Wednesday 23 January 2008

Defending Celtic Christianity

Once again I found myself in a minority of one. In a course I was the one defender of Celtic Christianity. As in the Taste and See trial, we were introduced to the prayers of the highlanders as collected by Alexander Carmichael (called Carmina Gadelica). Everyone seemed to be against the turf based, romanticised spirituality. In the Taste and See Lent course trial one was sceptical about the collecting, and now we had scepticism about digging soil for the Three in One's sake - when it would be dug for the purposes of digging.

My response to this was that, with some superstition and felt need for protection, they were giving the task to the highest they know. It is like the Buddhist giving a task to the Dharma, the way. It is also, I thought, a fusing of the sacred and the profane, that nothing is done just for the task, and that the sacred is in everything. We have a rationalistic do it for the purpose of doing it purpose, but others may have had a basic holistic view of life and the sacred.

Then we got to Brother Lawrence and monastic The Practice of the Presence of God from the 1600s. God is with him in his tasks. Everyone was in favour of this, but I wanted to point out that it is the practice of the presence of God. It affects how you do things (and your whole outlook). It is not like you do the washing up and chuck the pots around and God is with you. You do the pots reverently and meaningfully with full awareness. So in the Venn diagram of these two approaches there is a huge overlap between the Celtic and this, and in the crescents I see it that in the Celtic approach God is in the job and the rhythm, whereas in the Brother Lawrence approach God is with him and affects the job.

Isn't it annoying? I said I have the book, and I did. I remember when I was given it, in the 1980s, thinking this isn't me. I kept it, as a gift, but I might have disposed of it. Yet I have an ethic about books which means I keep even those I hate, or those completely opposite to my viewpoints. I still have terrible rubbish by Maurice Wood and Graham Leonard. But can I find this? Then I discover material on the later English Presbyterians and more information about Lloyd Thomas (the Free Catholic) that I did not think I had, telling me, for example, that he fell out with W. E. Orchard. Oh!

People don't like the Celtic because they think of the pre-Christian Pagan. They also think of the post-Christian neo-Pagan. Romanticisation pops up in different places. It affects so much religion these days - and indeed will because of the difficulty of adding enchantment to ordinary life. If we have an unromanticised approach, then the secular and the sacred are united (in the Celtic) and you get to something like R. S. Thomas, described in the group as "Real Absence". So this time the stones, the place, the effort, has a twitch of God about if you are lucky to see it (you can do a lot of waiting). This is rather, then, where I am, either non-realist or a stark transcendence, if there is more to unite than just signals of transcendence (after Peter Berger). So my Celtic approval is rather, when it comes down to it, a mirror image version, or virtual, or a more postmodern, R. S. Thomas, rather like in simulacration, or the quantum world where in the process of time energy gets borrowed from what is not present and matter made, which is almost always annihilated. This is my God position.

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