We have been considering creation stories from the Bible, Hindu, Buddhist and Celtic sources, the latter embellished richly by the Catholic, Celtic monk Thomas Merton. 

Francis, lover of all creation. Detail of mural, Saint Francis of Assisi Church, Coyoacan, Federal District, Mexico. Photo by Enrique López-Tamayo Biosca , Wikimedia Commons.

Of course, the Celtic tradition nurtured the Rhineland mystics such as Hildegard of Bingen, Francis of Assisi (the Celts settled into northern Italy after all), Thomas Aquinas, Meister Eckhart and Julian of Norwich.

We find a parallel understanding of the “sacrament of nature” in African spiritual traditions.  African-American philosopher Dona Richards (Dr. Marimba Ani) lays out the African experience of Creation this way:

The African universe is conceived as a unified spiritual totality. We speak of the universe as ‘cosmos’ and we mean that all being within it is organically interrelated and interdependent…. The essence of the African cosmos is spiritual reality.*

The 2014 Los Angeles County Museum of Art
exhibition African Cosmos: Stellar Arts was the first major exhibition to explore African cultural astronomy and its intersection with traditional and contemporary African arts.

She astutely points out the differences between this ancient and holistic worldview and that of European philosophies when she writes that

both spiritual and material beings are necessary in order for there to be a meaningful reality. Enlightenment and the acquisition of wisdom and knowledge depend to a significant degree on being able to apprehend spirit in matter. This crucial difference in European and African thought helps to explain the specialness of African spirituality.

Of course, when she is speaking of dualistic European philosophers she is speaking of the dominant, patriarchal philosophical and theological tradition.  She is not speaking of the creation-centered tradition that took on the dualism of Plato, Augustine, and others.  Hildegard, Francis, Aquinas, Eckhart and Julian stood up to dualism and found the sacred and the ‘ground of being’ within creation itself.

African #Spirituality Explained by Zimbabwean culture expert Pathisa Nyathi. Video by EYEGAMBIA.

Clearly there are deep connections to be made between the Celtic and creation-centered spirituality of the West and the insight and wisdom of the African lineage.

In the African tradition, the universe is already sacred and its holy Creation continues to unfold.  Says Richards:

The spiritual is the foundation of all being because the universe is sacred. The universe was created (is continually ‘recreated’) by a divine act.

The fact that the universe is continually created and recreated, is intrinsic to today’s science and to all those traditions that do not stand on dualism. 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. intuited how racism and injustice stand on a foundation of dualism when he wrote this:

President Barack Obama introduces the first Martin Luther King Day of Service. Video by The Obama White House.

In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: ‘Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.’ And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other-worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

Notice how King lays the notion that the gospel is not concerned with social issues at the feet of a dualistic theology that separates body from soul and sacred from secular. To ignore the body is to ignore the body politic and the suffering in the body politic. King rightly points out that these dualisms are “un-Biblical.”

*Marimba Ani, Let the Circle Be Unbroken: The Implications of African Spirituality in The Diaspora  (Lawrenceville, NJ: Red Sea Press 1992), 5.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths, pp. 47-49.  And Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations, p. 326.

Banner Image: “Dancing” Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

What follows when religion preaches an “unbiblical distinction between body and soul, sacred and secular?”  The prophetic is stifled and killed, isn’t it?  Is nature a sacrament?

Recommended Reading

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.

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5 thoughts on “Celtic and African Creation Stories”

  1. Avatar

    Enjoying this look at different creation stories and their interpretations within multiple traditions. I’m hoping some hope will be payed to the Islamic strand of creation spirituality and it’s interpretation in that tradition (which happens to be my own)

    Peace and Blessings

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Olivia, Thank you for your comment. And I think it would be appreciated if you could comment on “the Islamic strand of creation spirituality,” here in our comment section!

  2. Avatar

    Oh my! Religion had it all wrong, didn’t it!! How different life would have been if only the church had not instilled in its children the fear of God; the fear of “not doing the ‘right’ thing;” the teaching that God saw everything that we did, and punished us with suffering all sorts of disasters if we dared disobey one single commandment. Talk about being “stifled and killed!!”

    YES! YES! YES! Nature is a sacrament because it is what GOD IS!! Thank you so much for your enlightening teachings,Matthew!

    I am thoroughly enjoying your Hildegard Course, by the way . . . and absolutely LOVE Hildegard’s music!! Can I get her music somewhere? Love and Namaste!

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Vivian, What you describe reminds me of the “Santa Claus-God”–remember this? “He sees you when your sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!” And YES! Nature is sacrament because it is what GOD IS! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and wisdom with us!

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