loren Eric Swanson: The Celtic Knot of Spiritual Journey

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Celtic Knot of Spiritual Journey

Last August Liz and I journeyed with some good friends to Ireland and Scotland taking a class called “The Celtic Trail.” Of course it was a great time of learning, discovery and surprise. Before and since the class I’ve read several books on early Celtic Christianity—introduced through Patrick in the early 400’s. Celtic Christianity thrived, almost as an entity unto itself until the leaders were reigned in by the Roman Church leaders at the Synod of Whitby in the mid 600s, but being island communities the Celtic Christians adopted but never lost their unique flavor of the faith. For the Celts, Christianity did not have the pomp of the Roman Empire. Christ was personal. Jesus met them in the smallest and most routine task of life. They were very much Trinitarian in their beliefs and there is strong evidence that Patrick did indeed use the Shamrock to help explain the mystery of the Trinity.

Quoting from Ian Bradley in The Celtic Way, “The Celts saw the Trinity as a family…For them it showed the love of that lay at the very heart of the Godhead and the sanctity of family and community ties. Each social unit, be it family, clan or tribe, was seen as an icon of the Trinity, just as the hearthstone in each home was seen as an altar. The intertwining ribbons of the Celtic knot represented in simple and graphic terms the doctrine of perichoresis—the mutual interpenetration of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I think, for most of us, our Christian training has been of the 101, 201, 301 stair-steps of spiritual maturity. As we mature we just become better and better. Other Christian faith traditions portray the Christian life to be more like a journey. A couple of years ago, a Lutheran pastor, Peter Morin (Faith Lutheran in Golden, CO) shared that the one thing he remembered from his seminary training is (and then he drew the infinity sign) “the journey inward and the journey outward.” That resonated with me. The Christian life is not so much about getting better and better (after all, who could really stand us then!??!?!?) but rather a journey inward to renew and the journey out to expend ourselves on a world in need.

Here’s where I’m going with this; I’d thinking Peter’s diagram could be well-augmented with the help of the Celtic knot—simply because our journey also includes people! So now let’s think of three words—Contemplative…Community…Cause. Our “contemplative” life is our devotional / reflective life where we connect with the living Jesus. “Community” are those like-minded souls with whom we journey. “Cause” is our mission in the world. So we journey between contemplation, community and cause—renewing ourselves in Christ, refreshing ourselves in community and expending ourselves on the world. This was indeed the flow of the Celts. Unlike other monastic communities who were big on contemplation and community, but lacking in mission, the Celtic church sent out missionaries to spread the gospel from their monastic communities like Iona and Lindesfarne. But the blessing as they went forth implied that they would return—“May he bring you home rejoicing at the wonders he has shown you.” Christ would always be on their left and on their right, above and below them, in the heart of all they spoke to. Yea, I guess their lives were magically delicious.

I think the diagram to express this journey is uniquely Celtic. When I was thinking about this last week, I sketched a Venn (three overlapping circle) diagram…but it was all wrong. It was three separate entities. It was static. There was no journey. The Celtic knot represents the three-fold journey inward, withward and outward.

One more thing—a couple of years ago Geoffrey Hsu, Campus Crusade guy who was part of our global learning community shared his thoughts that, in this age, Crusade’s missional tactics of Win, Build, and Send should be supplanted or at least augmented with three other watchwords—Believe, Belong and Bless (Genesis 12:3). I like that! In some ways they mirror the three “C” words, but it also gives everyone outside the faith different entry points. The discussion goes beyond, believing before belonging or visa versa, but “Blessing” can also be the entry point to the faith journey as all people are invited to serve in our world. So again there is a flow…a journey…inward / upward…withward…outward…inward / upward…outward…withward.


At Friday, May 23, 2008 7:04:00 PM, Blogger Ken said...


You make some great connections and observations here. Thanks. Taking spiritual life into a three-fold journey rather than simple and false dichotomies adds dimension, shadows and space. Thanks.



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