many Wells is like entering the rich silence of a masterfully directed retreat. As you read this text, you reflect, you pray, you embrace Divinity. Truly no words can fully express my respect and awe for this magnificent contribution to contemporary spirituality.” –Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit
Join Matthew Fox for a thought-provoking 7-week course: Answer the Call for an Uncommon Life Through the Mystical Teachings of St. Hildegard, Tuesdays, 6/15 to 7/27. While the course has begun, registration remains open, with recordings of past classes available. Learn more HERE.
Join Rabbi Rami Shapiro and Rev. Matthew Fox for a 1.5-day Virtual Teach-in on “Cosmic Wisdom and the Divine Feminine: Lost Insights for an Emerging World.” Friday, June 25, 4:00 PM to Saturday, June 26, 2:30 PM Pacific (GMT/UTC-7). Enroll HERE.