The Celts started as a Central European Iron Age people, moving outwards to cover most of Europe, including the British Isles, by the third century BC. They were pushed westward by other cultures, particularly the Romans, and today Celtic culture is only found in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany.
Image from Wikipedia
Christianity was known to have come to the Celtic people
by the second century AD and grew as an important form of Christianity in the British Isles till the sixth century - particularly after the Romans withdrew from Britain around 400 AD. Although it was never a unified body in the way the Roman church had become on continental Europe, it had a distinctive style - focussing on grace, creation and mysticism.

In 597 AD Augustine led a Roman mission to Britain. The Roman form of Christianity was by this time much more hierarchical, male and uniform with a strong form of governance. There were various disagreements between the Celtic and Roman 'camps' until the Synod of Whitby in 664 when Roman Christianity won the day over a number of issues - in particular the calculation of the date of Easter. After this time Celtic Christianity began to slowly wane in the British Isles and the Roman practices came much more to the fore, with Benedictine monasteries gradually replacing the older Celtic communities.

In the following centuries, the Celtic Christians became more localised and restricted. They were further pushed aside at the time of the Reformation, when suspicions were raised about past pagan influences on the Celtic forms of worship.

However, in the twentieth century interest was again sparked and new research into Celtic forms of spirituality began to grow. Some of what is now publicised as 'Celtic' is rather romanticised, but a new understanding has grown of the richness and vitality of Celtic spirituality and the legacy that it can pass on to us.

Well, enough of history! Here is a lovely blessing with a Celtic flavour from the Iona Community:

May the blessing of light be on you,
light without and light within.
May the blessed sunlight shine upon you and warm your heart
till it glows like a great fire
and strangers may warm themselves
as well as friends.

And may the light
shine from your eyes,
like a candle set in the window of a home,
bidding the wanderer to come in
out of the storm.

From 'An Iona Prayer Book' by Peter Millar

Famous prayers - prayers of Jesus

Despite all our efforts, we often struggle in prayer. Not surprisingly, because we are frequently a mix of good motives and not-so-good desires. Well, I am anyway, and I cannot believe I am unique!

The followers of Jesus had the same problem. When asked by his disciples how to pray, he responded with what we now call the Lord's Prayer. This is the core of the Lord's Prayer, taken from the Bible:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.

It is good to say this prayer each day - perhaps at the beginning or end of the time you have set aside to be with God. Personally, I love the traditional version of this prayer and use that, but whichever translation you use, it is a wonderful reminder, in a nutshell, of all we should be praying.

We can also learn much by the gospels stories of how Jesus prayed when alone with his father. Here is one which echoes that early request in the Lord's prayer:

Matthew 26:39
He said, 'My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.'

How often do we simply pray for the things we believe we 'need'. Surely, it is for God to know our needs and for us simply to try to live in his ways? Isn't that how Jesus lived his life, right up to the final end? Do you agree?

Perhaps we sometimes expect prayer to be something we can just drop into, but it seems that even Jesus made significant efforts to establish his times of prayer.

Mark 1:35
And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed

How much more should we follow his example?
when did you last set half an hour aside to be in the presence of your God and to converse (and listen) to God?

If you haven't for a while, you might like to try being still with God and then recalling each of the phrases of the Lord's Prayer and mulling them over with God - taking as long as you like on each.

Ignatian spirituality talks about the importance of repetition when praying a Bible passage. Sometimes we get something completely different from the same bit of scripture when we approach it a second or third time.

Here is a passage from chapter 25 of Matthew's gospel:

“Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

You might like to approach this in three different ways on three different days!

First day

Use the method of lectio divina with the passage above. If you don't know how to do that try this summary.
Try not to analyse, but to mull over the passage, taking it into your heart. Take your time and repeat to yourself the part of the passage that speaks to you most directly.

Second day

Use the method of Ignatian imaginative contemplation: but for this you will need to read a little before and after the passage in order to get your bearings. The time is two days before the Passover when Jesus will be betrayed and killed. He has already spoken to his disciples about his coming death, but they have not fully grasped his words. These words were spoken on the Mount of Olives towards the end of a session when he taught his disciples - largely in parables. Use the following condensed passage:

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, “I am the Messiah!” and they will lead many astray....

‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory....

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Now allow yourself to imagine the scene unfolding and be in the story!
Afterwards, try making a few notes to remind yourself later.

Third day

Use your head! Yes, we have imaginations and we have bodies and emotions - but we also have an intellect and common sense.
On the third day, read the first, short passage above and this time ask yourself some searching questions:
  • Who is my neighbour?
  • What does God expect of me in my response to suffering and global inequalities?
  • What do I currently do to care for the hungry, the sick, the stranger, the grieving?

Suffering God, you let nothing stand in your way of redeeming us, even though the cost was so immense. May I, in some part, be a reflection of you in the world. Amen.

It is nearly thirty years since Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador, was martyred whist taking a communion service in a hospital chapel.

He had spoken out repeatedly about violations of human rights and social injustice in El Salvador and been deeply moved by the murder of other Catholic workers and clergy. As a result of his experiences he moved from a conservative Catholic position to an advocate of liberation theology - which emphasises social justice and political activism.

Although these words of his are often called a prayer, they are more of a reflection. Romero does not address God but he addresses us.

The Prayer of Oscar Romero

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
It is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
Of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about,
we plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
In realizing that. This enables us to do something,
And to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
But it is a beginning, a step along the way,
An opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
Between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

This cartoon is from Dave Walker's Cartoon Church site:

You can find more of Dave Walker' cartoons at:

I have written about Ignatian spirituality (that of the Jesuits) and of Benedictine spirituality - both of which are associated with monastic communities with a long tradition behind them. But the Christian expression of community can be demonstrated in other ways too. This is the first of a number of posts (not necessarily consecutive!) about Christian community in the twenty-first century.

I am starting with a modern monastic community which, whilst only being born in the 1940s, has much in common with the traditional religious communities. That is the community at Taize.

This is how the community describes itself on their website:

Today, the Taiz√© Community is made up of over a hundred brothers, Catholics and from various Protestant backgrounds, coming from around thirty nations. By its very existence, the community is a “parable of community” that wants its life to be a sign of reconciliation between divided Christians and between separated peoples.

The brothers of the community live solely by their work. They do not accept donations. In the same way, they do not accept personal inheritances for themselves; the community gives them to the very poor.

Taize has proved to be a magnet for Christian young people from all over the world. If you want to see evidence of that then watch part or all of this nine minute video.

Over 100,000 people visit Taize each year - not all of them young, by the way! Taize is known particularly for its style of chanted music which often involves a repeated, meditative singing of a particular phrase. You may have seen or attended a 'Taize' service in a local church, which follows the style of the community's worship.

You can purchase CDs and DVDs from the Taize website and YouTube has a number of short videos - of varying standard!

You might like to try to meditate with this one - either using the images of Christ in the video, or if you prefer, with your eyes closed or focussed on a candle.

Now give thanks to God in your own words.

I have not been to Taize myself - but I would love to hear comments from those who have.

Recently, I was given a small booklet by a friend of mine called, Grace in your Pocket, published by The Methodist Church. It contains a number of quotes about grace - mainly from eminent Methodists from the past and present.

Here is one from a present-day Methodist:

A heron swooping low over the water,
A pas de deux exquisitely performed,
The high jump executed to perfection -

What grace, we say.

It fills us with wonder.
We marvel at the gift
of beauty in motion.

And your grace, O God -
love freely given.

It fills us with wonder.
We marvel at the gift
of beauty in action.

David Walton,
Vice President of the Methodist Conference 2008/2009

Grace in your Pocket
can be downloaded from The Methodist Church website