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Posts Tagged ‘Celtic Christianity’

I wonder if you can think of a time when you almost held your breath because God seemed so close to you, perhaps even almost tangible. Back in the seventh century or thereabouts, the Celtic Christians in Britain and Ireland had a phrase for such a moment. They termed it the ‘thin place’ – a place or instance when that separation between heaven and earth or God and human beings seemed almost to disappear and the two blended together in perfect harmony.

Does your heart long for such places and experiences? I know mine does. They can happen in all sorts of ways, I’ve discovered – sometimes when we least expect them. Just yesterday, when I had the house to myself, I decided to sit down at our piano and play some of the old, classical pieces I used to enjoy many years ago. I am very much out of practice, but now I was just playing, letting the music flow as best I could and enjoying the beautiful melodies and harmonies of Brahms and Beethoven and Mozart. Memories came flooding back, but along with them was a distinct sense of the presence of God. It was as if God’s heart was reaching out to me through those notes and speaking straight into my spirit. It was as if God’s own immeasurable creativity was inspiring me through the creative works of others, as I cooperated by bringing my own creative ability to the moment through my playing.

Perhaps you have experienced such moments of closeness with God as you have gazed in awe at a beautiful coastline scene or mountain vista or observed God’s creativity at work in the exquisite, intricate design of a tiny flower. Or maybe it has happened in the midst of a time of worship or prayer, as you have gathered together with other believers, or alone as you have put time aside to read Scripture and reflect. Perhaps you have even sensed God close by right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of a busy street or a noisy crowd. And maybe you who are authors out there will be familiar with God’s comforting, encouraging presence as you attempt to write words that will minister to others in some way. But in all these situations, we need to have our ears attuned to that still, small voice of the Spirit and our eyes focused not only on what we see before us but beyond that on our ever-present God.

You know, it seems such a shame that we so often miss out on these wonderful, life-giving encounters with the reality of God that go far beyond anything this world can provide. Of course God has called us to make a difference for the Kingdom right here and now, but that’s not all there is. Because God’s Spirit lives in those of us who believe, we will never be fully at home here—along with those great men and women of faith listed in Hebrews 11, we will always be ‘aliens and strangers on earth’ (11:13). So we need to find those thin places for our own wellbeing and spiritual survival. And God is there, ever willing to meet with us, when we take the time to look.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.” (Jeremiah 29:13-14)

This week, may you all experience God in your own thin place and be truly nourished and refreshed in the process.

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Now and then, I believe God gives us gentle nudges to tell us it’s time to care for ourselves, to replenish what has been depleted within us, either by giving out too much for too long in one way or another or by plain neglect. As a writer, I have discovered I can keep on writing and writing and editing and editing for a very long time, along with popping up to speak on occasions, before I listen to that voice telling me I need to take time out to reorientate myself to that strong, loving presence of God in me, around me, above me and beneath me.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to do just that. I took myself off to a retreat centre not far away from where I live, where around thirty other men and women had gathered for much the same purpose. Most were strangers to me, but as we were told that first evening together, ‘there can be no strangers among us – only friends we have not yet met.’ And God was very present among us.

The weekend focused on the ancient Celtic Christian ways of worship and of connecting with God and one another. We received input from our warm, gentle speakers. We had inspired poetry read to us. We listened to beautiful music played by a world-renowned ‘harper’ (not ‘harpist’, we discovered) on her Celtic harp. We heard the stories behind the music. We even joined hands in a large circle and danced together – slow, ancient dances that enabled us to intercede for the world and the church and to express our unity. We prayed together aloud in words – ancient, simple but profound prayers of the heart. We were nourished by the beauty of a creative arrangement of swirling cloth, candles of varying sizes and interesting items gathered from nature as we sat together. We were given opportunities to be creative ourselves, with coloured pencils and pastels and paper. We ate excellent food, chatting around small tables in a lovely dining room – and once without speaking at all. We sat eating chocolates and drinking mulled wine together one evening (!), as we listened to the music of the Celtic harp. But best of all, we were given opportunity for periods of silence, which we could spend either sitting somewhere in the beautiful, extensive grounds of the retreat centre, in one of the cosy corners of the building, in the chapel or in our own warm rooms.

Our souls were nourished by God in so many ways. At the end, we each shared words that for us encapsulated our time together –  words such as ‘loved’, ‘homecoming’, ‘child of God’, ‘restful landing’, ‘cherished’, ‘peace’, ‘acceptance’. For me, the weekend encapsulated all of these and more. And it showed me yet again the importance of spending time in solitude and silence to hear those words God wants to speak into our spirits, of caring for ourselves so we can best live for God in this world, of opening our hearts to see and be thankful that we belong to an amazingly loving, creative, caring, all-powerful God.

So this day, may you know the loving presence of God within you, around you, above you, beneath you. And, in the words of a traditional Gaelic blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face;

the rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

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