Prelude Clouds by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words by Cliff Reed
Divinity is present everywhere.
Heaven and earth are filled with God.
But in some places at certain times
We feel a specialty of presence.
May this be such a place and such a time.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point. I will be lighting my chalice for worship at 11.00 am on Sunday morning) words by Celia Cartwright.
May the light in this chalice
symbolise the light of our faith.
The light we share,
the light of reason and enquiry,
the light of freedom to walk our own spiritual path,
the light of tolerant respect in which we work together.
In this spirit, we light our chalice
and bring ourselves together for worship.
Spirit of Life and Love,
Be with us as we gather for worship,
Each in our own place.
Help us to feel a sense of community,
Even though we are physically apart.
Help us to care for each other,
In this world in which Covid has not yet gone away,
Keeping in touch however we can,
And helping each other,
However we may.
May we remember that
caution is still needed,
that close contact is still unwise.
Help us to be grateful for the freedoms we have
and to respect the wishes of others.
May we hold in our hearts all those
Who are grieving, lost, alone,
Suffering in any way.
Reading from Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul by John Philip Newell
The Celtic spiritual tradition has long emphasised an awareness of the sacred essence of all things…. It is a way of seeing, a path of awareness, that can be traced through the centuries, forever unfolding, evolving, emerging again and again to serve a consciousness of the sacred at the heart of all life…. [It] cannot be reduced to a set of doctrines or beliefs; instead, at its core is the conviction that we essentially need to keep listening to what our soul already knows… that both the earth and every human being are sacred.
One of the most cherished images of Celtic legend [is] the memory of John the Beloved, who, in leaning against Jesus at the Last Supper, was said to have heard the heartbeat of God. He became an image of the practice of listening for the beat of the sacred, deep in ourselves and one another and deep in the body of the earth. This was the image that… [enabled] all of us to be more deeply aware of the sacred within every moment and every encounter. It was like a key for opening our consciousness to what the soul already knows, the sacredness of the earth and one another.
Simultaneously, I also came to realise more clearly that the consequences of not remembering the sacredness of the earth and the human soul are disastrous, both individually and collectively. This is what we are living in the midst of today, a planet struggling to breathe, religious fundamentalisms that are fuelling hatred and violence, and refugee families throughout the world being denied sanctuary. These and so many more are evidence of a tragic breaking apart of our interrelationship, the failure of not remembering the sacred in one another.
Alternative Lord’s Prayer
Spirit of Life and Love, here and everywhere,
May we be aware of your presence in our lives.
May our world be blessed.
May our daily needs be met,
And may our shortcomings be forgiven,
As we forgive those of others.
Give us the strength to resist wrong-doing,
The inspiration and guidance to do right,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
We are your hands in the world; help us to grow.
May we have compassion for all living beings,
And receive whatever life brings,
With courage and trust. Amen
Reading The Church of the Open Sky by Cliff Reed, from Spirit of Time and Place
This is a place where I worship
on a day I keep holy.
Carpeted and furnished in a myriad shades of living green,
the ceiling – infinitely blue.
Heat and light are free, pouring abundant life into fabric and worshippers alike.
The choir sings with many voices, many songs,
but all seem harmony to me:
the rhythmic chiffchaff, the whitethroat’s scratchy-sweetness,
the black cap’s brief pure melody, pheasant’s raucous counterpoint,
gentle purring of the turtle dove, ominous bass of crow,
explosive ecstasy of nightingale, the joyous mocking laughter of the yaffle.
All these and more raise their chorus to the open sky,
where a skylark hymns the Gloria
and a soaring sparrowhawk silently proclaims the Dies Irae.
Below, irreverent rabbits scamper,
bright beetles unwittingly fulfil their sacred purpose,
the Little Sisters of Industry toil unceasingly in selfless service of
their Goddess and their Queen.
Around me, waving grass bows as if in prayer
and butterflies dance their rites in vestments
more glorious than those of any priest.
Here, in this unbounded church I worship,
not alone but with all creation…
upon the farther shore.
Prayer Sacred Landscapes by Cliff Reed, from Sacred Earth (adapted)
Spirit of Life and Love,
We give thanks
for our sacred landscapes,
where God and Nature and people
all belong and are at one.
We give thanks
for our sacred landscapes here in the Midlands,
where ancient monuments to faith
rise from tranquil valleys, bustling towns
and rolling fields towards the eternal sky.
We give thanks for the artists
whose spirits have been stirred by our sacred landscape,
whose works bear witness to the soul’s response to nature
and help us to stir our own.
O God, clear our sight to see
the beauty of our world, to
reflect it in our lives, and to
be its good stewards in the face
of all that threatens it.
Reading from Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul by John Philip Newell
There is no going back to the small God. We now know too much about the interrelatedness of all life to pretend that well-being can be sought for one part alone and not for the whole, for only one religion, one nation, one species. There is no returning to the limited notion of sacredness as if it were somehow the preserve of one particular people over another, of one race, gender, or sexual orientation. Sacredness is the birthright of all that is. It is the grace that comes with existence…. It is the gift at the heart of every birth. It is life’s essence, pure grace.
The Celtic way of seeing has a long lineage. Teacher after teacher in this tradition invites us to wake up to the earth and the human soul as sacred and to see this sacredness as beyond limitation, uncontained by any system or religion. It is a way of seeing that we can learn from now and bring to the most critical issues facing humanity today. It keeps opening and opening. And we can be part of its further unfolding for today as we yearn for the well-being that will come when we move back into faithful relationship with the true heart of one another and the earth as sacred.
Time of Stillness and Reflection words by Sheena Gabriel (adapted)
Spirit of all that is,
we give thanks for beauty unnoticed,
for the many miracles of nature,
which lie like unopened love letters,
strewn about our feet,
awaiting a response.
May we not be blind or indifferent
to the prodigious gifts that come our way.
Grant us the vision to see
the world with fresh eyes;
to look beneath the surface of things
and be open to hidden wonders.
Help us to remember that despite
the pain and suffering that haunts our world,
somewhere in the universe
beauty is always unfolding –
silently, secretly, without fanfare,
waiting to be discovered.
Musical Interlude Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul
Over the past few years, I have become increasingly interested in Celtic spirituality, which is a very different way of looking at the world, and at our relationship with the rest of creation.
As the years pass, many of us have become increasingly aware of the damage we are doing to our planet by living the way we do – consuming, not nurturing; cutting down irreplaceable rainforests; polluting our seas and the air with our waste products – the depressing list goes on. Celtic spirituality teaches a deep connectedness, a deep interrelationship with the natural world. So I thought it would be good to share what I have learned.
The spirituality which is typical of Celtic Christianity and of Celtic beliefs before then, has, as David Cole writes, “a natural and easy flow… which those who began to follow Christ kept as part of their spiritual expression. This ease, which included incorporating nature and ethereal, the sacred and the secular, and understanding that there is no separation and that everything is spiritual, was a significant difference between the two growing church streams, the Celtic and the Roman.” At that time, “Roman” did not mean Roman Catholic, it meant the church that was established within and after the Roman Empire.
In fact, in the first few centuries of the Christian story in Britain (particularly in the north and west and in Ireland) Celtic Christianity was the predominant form of Christianity. Then in the 6th century, Augustine was sent to Britain by the Pope to convert the country to Roman Christianity. Magnus Magnusson, in his book, Lindisfarne – the Cradle Island, describes the differences between the two ways of being Christian like this: “Celtic monks lived in conspicuous poverty, Roman monks lived well; Celtic monks were unworldly, Roman monks were worldly; Celtic bishops practised humility, Roman bishops paraded pomp; Celtic bishops were shepherds of their flocks, Roman bishops were monarchs of their dioceses; Celtic clergymen said ‘Do as I do’ and hoped to be followed, Roman clergymen said ‘Do as I say’ and expected to be obeyed.”
This may be a slight exaggeration, but his words underscore the very different approaches of the Celtic and Roman clergy of the times we now call the Dark Ages. As Roman Christianity began to spread across Britain, it was realised that the Celtic church also had a different way of dating Easter to the Roman church, which led to odd anomalies, because if a Roman Christian married a Celtic Christian, one of them could be throwing a feast for Easter Sunday, while the other was still fasting for Lent. So in 664, the Synod of Whitby was held to sort this out, and the Roman church was victorious. It was ruled that the church in England should align itself with the church in Rome. The Celts retreated to their traditional strongholds in Scotland, and Ireland.
Gone but not forgotten. There is a growing interest in Celtic Christian spirituality today, as it offers the modern believer or spiritual seeker a way of grounding themselves, in the natural world and in an immanent, ever-present God. In his recent book, Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul, J. Philip Newell writes, “The Celtic spiritual tradition is one that has long emphasised an awareness of the sacred essence of all things… It is a way of seeing, a path of awareness… forever unfolding…. It cannot be reduced to a set of doctrines or beliefs; instead, at its core is the conviction that we essentially need to keep listening to what our soul already knows.”
It is a spirituality in which “that of God in everyone” (as the Quakers say) and further, that of God in everything, is recognised. It is a wonderfully inclusive way of being present in the world – seeing everything and everyone as sacred, as part of the golden thread of the Divine, which weaves its way through all our lives. It is a spirituality which unites, rather than dividing, includes, rather than excludes. It teaches that everything on earth is in sacred relationship with everything else. It is a spirituality of music, song, poetry and stories, which speaks to the depths of our souls. It is based on love rather than power.
I believe that Celtic spirituality is growing in popularity today because it speaks to the hunger, the longing, in people to belong to something greater than themselves. As the late, great John O’Donohue wrote in Eternal Echoes, “The hunger to belong is at the heart of our nature. Cut off from others, we atrophy and turn in on ourselves…. Our hunger to belong is the longing to bridge the gulf that exists between isolation and intimacy. Distance awakens longing; closeness is belonging. Everyone longs for intimacy and dreams of a nest of belonging in which one is embraced, seen and loved.”
These feelings of isolation, of being cut off from others, are common in our stressful, consumerist, 21st century world. Particularly, perhaps, in the past two years, when many of us have endured an unusual degree of isolation because of the pandemic. Celtic spirituality offers an alternative path, one of slowing down, connecting deeply to the sacred, which is all around and within us, and discovering that we are finally at home, that God was there, deep within, all the time.
Like many of us, perhaps, I have always found it easiest to sense the presence of the Divine in the natural world. And over the past decade or so, this reverence for natural beauty has become integrated into my spiritual life, as I have come to understand that we live in a sacred world.
John Macquarrie, a Christian theologian, wrote a wonderful book called A Guide to the Sacraments, which I came across in 2009. Reading it reinforced my belief that the whole of the universe is sacramental. He explained that rather than God’s presence being limited to either two or seven sacraments, God has so arranged matters that the material world can “become a door or channel of communication through which he comes to us and we may go to him.” For this reason, “[our] spiritual wellbeing demands that [we] should recognise and cherish the visible things of the world as things that are made by God and that provide access to God.”
This way of perceiving the world demands that we believe that God is not only transcendent, the one-time creator of the universe, but also immanent – present in the world, and acting through it. In other words, we are always in the presence of the Divine, in whom we live and move and have our being.
Which, of course, the Celts had been saying for millennia… many of their beautiful prayers, which appear in the Carmina Gadelica, a collection gathered by Alexander Carmichael in the 19th century, are firmly grounded in the everyday.
At around the same time, I stumbled across the Celtic mystic, poet and theologian John O’Donohue, whose love for the Irish landscape of his birth flows richly through all his writings. One of his books in particular, Divine Beauty: The Invisible Embrace, helped me to appreciate with my heart, not just my head, how deeply God is present in the earth, in the sky, in the waters, in the landscape.
Speaking personally, I have become an adherent of Celtic Christian spirituality because it speaks to my condition. Ever since I discovered the writings of John O’Donohue, gaps in my psyche, in my soul, have begun to fill up with a sense of the sacred, with the conviction that I am no longer alone in the world. I find it both comforting and challenging. I love the poetry of it, the prayers of it, the ethos of it. It speaks to me in a way mainstream Christianity never has.
As I said, Celtic Christian spirituality suggests that the whole of life is sacred. And I have come to realise that God’s grace is everywhere, if we had but eyes to see and ears to hear. I believe that through sacred living – weaving moments of attention into our daily lives and recognising the sacred there – which the Celts were experts at, we will find it.
Sacred living is about living with a new level of awareness. It is about going through our days paying attention to what is happening at each passing moment. It is about noticing the presence of the divine, the numinous, everywhere: in the natural world, in other people, in ourselves, and in things that happen to us. Sacred living is about rediscovering our sense of wonder and living our lives in response to that. Sacred living is about truly appreciating what we have. About being awake to God’s grace at work in the world.
But it is a spirituality that cannot be taught, only experienced. For years, I read John O’Donohue’s words with my eyes and my mind, and it was as though there was a clear sheet of glass between me and the page. It was only when I had a deep experience of the presence of God that I came to understand what he was talking about in my heart.
I hope that this brief overview of Celtic spirituality has ignited your curiosity. If you want to know more, there are many books I could recommend.
Closing Words by Celia Cartwright
Let us pray that we find time to understand the lessons the earth lays open for us,
Let us not abuse the earth, but learn to live as we were meant to,
Moving with the same rhythms, accepting the reality of our lives
As part of all creation, not separate from it.
Let us learn to listen to the earth and celebrate its seasons.
Let us move with the earth and know its shifting patterns as they change our life’s perspective.
Let us be silent with the earth and be nourished by its beauty and wonder.
Let us be gentle with the earth and treat her with the love we owe the giver of all our needs.
Let us be part of the earth and be at peace with our home.
Let us learn the lessons she teaches us
And may we be part of the growing.
Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley