May 31, 2010

Never Forget to Remember

An Irish proverb for Memorial Day:

Always remember to forget
The troubles that passed away.
But never forget to remember
The blessings that come each day.
Those who fight for our freedom are blessings. Those who have sacrificed their lives, those who sacrificed their time with their loved ones, have blessed us all. Remember them in your prayers today and everyday.

My dad, Lloyd G. Peters, Jr. and my son Kyle at the WWII National Memorial in Washington, DC. Each of the 400 stars represents 100 American lives lost in the war.
My dad during WWII. He served 20 years, most of them in the US Army.

My parents with my sons Jeff and Kyle. Jeff served in the US Army and will soon be discharged.

My son Kyle receiving congratulations on his AIT graduation recently. He is serving with the Ohio National Guard.

I have another son, Dan. I am just as proud of him. He is studying to be a nurse and will be serving people in a different way. Where would we be without caring nurses?

My dad is still living and often when he and my mom go to restaurants and he is wearing his "veteran" baseball cap, someone treats him to a meal or a dessert.

But not everything the soldiers go through (including those I'm related to) is pleasant. They chose to remember the good--what and for whom they are fighting for and those who love them back home. I salute them all!

May 28, 2010

Just a Reminder

The prayer below is from the Carmina Gadelica, a 19th century collection of prayers and poems gathered by Alexander Carmichael. The collected verses are probably of ancient origin. No one wrote them down before Carmichael, although some are similar to other poems that do appear in ancient manuscripts.

How wonderful that someone went to the effort to collect these gems before they were lost to modern memory.

GOD with me lying down,
God with me rising up,
God with me in each ray of light,
Nor I a ray of joy without Him,
Nor one ray without Him.
photo via creative commons by Sean Ericson
Christ with me sleeping,
Christ with me waking,
Christ with me watching,
Every day and night,
Each day and night.
God with me protecting,
The Lord with me directing,
The Spirit with me strengthening,
For ever and for evermore,
Ever and evermore, Amen.
Chief of chiefs, Amen.
©Cindy Thomson

May 27, 2010

What's on my shelf

I couldn't possibly list everything, but here are a few books I'm using right now as I work on my novel-in-progress.

A Social History of Ancient Ireland by P.W. Joyce (two volumes)
Early Medieval Ireland, 400-1200 by Daibhi O Croinin
Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition by David E. Allen & Gabrielle Hatfield
Native Trees & Forests of Ireland by David Hickie
Celtic Women, Women in Celtic Society and Literature by Peter Berresford Ellis

That's just a drop in the bucket. I'll share more later. I'm awaiting a book I recently ordered too called The Encyclopedia of Irish Spirituality. I looked at it in the library and found a copy on Amazon for $2.

If you have any resources on ancient Ireland, please share them!

May 24, 2010

Shape Shifting in Celtic Mythology

photo via creative commons by Jon
I've been studying the concept of shape shifting (research for a novel I'm working on) and it occurs to me that turning into something or shape shifting has symbolic significance. Many of the Celtic tales have underlying meaning.

Changing shapes in these stories was something that was done to someone (a curse) or done intentionally to oneself for safety or conquest (a spell). I suppose there are other ways to interpret them as well.

One of the most popular ancient tales is The Children of Lir. It's the familiar tale of a wicked stepmother. From
Long ago there lived a king called Lir. He lived with his wife and four children: Fionnuala, Aodh, Fiachra and Conn. They lived in a castle in the middle of a forest. When Lir's wife died they were all very sad. After a few years Lir got married again. He married a jealous wife called Aoife.
Aoife thought that Lir loved his children more than he loved her. Aoife hated the children. Soon she thought of a plan to get rid of the children.
What she did was turn them into swans for 900 years. When the time ended, the spell was broken by a Christian (perhaps St. Patrick) ringing a bell. Of course they were 900 years old, so when they became human again, they died and went to heaven to live with their parents.
That's the story in a nutshell. I the Children of Lir represent the Irish before Christianity came to the island? They were under a type of spell, or disillusionment, until a Christian came and showed the Way. The old Irish legends were preserved by monks in monasteries and thus were given Christian emphasis.
OR, the story represents 900 years of British occupation, as some suggest. Of course, the story is ancient, so this would be reinterpreting or repurposing the legend. But I'm not Irish, so I would not presume to attach a metaphorical meaning to this legend.
All this just to say that there are more hidden meanings to the Irish legends than meets the eye. It's something to ponder.
Next time, let's talk about St. Patrick's shape shifting...
*Image: Children of Lir statue in the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin. The statue is in rememberance of Ireland's struggle for freedom.

May 19, 2010

The Life of the Early Celtic Christians

©Cindy Thomson
It is important to look to the past with clear eyes not clouded with the romantic outlook so prevalent in modern society’s love affair with all things Celtic.

The early Celtic Christians had a harsh life, even those who did not choose it as the Skellig monks had. The world they lived in was wrought with wild animals, dangerous bogs that could swallow a traveler with one misstep, warfare and raids that could prove to be economically devastating if not deadly.

When these people spoke and wrote about hope and joy in their spiritual world, I listen. They do not exaggerate. They did not have time for idealistic nonsense. They faced hardships I might never know in my life, and they embraced a relationship with God that was not dependent on the institutional church, a concept that at first look might seem extraordinary to us today.

Edmund Burke, an 18th century Irishman, once said, “People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors.”

What is remarkable about these early Celtic Christians, besides their devotion and self-sacrifice, is the way they lived out their faith, shared it with others, saw God in creation and in other people. Thomas Cahill, author of How the Irish Saved Civilization, and others like him, told the world that it was the Irish who spread their faith without bloodshed. They were so successful that that fact alone deems them worthy of study.

Like Burke said, we can learn how to move forward by first looking back. The lessons await, footsteps left by ancient Celts in manuscripts and in oral tales. How exactly did these people reach to the spiritual core of their own being in a way that so greatly affected others? That's a question I seek to answer, or at least explore, every time I write about them.

May 17, 2010

Defining Celtic Spirituality

photo via creative commons by Still Burning
It is good to define “spirituality” at this point. Spirituality is a term that in today’s world can mean anything from New Age philosophies to those things associated with the established church order.

But consider this meaning, found in The Oxford English Dictionary: “relating to or affecting the human spirit as opposed to material or physical things.” Spirituality is non-physical, that part of us that reaches and yearns for a greater power—a way to connect ourselves to all humanity. This is not a promise of self-fulfillment or self-exploration. To focus on one’s self would be out of balance with the Celtic way. There is a harmony that must not be upset. It is God within oneself, God in Creation, and God in others. These three things are the guideposts to the Celtic path.

For the Celts, both Christian and pagan, what was most important was how their experience of a greater spiritual power related to life around them. This was their heritage. Some have said that this enthusiasm for living a spiritual life in Christ was very near to what the first Christians, those Christ-followers who worshipped Jesus immediately after his death and resurrection, experienced. There is certainly no such thing as a pure religion because religion is the work of people. But many have chosen the Celtic way because it speaks to them like no other.

Author Esther De Waal sums up the need for exploring the Celtic way this way, “…life is seen in its wholeness—and it is something that most people in the West today have forgotten…the gift of the Celtic world is to renew that lost vision.”

The Brendan Voyage

photo via creative commons by Lavender Dreamer

Many people dismissed the whimsical tale of Brendan’s 6th century voyage into the then uncharted western sea. That is, until the possibility of such an excursion was proved in the 1970’s. Britain’s Tim Severin is an adventurer who once followed the route of Marco Polo on motorcycle. He tracked other explorers’ routes as well. Severin took great care reconstructing a leather boat much like Brendan, one of Ireland’s great traveling monks, would have used. He then followed the northern Atlantic stepping-stones route to Nova Scotia. Along the journey, which was not without perils, he observed Brendan’s sea monsters (curious and friendly whales), his island of sheep (Faroe Islands), and many other things that could be explained. Severin details his adventures in The Brendan Voyage, providing a convincing argument that perhaps not all of the old Irish legends are purely fiction.

May 16, 2010

Happy St. Brendan's Day


Today is St. Brendan's Day. I've blogged about this Irish monk so many times that I was unsure what to talk about in honor of this day. So I thought I'd turn to my book, Celtic Wisdom, and share what I wrote there.

St. Brendan of Clonfert
This founder of many monasteries was best known as Brendan the Navigator because of his illustrious journey to the west. He was in pursuit of Tir-na-n-Og, the Land of the Young, a fabled island spoken of since pre-Christian times. In the Middle Ages Brendan the Navigator's story was translated into many languages all over Europe....
One story is that on Easter his monks stepped out on to an island to light a fire while Brendan stayed in the boat to pray. Oddly, there was no grass on the island. As the fire smouldered and then burned, the island began to move and shake. It wasn't a rock in the ocean after all but the back of a whale, and the terrified monks leapt back into the boat. According to the legend, this happened every Easter for seven years. The whale willingly lent himself to the monks for the glory of God.

Well, everyone makes mistakes. Who could blame the man for mistaking the back of a whale for an island? :-/

Sometime ago I discovered (online) a monastic community (Anglican) in Maine dedicated to St. Brendan. They sell some prayer ropes that I've purchased. I've given away some of these to my newsletter readers. (I'm giving one away this month, and it hasn't been claimed yet. If you'd like to enter the contest, read the newsletter here.) You can read about this community, and their retreat center, here.

Sign up to receive my monthly newsletter here.

Happy St. Brendan's Day! Go seek your own life adventure! :)

May 14, 2010

Music of the Pipes

My ancestor who immigrated from Ireland to America was said to have been a reed maker. I don't know if I'll ever know what that meant. Did he make bagpipe reeds or did he make reeds for weaving? Either one is possible given his ancestry. In my as yet unpublished novel I went with the bagpipes theory. I think they are fascinating instruments.

Maybe it's bred in the bone,
but the sound of pipes
is a little bit of heaven to some of us.
~Nancy O'Keeefe

Last time I talked about being "Of Ireland." I think this video illustrates that, seeing as the pipes were played in California. Enjoy and let me know what you think.

May 12, 2010

From Ireland or Of Ireland?

I love connecting with readers, but as any author can tell you, we end up answering the same questions over and over. I don't mind, but it's puzzling to me why people want to know some of these things--like what's your typical writing day like?

A logical question to ask me, I suppose, is: "Are you from Ireland?" or "Are your ancestors from Ireland?" I obviously don't have an Irish brogue, but yes, my ancestors are from Ireland--some of them. Like most Americans, I have other nationalities in my blood. Some English, some Welsh, even a bit of Cherokee. But by and large on both sides of my tree, I'm Irish.

Here's my question: Does it matter? Do you have to have some Irish blood in your line somewhere to be able to tell the the Irish stories I tell? Or to appreciate them, learn from them, and just enjoy them? I don't think so. But I do think you have to be "of Ireland."

I am of Ireland, And the Holy Land of Ireland, And time runs on,’ cried she. “Come out of charity And dance with me in Ireland.’
~W. B. Yeats, from The Winding Stair and Other Poems | 1933
To borrow a line from Yeats, "I am of Ireland."
To me that means that the people and the legends
and the history speak to you.
It does not matter if you have one drop of Irish blood
running in your veins.
We are all brothers and sisters on this earth and the stories
of all men and all women
have the potential to speak to each one of us, if only we'll listen.
So never apologize for not being Irish
(as I've heard many people do on St. Patrick's Day.)
Just say, "I am of Ireland!"
©Cindy Thomson

May 10, 2010

My First YouTube Video

My husband took this of me at last Saturday's Ohioana Book Festival in Columbus, OH. It's our first attempt. Hopefully we'll get the hang of it and make better quality videos in the future.

I'm reading from Celtic Wisdom, the section on St. Columcille.

May 7, 2010

The Celtic Way

photo via creative commons by Lauren C
For the Celts, both Christian and pagan, what was most important was how their experience of a greater spiritual power related to life around them. This was their heritage. Some have said that this enthusiasm for living a spiritual life in Christ was very near to what the first Christians, those Christ-followers who worshipped Jesus immediately after his death and resurrection, experienced. There is certainly no such thing as a pure religion because religion is the work of people. But many have chosen the Celtic way because it speaks to them like no other.

Author Esther De Waal sums up the need for exploring the Celtic way this way, “…life is seen in its wholeness—and it is something that most people in the West today have forgotten…the gift of the Celtic world is to renew that lost vision.”

May 5, 2010

Skellig Michael

photo creative commons by chb1848

In ages past a monk sat on a lonely stone precipice with a view of the turbulent northern waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The mainland, though only a mere eight miles away, was at most times unreachable due to poor weather conditions, and so he is isolated. He pulls his cowl tight around his head against the beating wind. Puffins and seabirds are his only companions, although he does not live on the island alone. His brothers are below him eking out a few vegetables from the bits of soil they created by hauling mounds of seaweed up the rocky slope.

Physical labor awaits him later; it is now his task to pray. The monks do not speak or socialize. Companionship is not the reason they came to this place. They work and they pray. They subsist on whatever God provides. They sacrifice their bodies to the harsh conditions, living in stone beehive huts that keep nature’s fury at bay just enough so that they might survive.

This scene was repeated by many generations of Celtic monks who came to Skellig Michael, a rocky island off the western coast of Ireland, between the 6th and 12th centuries.
photo via creative commons by Thomas Dimson
Today their stone huts still survive, as do the six hundred rock steps leading up from the landing point. The monks who lived there cloistered themselves voluntarily as a green martyrdom, meaning they sacrificed everything to embark on a journey that would lead them closer to the God they knew, the Creator of heaven and earth. They followed the example of the monks in ancient Egypt and Syria who chose the desert for their ascetic lifestyle. Ireland had no desert, but truly no place was lonelier than Skellig Michael, a place where one must truly put himself in God’s care.

May 3, 2010

The Ancient Celtic Christians and the Apostle John

Larry Koester

To the left is the image of the page in the Book of Kells preceding John's gospel.

St. John's Gospel was an important influence on the early Celtic Christians. He was the disciple they most related to. The best explanation I've found is in J. Philip Newell's Listening for the Heartbeat of God. From page 97:
"John's way of seeing makes room for an open encounter with the Light of life wherever it is to be found. As the history of Celtic spirituality shows, it is a tradition that can stand free of the four walls of the Church, for the sanctuary of God is not separate from but contained within the whole of creation."

(Newell goes on to talk about the tradition of Peter, and how it is equally important. However the two traditions clashed at the Synod of Whitby in 664AD, and the Celtic beliefs and preferences were pushed to the fringes of civilization. It's an important discussion and should not be missed.)

I'm a newcomer to church history, so all this fascinates me. In Shirley Toulson's The Celtic Year, A Celebration of Celtic Christians, Saints, Sites, and Festivals, she writes on page 137:
"Nowadays we celebrate the feast of St. John the Evangelist on 27December, but until the late Middle Ages his festival was also kept on 6 May, and it seems fitting that we should remember the writer whose words were a glorification of the 'light that darkness could not overpower' during the months of the longest days...John's gospel, written at Ephesus toward the end of the first century, is deeply imbued with Jewish ritual and custom. This affinity would have appealed to the Celtic mind, for the nomadic Israelites, like the tribal Celts, realized God's presence in all creation and had prayers for every occasion..."
As I mentioned in my last post, it's the season of Beltaine, the light half of the year, and that's what got me thinking about John. Your thoughts???

May 1, 2010

Celtic Festival of Beltaine

©Cindy Thomson
Happy May Day! The Celtic calendar is divided by four major seasons. Beltaine is May 1 and was celebrated with large bonfires, welcoming the beginning of summer, the light half of the year. (The opposite is Samhain, Nov. 1, welcoming the dark half of the year.)

Welcoming summer sounds like a great idea right now! While the Celtic holidays were pre-Christian, they were still celebrated by the early Christians who gave them Christian meanings. To celebrate the seasons is to celebrate the God who created the light and the dark, the sun and the moon, and all of nature.

Have a great weekend!