As John returns from his sabbatical I will be embarking on mine. Many are curious to know how I will be spending my time so I thought I would share something of this here.
With family roots in South West Ireland, Celtic spirituality has always fascinated me, particularly the transition period when Christianity first came to Britain, and Ireland in particular. Generally it was a peaceful transition as two seemingly different ideologies melded together. There were many similarities though that aided this peaceful transition. For example, the theme of light was hugely important for the celts, the solstices and equinoxes lay at the heart of pre christian quarterly celebrations as the sun was the 'great being' to whom they owed their lives. These ancient festivals then became dates which the church came to set as its major festivals. Christ's birth, for example, was set on the third day after the winter solstice, just as the light begins to appear after the darkness of the winter.
The Celts also loved triads – their wisdom sayings that came in threes, and the number 3 was generally thought to be sacred. So the idea of the triune God made complete sense when they first learnt of this. Also they believed that the divine was immanent in all creation, admittedly this would have been in the form of different gods but Christ superseded the old gods to become the divine presence in all. Hospitality too was a key feature of both cultures and in particular care of the stranger.
Sadly much of pre-Christian lore and mythology have been lost to the mists of time as these were traditionally passed on down the generations orally, but the incoming Christian monks sought to preserve them in writing as much as they could (though undoubtedly with a Christian bias) and without this there would be very little knowledge of these subjects today.
For my sabbatical I am less interested in what was preserved but rather in what was lost and in particular the intimate knowledge and care and sense of kinship that the early celts had for the earth; they knew their survival depended on it! But the church was keen to suppress their love of the earth – which was celebrated in songs, stories, poems and rituals – for fear of backsliding into earth worshipbut here I wonder if the baby wasn't thrown out with the bath water!
So my sabbatical asks how we can rekindle that sense of kinship through a Christian perspective. What prayers, liturgy, stories, poetry and songs might we use that help us to care with our hearts, as well as our heads and our activism in these darkest of times for our earth.
I am not sure yet what the output of this work will be but I am mindful of the words of Jeremiah 6:16 "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.
Michelle and I have enjoyed walking with you these last three months as we have deputised for John. Thank you for all your support.
Revd Jayne Webb