In Jeremiah 6:16 the Lord says, “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” A long, long time ago God showed people the good way, where to find rest for their constant striving. He said look for these ancient paths that I laid out for you long ago and follow them to find rest in Me.
Our exploration into Celtic Christianity is not about what we are getting away from, it’s what we are getting away to. It’s not about getting away from your present church or small group. It’s about getting back to real worship and service, back to a real relationship with the living God, back to spiritual formation in the image of Christ. It’s about exploring new/ancient forms of Christianity.
What do I mean by new/ancient? Let’s start with the ancient. Over the past few years God has led me back to the roots of our Christian faith. Back to its young, vibrant infancy. Back before it was corrupted by growth and politics. As I stood at the crossroads looking God showed me the ancient pathway of Celtic Christianity. Celtic Christianity predates the Reformation by over a thousand years. It predates the split into Eastern and Western Christianity that tore God’s church apart. Celtic Christianity is very much Biblically focused, Christ centered and Holy Spirit directed.
One of the key aspects of Celtic Christianity is what the Celts called white martyrdom. We are all familiar with the martyrdom of faithful saints of the early church on up to our present time and how their blood became the seeds which sprouted God’s church. Celts honored this martyrdom tradition of willingness to give up one’s life for Christ and many were martyred at the hands of pagans (and most unfortunately many more at the hands of the church). In addition to this ‘red’ martyrdom Celts also practiced what they called ‘white’ martyrdom, a self-emptying of oneself for Christ. This self-emptying is taken from the Greek word kenosis which Paul used in Philippians 2:6-7; “[Christ], existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave”. Rather than the dying for Christ of red martyrdom, white martyrdom called for a complete surrender to the living of one’s life for Christ. White martyrdom is total submission to God’s will for our lives. It’s a commitment to live in God’s Word and be directed by His Spirit – wherever He leads us.
A second key aspect of Celtic Christianity is their belief that everyone was called to holiness and not just salvation. All were called to live the life of a monk, even as they went about a ‘normal’ life with spouse, children and career. (Although female monastics are typically called nuns I’m using the term monk for both male and female in hopes that all will feel welcome) The word monk comes from the Greek monos (or monicus in Latin), which can refer to oneness, aloneness. This can mean either the single focused concern of the person for one thing alone, God, or perhaps the centering on the One which is God. Now, for us moderns, the words monk and monastery bring to mind the large medieval stone monastery in which the faithful, brown-robed monks are cloistered away from the world of evil. But this is not Celtic monasticism. Celtic monasteries were more like a monastic village, clusters of homes where families and individuals lived out their faith in community. They did not sequester themselves away from the world around them. Instead they lived out their white martyrdom as monks in the world. These monastic villages were often “built on the edge”, that is in remote places but at the same time accessible, often near crossroads of commercial trade routes.
Today the crossroads of commercial trade is the internet so ours will be a virtual monastery, an online monastic village. With today’s free, instantaneous, worldwide communications and social media our monks can live remotely while maintaining fellowship and accessibility through the internet. We, monks in the world, are like a Celtic diaspora living out our faith daily among friends, family, co-workers and strangers throughout the world.
We also expect our monks to gather together physically when possible. These local, regional and perhaps one day larger Celtic Gatherings are times of fun, fellowship, encouragement and challenge as we spur each other onward in our quest to know Christ and make Him known. Our Celtic gatherings will be held in outdoor locations so we can celebrate the Creator in the midst of the creation he has given us to use, care for and enjoy.
That brings us to a third key aspect of early Celtic Christians, they were very missional. They successfully used the everyday customs and practices of their world to show Christ to the pagan Druids of their day. We present day monks in the world can follow their ancient path by using the communication and media tools around us to share a vibrant, living image of Christ with our pagan world.
As part of their white martyrdom the Celts also used the transportation of their day, walking and boats, to carry the Gospel to unreached and overlooked peoples. Those who embarked on these missionary adventures into the unknown were called peregrini pro Christo (pilgrim or wanderer for Christ). Small bands of a dozen or so of these peregrinus would set out in a boat with no sails allowing the Holy Spirit to literally blow them wherever He wanted them to share the Good News. We encourage our monks to continue the ancient peregrini way by taking the Good News of Jesus to the unreached, over-looked and under-resourced people of our world. We will demonstrate our love for God and our love for our neighbors by our actions as much as by our words. In the words of Mother Teresa, “Spread the love of God through your life but only use words when necessary.” James, the Lord’s brother, tells us, “…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” and “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?”