Jul 12, 2010

Celts and Nature

Celtic scholar Oliver Davies, writing in his book, Celtic Christianity in Early Medieval Wales, explains the Celtic reverence for nature this way:

“Far from worshipping stones and rivers…the early Celts…were acknowledging the life force as it is manifested in these and other phenomena.”

Stand at the bank of a rushing mountain stream and watch and listen. Is there not life there? Does it not flow with an intensity and tenacity for survival that echoes that of humans? This acknowledgement of the life force of nature was present in the Celts long before Christianity arrived. Christianity defined the Source of this life force.

As Alister MacGrath, a world-renowned theologian, writes in his book, An Introduction to Christianity,

“Theologically, Celtic Christianity also stressed the importance of the world of nature as a means of knowing God.”

He uses St. Patrick’s breastplate as an example.

The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lighting free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

The importance of nature in one’s spiritual life is one of the things that we can learn to appreciate through the ancient Celtic example. As Davies says, “…nature appears as a theme to an unusual degree, and enjoys its own autonomy, rather than purely serving the human ends of atmosphere and mood as an imitation of the classical mise-en-scĂ©ne.” I believe Davies is referring to the modern tendency to see nature as only what is before our eyes and what exists to meet our physical needs. The Celtic view was quite different. Nature is a creation of God, and as such, God exists there. Even more, it is the revelation of God, the proof that he exists and continues to create with each new child born, each new spring flower, each dawning of a new day. The Celts believed that without God’s touch, without the presence of his essence, there would be no life. There is much to be learned from creation—much that is, to be learned about God from it.

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