A Celtic Lent

The Cross and the Rose go back hundreds of years and the meaning of the two coming together as one is very well documented. The Cross represents earthly pain, grief and suffering while the Rose symbolizes hope, comfort and salvation. The two together speak directly of mans journey toward God.

(The Rev. Roger Hull is Parish Associate at Windsor Presbyterian Church.)




 Today is the first Sunday in Lent, the period of forty days beginning Ash Wednesday and ending on the Saturday before Easter (excepting Sundays).  The word is a derivative of the Anglo-Saxon word lencten meaning Spring, or lengthening of days.


 In the Jan-Feb 2002 issue of Presbyterians Today, our denominational magazine which some of you may receive, there is a wonderful article by Brad Kent (a former student of Howard Rice!) entitled: "Beneath the Celtic Cross of Jesus."  I wonder how many of you may have seen it?  (This sermon is based on my edited version of this article with direct quotes.  If you have it, read it first).  As Kent writes: "A brief meandering into Celtic Christianity begins beneath its most recognizable symbol, the ancient stone crosses that mark Scottish and Irish country sides...  These crosses unite the two touchstones of Celtic spirituality:  creation and salvation.  The circle represents God the creator.  The cross, of course, is Christ's cross, the symbol of our salvation."


 Two summers ago, my wife, Judy and I, had the privilege of visiting the Isle of Iona off the Western Coast of Scotland.  Some of you may also have been there.  Sir George MacLeod, a Glasgow inner city Pastor, and the founder of the Iona Community, was influential in reviving an interest in Celtic Christianity.  He saw no separation between the sacred and the secular and worked out a "spirituality of engagement" with the world, rather than disengagement, combining the mystical, political and economic.  His vision in 1938 of rebuilding the ancient Abby of Iona, where Christianity was first bought to the unruly Scots, was to give employment to the unemployed laborers of his parish. Kent, in his article, offers several characteristics of this engaged, Celtic spirituality, and then offers a series of suggested spiritual practices for enriching our Lenten Season.  Let me share them with you.


The Earth is Alive with the Glory of God

 1.  All Creation is alive with the presence of God.  "Perhaps the most distinctive feature of Celtic Christianity is its affinity with nature. (Iona is an absolutely stunning island, where the line between God and the world is what MacLeod called 'tissue thin'.)  The Celts enthusiastically affirmed the psalmist's declaration, 'The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims (God's) handiwork' (Psalm 19:1).  The Celts believed that all creation is alive with God's presence.  Because God's Spirit dwells in all living things, everything is inherently good...  Every moment, every location could therefore become a time and place for encountering God.


 For a Celtic Lent:  "Celebrate the wonder of creation.  Plant a flower and watch it grow.  Take time each day to sense the changes taking place, even those changes you cannot see.  Do what is necessary to nurture its growth.  Marvel at the wonder of Creation and give thanks to God for the gift of life.


The Armour of God

 2.  God's good creation has been corrupted by evil.  "The Celts were not naive about the perniciousness of sin.  Evil was an invading army that had to be driven out.  Protection was needed.  St. Paul tells us to "put on the whole armor of God" (Ephesians 6:11), so through prayer Celts 'bound' to themselves spiritual breastplates, called Loricas, to reassure them of divine protection.  With the right arm outstretched they would turn sunward making a full circle as they recited St. Patrick's famous cairn or prayer:


         'Christ be with me, Christ within me

         Christ behind me, Christ before me,

         Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

         Christ to comfort and restore me,

         Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

         Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,

         Christ in hearts of all that love me,

         Christ in mouth of friend and stranger'.


 For a Celtic Lent:  "Be aware of the evil that corrupts creation around you.  As you face each day this week, recite Patrick's cairn, or write one of your own.  Know that you are sheltered by divine love and grace. As you face any challenge or crisis, remind yourself that Christ is with you and within you, and that nothing can separate you from God's love.


The Image of God

 3.  Salvation is the restoration of goodness.  "For the Celts salvation was the restoration of original goodness.  What had been covered needed to be uncovered.  What had been lost needed to be found.  This finding and uncovering was the work of Jesus, who came to banish evil and restore creation's goodness.  God's Spirit was fully present in Jesus, and the gracefulness of his life, makes our restoration possible.  As Jesus healed the sick and forgave sinners, he restored the divine image in us.  Once again we can all live as God's sons and daughters.  Knowing that they were God's sons and daughters and were given the grace to live that way, the Celts understood their goal was to become more and more like Jesus in their own life and work.


 For a Celtic Lent:  "Think of yourself as being created in the image of God.  How does it feel to know that you too are God's beloved child, that God's spirit is within you?  What is covering up that image, choking that Spirit in your life.  What needs to happen to uncover, to revive it, in you this Lent?



All Life in Intertwined


 4.  "All life is intertwined.  "The most prevalent of all Celtic symbols is the Celtic knot.  Found on their crosses, jewelry, and manuscripts, the knot symbolizes how all things in heaven and earth are intricately intertwined and inseparable.  The relationship of the members of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is the prime illustration of interconnection.  Life in this world is intertwined with life in the world beyond this one.  The communion of the saints was a vibrant reality for the Celts, who believed that those who died remained present to them.  Only a thin, permeable membrane separates those living on earth and those living in heaven.  This was especially true of the risen Christ, whom the Celts believed is not only at God's right hand but also at ours.  Even though God can be encountered anywhere, there are also certain 'thin places' like Iona, (or Sonoma County), where this happens most easily.


 For a Celtic Lent:  "Is there a 'thin place' in your life where God is particularly present to you?  Visit or plan to visit a special spot in your home or work that can be this for you.  Go their daily to experience intimacy with God.


Encounter with God


 5.  "God is encountered in the ordinary.  "Like the ancient Hebrews, the Celts were earthy people who led simple lives.  Believing God was involved in all ordinary events of their lives, they prayed constantly asking God to bless whatever they were doing.  They had no hesitation in asking God to bless them with successful crops, good food and drink, safe homes and warm fires, and even good sex.  These prayers often asked for a particular grace for the one praying as evidenced in this prayer accompanying the kindling of the hearth in the morning:  'Kindle in my heart within a fire of love for my neighbor.  May the light of love shine out to my foe, my friend and my kindred.'


 For a Celtic Lent:  "Surround the routine things of your life with a prayer.  As much as possible follow Paul's advice to 'pray constantly,' lifting each thing you do and each person you meet to God for blessing. Bless your children as they leave for school, your colleagues as they work, other commuters on the road.  Say a blessing each day for one of the common, everyday things in your life, and ask that as you are blessed, you may in turn be a blessing" to all you come in contact with this Lent, as the days lengthen into Easter.




     "Almighty God, your Son fasted forty days in the wilderness, and was tempted as we are but did not sin. Give us grace to direct our lives in obedience to your Spirit, that as you know our weakness, we may know your power to save; through Jesus Christ our Redeemer, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen." (Prayer of the Day, First Sunday in Lent. Book of Common Worship for the Presbyterian Church, USA).



 To the main Site Map


St. Chrysostum Fasting


Celtic Lent

Jesus Fastins


Celtic Prayer