Jan 29, 2010

Under the Greenwood

©Cindy Thomson

While the snow flies, I can dream about spring. I'm inspired by this ancient Celtic writer:

A hedge of trees surrounds me,
A blackbird's lay sings to me;
Above my lined booklet
The trilling birds chant to me,
In a grey mantle from the top of bushes
The cuckoo sings;
Verily--may the Lord shield me!--
Well do I write under the greenwood.

This and more can be found in my book, Celtic Wisdom.

Jan 27, 2010

More About Bells

Used with permission. See post
In a previous post I talked about the bell that residents heard at Rostrevor for centuries but couldn't see. You can read that post here. Here is a picture of that actual bell. The reason it can be dated is because of the type of bell it is. Note the little hammer. That's how the bell was rung. After it was discovered in 1888 it was used in the church.

A woman named Brigid, whom I "met" through her blog Under the Oak, is the owner of this picture. She says: "It is only in the last few years that the bell has been put into this display case, it used to sit on the altar and was used as the bell rung at Mass during the consecration. Indeed, the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese whose family used to live in Rostrevor, tells a story about her son almost deafening everyone with an over-enthusiastic striking of it when he was an altar-boy. It really does have a fantastic sound."

From PW Joyce's A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland: The most ancient Irish bells were quadrangular in shape, with rounded corners, and made of iron: facts which we know both from the ecclesiastical literature, and from the specimens that are still preserved.

We also know that these did not have clappers. They were bronze or iron and were struck with a hammer. How these bells were used is a matter of legend. St. Patrick is said to have had many bells, and even employed a few blacksmiths to travel with him. One story is about the saint's defeat of Caoranach, a pre-Christian monster. The battle took place on a mountain and when Patrick threw his bell at the beast it was knocked all the way to Lough Derg.

The bells could have been used during the ancient masses to fend off evil spirits. They might have been used to sound warnings when dangers approached.

Bells certainly have been used since ancient times.
St. Patrick's Bell at the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin. The bell is dated between the 5th and 8th century. Read about it here.

Jan 25, 2010

Liz Babbs - Meditation on Psalm 139

Celtic Meditation

Liz Babbs has some wonderful meditations. You can try some of them out on You Tube and then buy her books!

Truly, this one is so relaxing. It helped center me before my morning work. The ancient Celtic Christians turned to the Psalms daily. They memorized them. I can see why.

Jan 22, 2010

The Celtic Knot and Spiral

The Celtic knot and the Celtic spiral are a marvels. These intricate designs have no beginning and no end are rich in symbolism--at least in what people assign to them. The ancient symbols did not come with an interpretation of what the creators were intending. Isn't that what makes them so intriguing?

The symbol above is the most ancient, and while it's considered a Celtic symbol, it actually predates the Celts. It is found at Newgrange, a Megalithic Passage tomb in Ireland.

The Celts loved explaining things in threes, so they were naturally drawn to this symbol. It could stand for air, water, and land; or body, mind, and spirit; or man, woman, and child--you get the idea. For Christians it represents the Holy Trinity. My church uses this symbol:I will certainly blog about symbols again. Please share your thoughts!

Jan 20, 2010

The Celtic View of Darkness

©Cindy Thomson
For the Celts this time of the year (winter) was simply the dark half of the year. There is something about darkness that people don't like--maybe because it's hard to see. Christians, in particular, refer to darkness as everything bad or evil. But really, isn't darkness part of God's plan?

God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. Genesis 1:5
Without night, when would we rest? While people do sleep during the daytime, it's not the optimum time for rest. When darkness falls, when we can't see into the night, we settle into a routine that involves sleeping. Winter is like that too. It's a time for nature to sleep and prepare for spring.

All that aside, consider not seeing for a moment. Sometimes I listen to music with my eyes shut. Without the distraction of all the things I can, I am able to concentrate on the music better. Seeing with the heart can be one of the most difficult things to accomplish, but also one of the most rewarding. The Celtic Christians asked God to give them his eyes for seeing, an ability to view others and the world around the way God views them. And for that, you do not need physical eyes.

"I can see, and that is why I can be happy, in what you call the dark, but which to me is golden. I can see a God-made world, not a manmade world." - Helen Keller

Jan 18, 2010

Song of Amergin

©Cindy Thomson
The Book of Leinster is a medieval manuscript that contains Ireland's oldest mythology, tales, legends, and poetry, opening a window to the ancient world. Amergin, a poet and warrior of Ulster Cycle, leaves us these words:

I am a wind on the sea
I am a wave of the ocean
I am the roar of the sea,
I am a powerful ox,
I am a hawk on a cliff,
I am a dewdrop in the sunshine,
I am a boar for valor,
I am a salmon in pools,
I am a lake in a plain,
I am the strength of art,
I am a spear with spoils that wages battle,
I am a man that shapes fire for a head.
Who clears the stone-place of the mountain?
What the place in which the setting of the sun lies?
Who has sought peace without fear seven times?
Who names the waterfalls?
©Cindy Thomson

Who brings his cattle from the house of Tethra?
©Cindy Thomson
What person, what god
Forms weapons in a fort?
In a fort that nourishes satirists,
Chants a petition, divides the Ogam letters,
Separates a fleet, has sung praises?
A wise satirist.

Jan 15, 2010

Happy St. Ita's Day

Site of St. Ita's grave, Kerry, Ireland
photo via creative commons by O'Riordan Images
With the exception of St. Brigid, St. Ita is the most popular female Irish saint. Born about 480 AD, she was the mother figure for many of the saints who were so influential during Ireland's Golden Age of Christianity. One of those was St. Brendan. I mentioned him in a post earlier this week.

One of my favorite stories about Ita and Brendan concerns what he asked her when he was a little boy. With a mind on spiritual matters, he asked: what are the things that most please God and what are the things that most displease him? Her response: the three things (the Irish like things explained in threes!) that most please God are true faith in God, simple living, and a generous heart. The three things that most displease God are hatred, resentment, and the worship of material possessions.

Wise advice, certainly. Today is her feast day because it is recognized as the date of her death. You can learn more about her here.

Jan 13, 2010

Celtic Treasure

It was a pleasure to receive Liz Babbs's newest book, Celtic Treasure, Unearthing the Riches of Celtic Spirituality. Since Liz's book and my Celtic Wisdom, Treasures From Ireland were released together by the same the publisher, Lion sent me an influencer copy. But I would have purchased it. It's right up my alley.

Liz writes reflections, both hers and those of the ancient people who lived in the Celtic lands like St. Patrick, St. Brigid, St. Cuthbert, and St. David. It's an artistically produced book in full color. Even some of the words are designed to be a visual delight.

The tone of the book is calming and encouraging and will certainly urge readers who are not familiar with Celtic spirituality to seek to learn more.

Here is one of Liz's original poems from the book:
Lord, make me an island
set apart for you.
Where the rock of ages
rings out with praise.
Where the waters of your spirit
saturate my soul
And the fire of your presence
burns deep within.
This book makes a wonderful gift. I recommend it, but get a copy for yourself too. It's a wonderful devotional book as well.

I received this book from the publisher, Lion.

Jan 11, 2010

Christi Peregrini ~ Pilgrim for Christ

©Cindy Thomson
I usually like to talk about this topic on St. Brendan's Day (which is in May), but I've been thinking about it lately so I thought it would be a good topic to blog about.

Yesterday my pastor spoke about Missio Dei during his sermon. (All these Latin words!!) It's basically about seeking God, looking for what he's doing in the world, and following Him there, instead of asking him to bless what you want to do or what you're already doing.

The two concepts, Christi Peregrini and Missio Dei, may not be interchangeable, but they certainly are related, in my understanding. I'm not a theologian, so keep that in mind!

The ancient Celtic Christians, particularly the monks, sought out what is referred to as white martyrdom--or in Ireland, green martyrdom. White martyrdom is dedicating your life and will to God without losing it for His sake, which is red martyrdom. The desert fathers, whom the Celtic monks modeled, used to wander to the desert to deny themselves and put themselves totally in God's hands. In Ireland, there is no desert (white) but there is plenty of green! They would embark on this journey in the loneliest of places (like Skellig Michael) or simply launch themselves off into the ocean in hide-covered boats, going wherever God would take them.

What's fascinating to me is that often what God had in mind was not isolation. Others would find hermits and want to be taught, and great monastery schools were born. That was fine with the monks. After all, they had agreed to go WHEREVER God led them.

Some, like Brendan the Navigator, went on wondrous journeys just to finish right where they started. The point was not the destination or outcome. The point was the journey itself.

So, after hearing about the theological concept of Missio Dei, I began to think about my own journey. Like my pastor said, we often say we'll follow where God leads, but we want to know where we are going. Again, the significance does not lie in the destination but in the journey. As a wise person, whose name I have forgotten, once said, "God seldom reveals blueprints for our lives."

Journeys can be really exciting (I'll talk more about St. Brendan's journey in May) so we should not ignore what it is we are supposed to be learning, enjoying, and cherishing along life's journey.

Jan 8, 2010

Friday's Blessing

I had so many things I wanted to write about today, but the day's getting away and I'm working on my novel. So I thought I'd just talk a wee bit about Irish blessings.

Many cultures have blessings, and surely the Bible is filled with them, but who else but the Irish are known for them? Do you have a favorite? What is it about them that draws us to them.

Like the warmth of the sun
And the light of the day,
May the luck of the Irish
shine bright on your way.

May your pockets be heavy-
Your heart be light
And may good luck pursue you
Each morning and night.

Someone made a beautiful video with a beautiful Irish blessing, and I wanted to share that with you.

Jan 6, 2010

Review of Celtic Wisdom

What could be better than a review by someone with an Irish name like O'Connor? If you're not familiar with Karen's books, you should check them out. She has a wonderful sense of humor.

Read Karen O'Connor's review of Celtic Wisdom here.

Jan 5, 2010

What's Your Cup of Tea?

photo via creative commons by Simon James
It's a hot tea kind of day here in Central Ohio. I love tea, always have. My favorite? Can you guess??? Well, truly I like all kinds except that really fruity stuff, but lately I'm drinking a lot of Trader Joe's Irish Breakfast Tea.

So, just what is Irish Breakfast Tea? According to Wikipedia it's a blend of several teas, mostly Assam teas. So...what is that? Thankfully, we have the Internet these days, so we can figure most anything out. It's a malty flavored tea from the Assam region of India. I drink it straight, but apparently, according to Wikipedia some people drink it with milk because of its bold taste. Eww. No milk (or even soymilk--I don't drink milk) for me. Coffee, yes; Tea, no way! That's my opinion anyway.

It's been said that Ireland is the largest tea drinking country per capita in the world. I've read many places that tea was first imported to Ireland in the 19th century. While that may be true, I don't think it's true that the Irish didn't drink tea before that. They brewed roots and herbs, but thank goodness for imported Indian tea!

What about you? What kind of tea do you like?