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Celtic Christianity: Wholistic Prayer

Lynne Baab • Thursday May 28 2015

Celtic Christianity: Wholistic Prayer

I am giving Thee love with my whole devotion,
I am giving Thee kneeling with my whole desire,
I am giving Thee love with my whole heart. . . .
I am giving Thee my soul, O God of all Gods. [1]

Celtic Christian prayer is full of praise and thankfulness, devotion and commitment, and deep sorrow for sin. The prayers and songs in Carmina Gaedelica draw us into a kind of prayer that involves the whole self: mind, body and soul.

The call to prayer, so evident in Celtic Christianity, finds its roots in the strong sense of the Triune God: God the Father who created us, God the son who redeemed us, and God the Spirit who indwells us. This is not a vague kind of prayer to the universe or to an unknown God. We may find it easy to think that because the Celts loved nature so much and found God so visible in his creation, they directed their prayers to the creation. Not at all. It is God revealed in Christ through the power of the Spirit who called them to prayer and to whom they directed their prayers.

The Celts desired to praise God with their whole beings. “My speech – may it praise you without flaw; may my heart love you, King of Heaven and of earth.” [2] Another poem says:

Lord, be it thine,
Unfaltering praise of mine!
To thee my whole heart’s love be given
Of earth and Heaven Thou King divine. [3]

The Celtic poems and prayers express deep gratitude for the created world, for the beauty of doe and fawn and horse, flowers in bloom, purple heather, the honeybees, the fish in the swift streams, even the grains of sand and the clods of earth. The prayers move smoothly from thankfulness for the beauty of earth to praise for the God of glory, the Trinity, the loving Father, the redeeming Son.

The Celts help to bring us back to an Old Testament sense of thankfulness based on the acts of God – on what God has done for all of us, not just for me. Celtic prayers focused more on thankfulness than on asking God to give them something.

Everything I have received from Thee it came,
Each thing for which I hope, from Thy love it will come,
Each thing I enjoy, it is of Thy bounty,
Each thing I ask, comes of Thy disposing. [4]

The Celtic Christian emphasis on thankfulness rather than petition can be a helpful teacher to us. In our materialistic and acquisitive culture, where we are told over and over that we don’t have enough and that more is always better, we need to stop listening to the insistent voices of the media and focus very simply on what God has already given us. First and foremost, God has given us his presence in all of life. God has given us forgiveness through Jesus Christ, a beautiful world to live in, and friends and family around us. We find it hard to notice our blessings because we focus so strongly on what we don’t have. The Celts remind us that the discipline of thankfulness will enable us to see the riches of the world God has given us.

In The Celtic Way of Prayer, Esther de Waal writes,

I have come to see that the Celtic way of prayer is prayer with the whole of myself, a totality of praying that embraces the fullness of my own personhood and allows me not only to pray with words but also, more important, with the heart, the feelings, using image and symbol, touching the springs of my imagination.

(Next week: more on prayer in Celtic Christianity. This post is excerpted from A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife by Lynne M. Baab. Copyright © Lynne M. Baab. If you’d like to receive an email whenever I post on this blog, sign up below under “subscribe.”)

Need a boost in challenging times? Do you find it hard to navigate both sadness and gratitude? Check out my book, Two Hands: Grief and Gratitude in the Christian Life, which encourages us to hold grief in one hand and gratitude in the other. It guides us into experiencing both the brokenness and abundance of God's world with authenticity and hope, drawing on the Psalms, Jesus, Paul, and personal experience. It is available for kindle and in paperback (80 pages). 

Other posts on Celtic Christianity:

[1] Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica II, quoted by Esther de Waal in The Celtic Way of Prayer, 203-4.
[2] G. Murphy, Early Irish Lyrics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1956), 4.
[3] The Celtic Way of Prayer, 188.
[4] Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica II, quoted in The Celtic Way of Prayer, 205.

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