Tag Archives: Celtic spirituality

The Church you inherit

A tapestry containing the history of St Albans Cathedral, Hertfordshire, UK

A tapestry containing the history of St Albans Cathedral, Hertfordshire, UK

A lot of people I’ve met inherit their church from their parents, well those whose parents attend church.  They go to Sunday School and seem to give their life to God when they are quite young.  Even though they may have a period when they drift they drift back to church and probably attend a church similar to the one they grew up in.

For me it wasn’t like this (and I apologise if I’m about the repeat something I’ve said in the past).  As a young child I didn’t go to church or Sunday School. However, at school we began each morning with an assembly with prayers and hymns and we ended each day with a prayer.  This was not a church school but in those days all school functioned this way in the UK – the period I’m talking about is the 1960’s and 1970’s.  We had religious education in primary school but all I remember from those days is being confused between who Jesus was and who God was.  For me they were separate people and it was Jesus who mattered. I also remember the pictures we had of Jesus on the wall – white, serene, nice looking but I had no feeling either way about him.

In secondary school religious education was more about people like Martin Luther King and I actually enjoyed learning in RE classes, though our unruly class made if difficult to learn anything as the poor teacher could not keep control.

When I was probably somewhere in my pre-teens my parents suddenly decided to attend church.  Pre-teens, the rebellious period!  We went to several churches as my mother began looking for a church she felt at home in.  I didn’t really feel at home in any and went to great lengths to let her know this!  Some of this  was pure defiance and I purposely switched off in services and longed for it to end so I could go.  I remember we once attended the United Reform Church (then called the Congregational Church) but my mother considered it too low church. I preferred it because we did lots of singing and the liturgy was minimal!  But for some time we went to an Anglican church and this was where boredom set in big time.  Eventually she chose a church – Anglican and very high.  I was then older and stopped going to church altogether except for the Nine Lessons and Carols at Christmas which I loved and still do.

I should pause here and say that when growing up and again this would have been pre-teens, I remember my brother and I had a Christmas story book with the lessons and carols in it and each year we would read it all out.  I even remember playing at being a vicar, which seems a strange occupation for a child! Anyway, you can see that some things are handed down and remembered and stick with you in life.  My mother in fact had a very strong faith and my father had been a choir boy.

As an adult my mother ‘feared for my soul’ because I wasn’t confirmed.  I think she despaired of me.  She’d always try to get me to services on Sunday mornings saying I’d like the sermon because the vicar spoke about nature and things I’d like!  Actually the sermons were usually the best part, she wasn’t wrong on that. But I wasn’t interested so my Sunday mornings were washing up the breakfast things while everyone else went to church.

I always said I’d never marry in church and be hypocritical – ah famous last words!  Of course I married in church and in my mother’s church.  In the end I knew it was right.  My husband and I even attended some Evensong services after we married but it all tailed off but after the birth of our first child we began going again because we wanted him baptised.  It was also during this time that I was really lonely and was recovering from post natal depression.  My mother suggested I attend a pram service at church. For once I listened to her I did go and from that time on I became a regular at my church and gradually joined in with things and to my mother’s great delight I was confirmed! I had found God for myself.

My church in those days was more vibrant – there were lots of groups you could join, outings and Bible Study.  My kids went to Sunday School until my eldest was about eleven and then he stopped so the younger one stopped too (because Daddy doesn’t go so why should I!) Ah! things coming back to haunt me!  I felt very alone for a while without my kids but there was still a lot going for church and I was involved in various things at there.

But over the years things have changed.  The older ones in the congregations are unable to do what they used to, many have died and there aren’t any people willing to take things on.  We have got set in our ways and are stuck in the past. Virtually all the groups have faded out.  There is nothing for children apart from Sunday School and hasn’t been really since I’ve been going and there are no Bible study groups. Technology has passed us by.  I used to feel great when I left church – I don’t anymore.  I don’t know whether it’s due to the way my church seems to be crumbling or whether it is my faith.  I can’t seem to separate them from one another.

Most of my friends go to my church.  That’s where a lot of my social life has been. Leaving seems unthinkable which is why I have this huge dilemma. Writing about it helps me to see the background to my faith even if I can’t yet see a way forward.  I still run a group which has nearly 30 members, which when I think about it is huge considering we are almost the last group to survive, but only ever a maximum of five members ever come to meetings, though I can call on others for help when I am planning the lunches at our church fairs.  I have two more years of leadership in that group and then I must stand down. I fear for that group as I don’t think at the moment there is anyone able or willing to take it on.

Over the last couple of years I have had moments of energy in my faith/church and moments of despair with faith and church.  I even considered whether to just bow out and forget God but I can’t.  The idea of abandoning it all is a dark tunnel I don’t want to enter.  I can’t imagine giving it all up.  Even when I’m fed up with everything I find myself visiting churches when I’m up in London or away on holiday.  I am drawn to learning and studying about religion and other faiths and I read many books about both.  I’m still drawn to the Celtic way of life which if I look at my past should be no surprise as nature and being good to the earth and all in it – humans, animals and everything else – has always been very strong in me since I was a child.

But what I actually believe has become confused.  At the very least my instinct to help others, my strong feelings for the earth are still there.  If I take everything else away those feelings remain.

I would be interested to hear from others on what I have said. Meanwhile, having seen what other churches offer I may have to split my time between churches. I still think of my church as home but it is not enough.  It was once but now as I read what I have just written I feel my church has just lost it’s direction and though I like our vicar and his sermons are brilliant I don’t think he is the one who will lead us out of the hole I think we are in.  I know I am not the only one who has doubts about our church  but I’m not sure anyone has the strength to change things.

God Hunting – Fasting (1)

My first week of fast I felt was a cop-out really.  Because I love reading so much, just sticking to non-fiction isn’t that much of hardship and even though I have finished the week I still haven’t got time to read fiction as I still have the book I’m currently reading to finish.  I have renewed it at the library and have around 200 pages left to go, but it’s a large hardback and can’t be read at the speed I read fiction!  I am missing fiction and am looking forward to the day I can get into a story again.

Last week I was pondering on what to have as my other three fasts.  The first one I have chosen is music – or rather not to listen to any music for a week.  I am not counting singing at church (which I feel IS allowed) and my choir practice tomorrow which I have to be at because we have a signing engagement in a hospital the following week.

Already I am missing music.  It is such a part of my life and this morning when I did a huge batch of ironing I really missed having the radio on.  I found myself singing in my head!  I have this old Beach Boys number from Pet Sounds going around inside (I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times).  I tried to stop but I do it without even noticing!  This will be a tough one!

My second fast will be internet related.  This will mean  no blogging, no Facebook, no YouTube and only opening and sending essential emails (to do with my church).  I may have to use some internet if I’m asked to look things up for homework for the courses I’m taking but I will avoid anything else.  It will be extremely tempting to open other emails!

I haven’t made a decision on my final fast yet.  Anyway, unless I can get to blog on Monday next week you will have to wait another week to hear from me.  I’m sure you are all gutted!

I have sorted out a book for Lent.  I ordered (and it came today) a book  entitled Transformed by the presence of Jesus by Liz Babbs published by CWR’s Cover to Cover series.  You can also order it from Liz’ own website.  There is an accompanying CD which I have also bought to enrich the experience.  Liz writes Celtic poetry and I have heard her speak so when I knew she was writing a Lent book my choice for this year was made up.

 

God Hunting – following in the footsteps of Jo Swinney

It’s a new year, the time to start new things  or to develop old ones, so this January I am going God Hunting!  This is the title of Jo Swinney’s little 128 page diary of spiritual discovery to get to know God.  From the beginning I feel at home with her.  She talks about busyness and how we can fit in things we really want to do but someone never find the time to be with God.  There is always an excuse.  How true!!

The aim of this book is to look at one spiritual discipline a month – prayer, fasting, Bible, worship, solitude and simplicity and then write about it honestly.  Jo invites the reader to walk along side her, to read and follow afterwards (hoping to avoid the pitfalls she encountered), adopt the plan and tailor-make for yourself, do it alone or with another/others or simply read it and give it away and not change a thing, which she says would be a shame.  I agree.

So, I am trying to walk along side Jo as she sets off on her spiritual journey and enters the thorny subject of prayer.  Jo admits to praying ‘on the go’ – a lady much like myself!  However, Jo does pray at other times – with friends, with her little girl etc.  I have to admit that my prayer life has taken a complete nose dive in the last year, boosted up a little in Advent but failing again.

Week One and Jo is concentrating on praying simply, beholding the Lord (entering the presence of God by faith and keeping focused) and at the end of the day asking two questions  ‘For what moment today am I most grateful’ and ‘for what moment today am I least grateful.’

Late yesterday afternoon I gave prayer a go, along with ‘beholding the Lord’.  I found if difficult.  I lit a two candles and sat trying to relax.  For a split second I did feel something, then it was gone and my mind wandered all over the place.  I put on a CD of Celtic music as music does relax me.  Immediately I felt calmer and the sounds took me back to a retreat I attended eighteen months ago but I still couldn’t focus.  I blamed the time of day (I usually have my quiet time first thing in the morning) and hoped for better.  I did manage a quick prayer but I couldn’t stop my wind wandering.  It’s like when you try to sleep and your mind is flooded with all sorts of things – things that have happened during the day, things to do the next day, worries and silly stuff that has no right being there!  In the end I became frustrated, told myself ‘at least I have tried and practice makes perfect!’ and gave up.

I had hoped for better this morning but no.  I am finding even the basics a struggle right now.  I haven’t read Jo’s description of her first week yet, whether she experienced anything similar.  I will report back on this at the end of my first week and compare notes!

(Examen – the two questions at the end of the day – were more successful and quite useful!)

Advent Books

There are many books around to help one reflect on the Advent season and this year I have treated myself to two little ones.  The first is Sacred Space which comes from The Irish Jesuits who use a distinct prayer method. Each day is split into six simple steps with reflections through readings, prayer starters and a weekly theme.  There is also a short Advent Retreat section at the back which can be done each week at a time when there is a chance for a deeper reflection.  I find this a very helpful little book as it has breathed some life into my prayer time (which has been very lax lately). The pointers have lead me into new ways of thinking about situations in life.

The second book is entitled Do Nothing, Christmas is Coming (An Advent Calendar with a difference) written by Stephen Cotterell.  His style of writing is very down to earth.  It’s short and snappy as well as amusing at times.  There’s a short passage for the day followed by ‘Stop’ – a bullet pointed thoughts and action programme.   At the end there is a one line quote from a well known person.  Stephen describes Advent as a defragmenting similar to what one does with a computer to speed things up by putting like files with like – a way to untangle all that Christmas stress!  It is certainly a new way of looking at things and making life a lot more simple at this time of year if you dare to choose.

Here is one of my favourite singers with a wonderful rendition of a great Advent carol – very haunting.

Celtic creativity

Have been reading about creativity in Restoring the Woven Cord (Michael Mitton). The Celts loved expressing themselves through poetry, music and art – take the Lindisfarne Gospels, for instance. Caedmon  spent his life writing poetry and songs from events from the Bible, encouraged by Hilda in the community at Whitby.

Spurred on by my creative side I put together this little offering below:

Creator

You are the earth from which I am formed

You are the rain that urges my growth

You are the wind, my living and breathing

You are the sun, the life-giving force

You are the sea, the swell of emotion

You are the snow that purifies my soul

You are the day, the hours of my doing

You are the night who brings rest in my sleep

You are the light, the joy that shines through me

You are the dark, the watchman at night

You are the word, the music, the colour

You are creation, the breath of us all.

©2012

The difference an author can make!

Some books work for me and others don’t.  I am reading two books at present but only one is holding me.  The first is about meditating on the Bible but I cannot get into it and I think it’s to do with the way the author writes.  The author is a well known and well loved writer so I don’t want to mention a name as I know others get a lot from his books, however, this is the second one of his I have read and I end up silently arguing with him because everything seems black or white and no in between.  It’s too evangelical perhaps.  I am still reading the book but will be pleased to finish it!  I have read other books on meditating on the Bible which have I enjoyed more, so I have to deduce that I just don’t get on with that author!

The other book I will mention because I love it!  Restoring the Woven Cord is by Michael Mitton and he uses different Celtic Saints to look at different aspects of faith and how we can use these today in our own churches.  The book brings home how we have drifted away from the simplicity of working out our faith in our communities.  There are some challenging things about our priorities, questions to ask ourselves or church, a Bible reading and a prayer.

Chapters cover prayer, spiritual battle, ministry of women, wild goose, community, creation, evangelism, prophecy, authenticity, Bible, children, creativity, death and the dead, healing and miracles.

It seems I always come back to Celtic Christianity!  I feel at home with their ethos and this book is a reminder to reassess my priorities.  I find God easiest in nature so I love the prayers which use  symbols of the sea, the earth and the sky to describe God’s love etc.  I recommend this book whole heartedly.  If you would like a copy it’s published by the Bible Readng Fellowship and costs £8.99 .

Doubts about faith

What do you do when doubts creep in about faith?  Before I went away on retreat I was struggling.  I run a women’s group and wondered how I’d manage in the last session because I didn’t feel anything.  Sometimes you go through the  motions but it doesn’t touch you.  One of the things we looked at was how do you love your enemies, those difficult people you would rather avoid, those who have hurt you or someone you love?  It isn’t an easy one to answer but the next morning in my Bible study notes there was passage that really struck me. We let God do it for us until we are able!  I clung on to that, those words rang true and my doubts felt a little less heavy.

We all have ‘dry’ periods and I have had them before. Sometime these last a short time but others go on until you think you will never recover.  I always have before so I hang on in there.  Part of my problem (I think) is that I am a logical thinker and that often gets in the way of my heart.  I analyse everything, take it apart, question it and then it doesn’t always go back together the same.

The retreat certainly helped slow me down and I am only now gearing up to life.  I have been practising the prayer rhythms as much as possible (not easy when you are out to do midday prayers) and I am now half way through the book The Pilgrim Way.   I use a Celtic music CD during the prayers and that is very helpful and pulls me in even when words don’t, though the Celtic style of worship feels more me.

The guided meditation on the Saturday was more helpful than some introductory sessions I had done before.  Our retreat leader went through different types and all the while there was music and I wonder if that made a difference but also the methods.  I especially responded to the visualisation technique and the Bible verses and other sayings which were said over the top of the music.  I could not believe that we had been meditating for forty minutes.  Normally I struggle with ten minutes! 

I’m looking forward to the seminar on Personality & Spirituality on Wednesday and maybe even more will fall into place!

Retreat mode

I’m still in retreat mode after my visit to Green Pastures at the weekend.  There is so much to say that I’m going to just post a little at a time. For now I’ll say that I have much to read, learn and practice because the Celtic way of life really appeals to me and I feel the affects of the weekend still sinking in!

There was ten of us and our retreat leader is an Explorer Guide from The Community of Aidan & Hilda  On the Friday there was a welcome and introductions with a brief guide as to what would happen over the weekend. We were given a programme and two tables of books were available to borrow or buy  on all aspects of Celts and Celtic spirituality.  After dinner we had our first session called ‘What is Celtic Spirituality?’ with a history of its roots in the British Isles and how the Roman church changed things and how we have moved away from those roots and the desire for many to find them again.  After the session we had night prayer in the Celtic style – lots of referral to nature.

The Saturday morning after breakfast and prayers in the chapel we began a look at four of the Celtic Saints.  We began with Aidan and Cuthbert and after midday prayers and lunch we had four hours of personal reflection in silence with a led meditation in the chapel near to the end then after dinner we looked at Hilda followed by night prayer. 

Sunday morning after breakfast and morning prayers we looked at Brigid and then we moved into the art room/conservatory to write, draw or paint something which would be used in midday prayers which this time took place in the art room.  After lunch we had a final session to reflect on the weekend, had departing prayers and blessing before we all made our way home.

This is just the timetable we had.  There was time between sessions for chat to other retreaters, coffee breaks with biscuits and cake and we all sat together at mealtimes.  Celtic music wafted through the lounge before and after sessions and before and after prayer times in the chapel.  The atmosphere was lovely – one of calm, of slowing down, for some a time of sleep!

I have bought two books.  One is Prayer Rhythms for Busy People by Ray Simpson which I am trying to use daily and the other is A Pilgrim Way – New Celtic Monasticism for everyday people also by Ray Simpson which tells how and why The Community of Aiden and Hilda was set up.  It is fascinating.

It is strange coming back into the ‘real world’ after a retreat and I’m not sure I’m quite back mentally!  I’ll post more about the weekend soon.