Celtic Advent

by Christine Sine

Today is the first day of Celtic Advent and I am relishing this early taste of Advent. I love that Celtic Advent begins 40 days before Christmas Day. Celtic Christians always prayed and fasted for 40 days in preparation for any major life event, whether it be the planting of a new monastic center, the beginning of a new adventure as well as for preparation for Christmas and Easter. Beginning now gives us an opportunity to focus on the real meaning of the season before the consumer culture ramps up to a pre-Christmas frenzy.

Over the weekend I completed my new Celtic themed contemplative garden which now sits beside me, not just as a focus for my morning meditations but also as a reminder to pause and pray at intervals throughout the day. I also pulled out my set of Celtic prayer cards which I will use as prayer prompts each morning.  As well as that I intend to revisit Brenda Griffin Warren’s wonderful online pilgrimage Celts to the Creche that provides a Celtic saint to walk us through each of the 40 days of Advent.  Tonight as part of our community meeting we will light our beautiful oil lamp and small tea lights (adapted from Lilly’s Corporate Advent Wreath idea), and share some of our Celtic prayers. We will perform a similar ritual each week throughout the Advent season, possibly adding some Celtic drawing or rock painting one week. I look forward to this fun way to celebrate our extended Advent season.

This is such a rich and beautiful way to begin Advent and set our hearts intentionally towards our celebration of the birth of Christ. But it does require a great deal of intentionality. As you can imagine my Celtic themed garden did not just emerge. Over this last week I spend quite a few hours dreaming, imagining and then creating my garden. As usual I used mainly recycled supplies, pulling out some of my favourite Celtic crosses and painted rocks, including the beautiful Celtic cross painted by Joyce Winthrow at one of my Celtic workshops. I loved incorporating the driftwood and small plants, then at the last minute inserted the owl planter. These all reminded me of the Celtic love of creation and their belief that creation is translucent and the glory of God shines through it. Gazing at my garden and reminding myself of that brings a smile to my face every time.

The Celts approached God with awe, reverence and wonder but also saw God as an essentially human figure intimately involved in all creation and engaged in a dynamic relationship with it. This interweaving of intimacy and mystery embraced the Trinity as a family and each family unit be it family, clan or tribe was seen as an icon of the Trinity.  The Trinity was a very real presence in all aspects of life and creation, and an almost tangible comforter and protector who could ward off evil forces, as we see in this simple prayer.

Three folds of the cloth yet only one napkin is there,

Three joints in the finger, but still only one finger fair,

Three leaves of the shamrock, yet no more than one shamrock to wear,

Frost, snow-flakes and ice, all in water their origin share,

Three persons in God, to one God alone we make prayer.

I love the Celtic belief that only a thin veil separates this world from the next. They took seriously Hebrews 12:1 “Seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses” and had an almost physical sense of the great company of heaven which surrounded God, embracing not just saints and friends who had died but the whole host of angels and other heavenly powers.  When you raised your eyes to heaven you raised them to a vast host.  The Celtic Christian at prayer was consciously a member of the great company that stretched from the persons of the Trinity through the powerful angelic throngs to the risen saints.  They were regarded very much as friends and companions in this world and addressed almost as one would neighbours or members of the family. 

Scottish theologian, Prof John Macquarrie observed that ‘the Celt was very much a God-intoxicated person whose life was embraced on all sides by the divine Being.”  I long for that same intoxication and intimacy with God, which is one of the reasons I am so enarmoured of the Celtic saints who thrived in the fifth to eleventh centuries. 

I pray that you too desire the intimate and intoxicating presence of God this Advent and suggest your take time today to prayerfully consider how you could encourage this to happen as you walk through Advent this year.

Watch John O’Donohue read his beautiful blessing BEANNACHT and sit in silence considering how you could enter into Advent today. Is there a prayer or Celtic symbol you could use as a daily prompt? Is there something you could create to help you focus? What new commitment is God asking of you today?

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