Iona and Celtic Christianity
“An I mo chridhe, I mo ghraidh. – In Iona that is my heart’s desire, Iona that is my love.”
– Saint Columba
You cannot talk about Iona without talking about Celtic Christianity. For Celtic Christians in the early centuries, Iona was a “thin place.” According to them, some places were boundary points between the material world and the other world. For Celtic monks the natural world is the doorway to the sacred world.
Some places were considered to be more naturally sacred by their very essence, islands were such places.
We had an honour to deepen our understanding of Celtic Spirituality with Kenneth Steven. He is a modern Scottish poet and novelist. From childhood, Iona has been Kenneth’s spiritual home. Please meet Kenneth Steven:
Celtic Christians were navigators and the sea was at the heart of their spirituality. Pilgrimage was their way of life.
We find in the Celtic Christians a distinctive phenomenon: the wandering saints. These were men and women who journeyed “for the love of Christ.” They set forth without a particular destination in mind, walking from one place to another, following the promptings of the Holy Spirit. They also gave us a model of pilgrimage on water, a model that tends to give us pause. Using a small round boat, a pilgrim band would climb in to the boat, cast off, and entrust themselves to “the currents of divine love.” They allowed themselves to be completely open to the movement of the water. The place where they landed would be known as “the place of resurrection,” for they would have been led to that place by the Holy Spirit, and would probably die there unless prompted to make another sea pilgrimage.
Source: Celtic Christian Spirituality. Essential Writings-Annotated and Explained by Mary C. Earle
– One of the primary marks of Celtic spirituality is its belief in the essential goodness of creation.
– They believed that the natural world is infinitely deep. Everything in creation has issued forth from the invisible and contains something of the unseen life of God. Otherwise it would cease to exist.
– God’s life is like the heartbeat at the centre of life, pulsating within, sustaining all that is, the Soul of creation.
– All created things are an expression of God for our soul to see and feel.
– God is forever communicating his life and love in and through the outward forms of creation.
– Just as an infant comes to know his mother through from and colour, scent and sound, so we come to a knowledge of God through the universe.
– The emphasis is on becoming like a child, recovering the inner faculties we were born with and using them to glimpse the presence of spirit in created matter.
– The gift of imagination allows creation to be a lens through which we may fleetingly bring into focus aspects of the eternal.
– In the Western world, people’s inner senses and imagination have become so dulled by lack of use that they believe there is nothing to see in the matter of creation. Their blindness is an omen of the materialism that is increasingly to grip their reality.
Source: J. Philip Newell, Listening for the Heartbeat of God. A Celtic Spirituality. Paulist Press. New York. pp.64-65
To the above characteristics of Celtic Christianity Kenneth would add:
profound simplicity, acceptance of limitations of human knowledge, a deep love for all of God’s creation, looking for goodness in other people, equality among all members of their communities:men and women, laity and clergy.