A Brief Introduction to Celtic Christian Spirituality

Glendalough Bridge

Glendalough Bridge

Celtic Christianity was birthed in Ireland during the 5th Century when the gospel was brought to its wild tribal people by St. Patrick and other missionaries from Gaul, modern day France. What ensued was a revival. It took the island like wildfire resulting in mass conversions and the establishment of monastic communities as centers of worship, art and learning. In addition, a fresh, vibrant way of prayer and living out Christian faith developed that has much to offer modern day followers of Jesus.

Celtic Christian Spirituality is a life of the Spirit that is saturated in the Scriptures and built upon the traditions of Judaism, Benedictine monasticism and the lifestyle and writings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers of Egypt. Incorporated as well were values and practices of the Celtic people. These were folk who lived close to nature and whose lives were ruled by the elements, especially the sea. Even before they came to know the God of all Creation, the Celtic people recognized a sacredness in nature originating from an all powerful deity. As Christians, they viewed nature as a window into Godʼs character and beauty resulting in the composition of prayers praising the High King of Heaven.

“There is no plant in the ground
But it is full of His virtue,
There is no form in the strand
But it is full of His blessing.
Jesu! Meet it were to praise Him.
There is no life in the sea,
There is no creature in the river,
There is naught in the firmament
But proclaims His goodness.
Jesu! Meet it were to praise Him.
There is no bird on the wing,
There is no star in the sky,
There is nothing beneath the sun
But proclaims His goodness.
Jesu! Meet it were to praise Him (Every Earthly Blessing, p. 68).”

The Celts adopted the Jewish concept that life is a seamless whole where there is no division between secular and sacred. They regarded all aspects of life to be connected like the interweaving of threads on a loom. Furthermore, Celtic Spirituality endeavored to make each daily activity an act of worship. Prayers were commonly recited over mundane things to ʻhallowʼ them and offer them as gifts to God.

“I make the cross of Christ upon my breast,
over the tablet of my hard heart…

Bless to me, O God,
Each odor that goes to my nostrils;
Bless to me, O God,
Each taste that goes to my lips;
Each note that goes to my song,
Each ray that guides my way,
Each thing I pursue,
Each lure that tempts my will.
The zeal that seeks my living soul,
The Three that seek my heart,
The zeal that seeks my living soul,
The Three that seek my heart (Celtic Way of Prayer, p. 77).”

By reading the prayers of the Celtic Saints, I have been inspired to hallow the varied and seemingly unrelated parts of my days. Since I spend several hours a day composing on my computer, I have developed the habit of saying the scribe’s prayer before I begin to write.

“…O Lord, may it be your wisdom, not my folly, which passes through my arm and hand;
may your words take shape upon the page.
For when I am truly faithful to your dictation, my hand is firm and strong. Let me never write words that are callous or profane;
let your priceless jewels shine upon these pages (Celtic Prayers, p. 39).”

Finally, the prayers conveying the Celtic perception of nature as Godʼs handiwork and gift have increased my own awareness of the intricacy of a leaf, the delicacy of a flower and an awe of Him who made them.

“O God,
we thank Thee for this universe our great home;
for its vastness and its riches,
and for the manifold blessing of the life which teems upon it
and of which we are part.

We praise Thee for the arching sky and the blessed winds,
for the driving clouds and the constellations on high.
We praise Thee for the salt sea and the running water,
for the everlasting hills,
for the trees and for the grass under our feet.

We thank Thee for our senses
by which we can see the splendor of the morning,
and hear the jubilant song of the birds,
taste the autumn fruits,
rejoice in the feel of snow
and smell the breath of springtime.

Grant us, we pray Thee,
a heart wide open to all this joy and beauty,
and save our souls from being so steeped in care
or so darkened by passion
that we pass heedless and unseeing
when even the thorn bush by the wayside
is aflame with Thy glory.

O God, our creator who livest and reignest for ever and ever. (Walter Rauschenbusch, A Celtic Liturgy, p. 4)

De Waal, Esther. The Celtic Way of Prayer: The Recovery of the Religious Imagination. NY,

______________Every Earthly Blessing: Rediscovering the Celtic Tradition. NY, 1999.

Robson, Pat. A Celtic Liturgy. UK: HarperCollinsReligious, 200.

Van de Weyer, Robert. Celtic Prayers: A Book of Celtic Devotion, Daily Prayers, and Blessings.
UK: Hunt & Thorpe, 1997.
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