It was 1970. I was under-ripe, but hoping for the best at 7 years old. My Dad was developing the basement in our tiny 1000 square foot bungalow in Calgary, Alberta. Part of that process was building my own bedroom (let applause dwindle before carrying on). I was elated. During part of the process I was sick and recall sleeping on a movable cot in an unfinished room into which my parents had brought a TV that I could watch while convalescing. Poor me, I don’t know how I managed under such rigorous conditions.
My life forever changed one evening upon watching a live presentation of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo from Edinburgh Castle. I was smitten.
Edinburgh Military Tattoo
I had encountered something so pristine and wild that I told my parents the next morning I wanted to learn to play the bagpipes. Instead of the response generally expected, perhaps even advisable, for any parents, mine were intrigued and supportive. In less than a year I’d become part of a local Boy’s Brigade company hosted at the nearby St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church where I would also begin my first lessons.
Perhaps the biggest discovery however was that I was becoming aware of my beginnings. My parents made it clear to me (as clear as such things can be to an eight year old) that, as the oldest of three adopted children, I came from Scottish DNA. Spooky to some. Intriguing to others. My response to this growing revelation of my biological roots was an insistence that I was finding my spiritual ‘home.’
Alongside many others through the centuries, I am one who uniquely identifies with what we believe to be true about the Celtic way of life.
I’m happiest when I’m a little sad.
Life is always better in the rain.
Green will always be the best color.
Everything is a metaphor for something else.
When I wander, I long for home. When I’m home, I long to wander (translation: whiny and impossible to live with).
Stories, music, poetry, and art are still the best way to teach anything.
Men look best wearing colorful dresses, tossing around telephone poles, and making themselves dizzy blowing ridiculously loud instruments.
Women are best when allowed equal voice in the community.
The forest may still be the best place to worship together.
Dark skies are a sign of hope more than weather.
The best life is when one day we sing together, the next we die together.
And, learning means more about living than just knowing.
What I’ve loved most about my place on the Celtic role call is that life for the Celts wasn’t neatly compartmentalized, as it is in our western, rationalist world. The idea of one’s “spiritual life,” or “physical life,” or “social life,” or “sex life” would have been quite foreign to them.
It was, quite simply, life. Everything mattered equally. Everything counted. Nothing was completely meaningless but contributed to their daily and eternal existence.
They lived very outward lives from very inward places. They spoke of “thin places;” the nexus where one could feel the outline of God’s hand touching theirs from behind the thin sheath of reality. The thin place, where transcendence meets the here and now, was where the Celts felt most comfortable.
It contributed in forging a Christianity deep enough to pray ceaselessly, strong enough to endure a pushy Roman empire and countless robust threats, and bold enough to sail into the unknown and share what they had experienced.
I like to call them “practical mystics.” They rehearsed the soul well enough to sing its song in the byways and the unforgiving wilderness. Their memory of mystical encounters with God propelled them outward to meet innumerable dangers to preach and live the Gospel.
They possessed a unique zeitgeist I like to call “shared home.” Hearth and home, food and fire, pain and process, bird and beast, wine and women, song and celebration, faith and family, God and neighbor, self and sacrifice, love, laughter and loss – all of a piece, one undivided garment of singular living. What they shared with the world they had already experienced in their daily lives.
They were perhaps one of the most genuinely whole peoples the world has ever known. I would even go so far as to suggest that they exemplified a very biblical faith. They marched to the skirl of their own bagpipes!
As a result, Rome absolutely LOVED them and offered their undying support (pry tongue from cheek here____________).
What the Celts understood is that there would be no outward “success” without honest, inward labor. The great, wide sea that would lead them to countless would be Kingdom-citizens awaiting their hopeful voice could wait long enough for them to be well acquainted with the reason for their journey. Boats easily sink when left untended for too long.
They went out boldly to see God at work in the world, but did so through the in door of communal spiritual practice. They had more than ideas to share. They took their photo albums and welcome mat with them.
The insatiable longing to belong so pervasive in the Celtic spirit changed their way of living. They willingly and consistently explored what it meant to be “home,” all the while sailing to the ends of the earth in pursuit of what they sought. In so doing, they brought the hopeful message of Jesus’ new Kingdom to those people everyone else called “barbarians.”
The Celts called them neighbors.
The Celts loved silence and the life of the soul. But they loved it too much to keep it a secret. They went out through the In door. And, with this inner treasure in tow, they sailed the great deep to change the known world.
We are their legacy.
Great Guardian of hearth and horizon, soul and sail,
I have lifted my feet in obedience to an insistent wind.
I have lifted my head up above this tiny-rimmed being.
I have sought again what once was too costly.
I have set out once more upon a wildly restless sea.
And found what was looking for me.