An evocative sight greeted me when I reached the top of the winding path that led up the hillside with its tall trees and winding thick roots. As I looked to the right I saw Chanctonbury Ring and about thirty people gathered there. Standing in front of them was my beautiful friend, Juliet, who had wrapped herself in a white blanket and was carrying a large stick on which she had attached a big white flag with a gold cross on it. The flag, the blanket and Juliet’s hair were all fluttering in the north wind that blew up the hillside and I felt like I was entering a scene from Narnia.
It felt entirely appropriate, as I was there to celebrate the Celtic Easter, which happens on a different date to the Roman one that we customarily celebrate, and which is the date that the first followers of Jesus in these British lands would have celebrated. As Juliet rang the bell she had brought with her, calling us to prayer, Greg explained what was to happen and off we went.
We walked round the circle of Chanctonbury Ring, stopping at each of the compass points, engaging in a different reflection at each point. At one we recited a Psalm; at another we sang St Patrick’s great hymn, ‘Be Thou My Vision’. At one point, Karen Lowe from Antioch Church in Llannelli led us through a reflection around a lit brazier and a meditation on what ‘home’ is and how our home is found in the risen Messiah. Finally, we went into the middle of the ring, where Friar Micha led us through communion, reminding us that as we have walked up to this high point on the Sussex Downs so we walk along our journey of life with Christ, and we are sustained in that through the bread of his body and the wine of his blood.
It was a truly beautiful experience and I’ve been trying to work out what it evoked in me. Some while ago – provoked by a good friend who left the Christian faith to become a practising pagan – I did a bit of research around paganism and the different rituals that they do, particularly around the four equinoxes of our British year. What I discovered surprised me and I was struck by the fact that much of what they do would actually give me little cause for concern (I can write more about this in a subsequent post if anyone is interested – let me know in the comments box if so). The key difference is the Name/s in which their rituals are carried out. So, for example, they might start off an evening by invoking the spirits of the North, South, East and West. We did something very similar, except – crucially – we invoked the One Holy Spirit and asked for his (her) presence to be with us instead.
What I was struck with was the earth-centredness of their rituals. In comparison, my main act of corporate worship takes place in a bare building with concrete walls and shutters over the skylights in the ceiling allowing no contact with the wider creation at all. Many churches around the country are like this and I’m not being unduly critical of my own. But, this lack of contact is a lack that I feel acutely and – if you’ll allow me to be honest – there were elements of the pagan rituals that I researched that resonated with me strongly. That evening, watching the sun set from Chanctonbury Ring, sharing communion with other believers, felt like the most authentic experience of corporate worship that I had taken part in for a long time: worshipping the Lord of All Creation, as a part of the community of creation.
What do you think? Do you also feel that disconnect in your corporate worship, if you are reading this as a Christian? How might we create more contact and connection with the wider community of creation?
Reblogged this on Chasing Columba and commented:
Some thoughts from my good wife on our Celtic Easter event
Great first blog… I personally would love to hear more on this subject. I have always found it difficult to understand the balance between Celtic Christianity, nature, Spirituality etc. There is such a wonderful depth in Celtic Christianity but the extreme seems to tend towards the worship of nature and seeing God as being in the natural object not just the creator of it. I may be misinformed on this point, but know of people that completely reject it because of this. I believe they miss a a wonderful richness. I personally find a resonance with God in wilderness and mountain places but sometimes feel that that should not be the case and that I should just be looking harder in everyday life. As you say we meet in closed in environments – so is meeting in natural environments just a refreshing change or is there some spiritual resonance with the surrounding nature?
nathan, your view is one i recognise, and you are right, it is a misinformed view. i teach celtic christian spirituality, belong to and work for a christian celtic community (www.aidanandhilda.org) and i would be happy to teach you a better balanced understanding, but if ruth has read up on it then she may well be able to do this. if you wnated to you can contact me via email@example.com
Thank for that David. I have always found much richness in the Celtic tradition and attended for many years a Celtic prayer group which was a brilliant time. My misinformation comes only (or mainly) from people who say that the Celtic tradition is far too close to paganism and everything is God and therefore reject the whole tradition. I personally haven’t encountered that aspect of the Celtic tradition – but would like to learn more. Would the two books you mention be a good starting point? The only book I have read on it (and a long time ago now) was Restoring the Woven Cord by Michael Mitton.
Restoring the woven cord is a good book, michael is a member of the very community I work for, and has been since it’s beginning.
The two books I mentioned are very good for you to start with, especially ‘water’ (as I think ‘exploring’ may be out of print at the moment).
In Celtic Christianity only the one true God is God, and it is very Christ centred, although there is the understanding that God is in all of creation (a-la romans 1v20) and that he is intimately involved in it (any part of the final few chapters of Job), and that we are a part of it and need to maintain a care for it. But no part of it is seen as a god, and no teaching from Celtic Christianity says that either.
As for its closeness to paganism, well I suppose that depends on your understanding of paganism, of which most peoples view is distorted as well. And let’s not get started on how much of paganism there is within the mainstream church! Especially the ‘high’ churches. Like making sunday the day for worship; celebrating using the name ‘easter’; the fact that we celebrate the birth of our God; robes; alters; chairs at the front of church for the speakers/minister/bishop; sermons led in a ‘lecture’ style (one person at the front speaking whilst everybody else sits facing them listening not interacting), especially if a lecturn is used!
Much of our tradition has pagan roots, and is closer to the way paganism is practised than it is to how the early church practised, but no one, including myself, seems to have a problem with them.
Read the books and find out for yourself and then decide what you think is right.
(Sorry for the rant, this subject is a bit of a ‘thing’ of mine! I’m ok now!) 😉
Totally agree with you about Christian worship mainly being shut away in buildings and not connected with the outside, whether it be creation or even the real needs of the community in which the church is based. I have a lot of time for the Celtic expression of the Christian faith, particularly in it’s connections with wider creation. Interesting comments about similarity with some pagan rituals – would like more discussion on this.
I too like services that are not within the 4 walls of a building, eg Easter Sunrise services on Newlands Corner or Hengistbury Head, baptisms on the beach, communion by the crosses or in Lee Bay at Lee Abbey. But that might be just because I go for events that ‘take the walls off the church’ (what are we hiding from?). Interestingly I read ‘The Grace Abounding’ yesterday and found there lots of resonance with Ruth’s thoughts.
Reblogged this. Great…wish I could have achieved such a great finish to my blog. I haven’t managed to attract any comments yet. Well done, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about this experience of a celebration which I have not yet had the honour to have had. Worship Him! Fab.
I think there’s so much to be said for worshipping outdoors. The Celts, of course, brought the Christian faith into the pagan world and so adapted and worked with what was already there in the culture. They have a lot to teach us, I think.
excellent blogg! we need to gain a much closer understanding of the celtic christian expression which was so affective before the roman empire’s church dominated everything. two books i would suggest are ‘water from an ancient well’ by ken mcintosh, and ‘exploring celtic spirituality’ by ray simpson.
Good stuff Ruth and others. I have tried to blend in aspects of the Celtic expression of our faith within our church, Numinous, here in the Central Florida area. It is tough to find good information in general, so thanks David for listing the two books. Can someone remind me why the Celtic expression of Easter is a different date? Is it related to moon phases or seasons? The Orthodox Church also uses a different date from the Roman church that is the foundation for most of the Western Church.
HI Carl, Regarding Easter dating, it is a highly mathematical issue that revolves around the lunar calendar and the creation of mathematical formulaes. IN my reading around the subject, even most commentators find it confusing, as it is very confusing. I think the nub of the issue in regards to the early British Church was the intersection between the two traditions Celtic and Roman. The dating of easter became a political issue of conformity to the Roman rite. In its modern context I view it as a symbolic manifestation of a rediscovery of indigenous faith that is more rooted in the Christ of all Creation (see this short link http://wp.me/pS9g1-d) on an blog post I wrote.
Greg’s right, it is complicated and confusing, but it boils down to the fact that the Celtic church followed the teachings of the apostle John via the eastern church, and the roman church, as we know, followed the teachings of the apostle Peter. Seemingly John and Peter chose to celebrate resurrection sunday on different dates, which meant that there could be up to two weeks diffence in the dates. Although the two streams of church struggled for years it came to a head when a king who followed the Celtic dating married a princess who followed the roman dating, and one year the king was throwing a resurrection celebration feast whilst his wife was still fasting for lent. She decided this wasn’t on and made her husband, via their son, hold a meeting to get the whole country to have the same date to celebrate the resurrection.
The meeting involved various ‘important’ issues, (including how a monk should cut his hair! Something else the two streams differed on) but the decision to follow the roman way was made under the understanding that Peter holds the keys to the pearly gates, so if the king made the choice against him then, peter might make a choice against him when he stood at the gates of heaven (see Bede).
Thanks David (and Greg). The Synod of Whitby is what you are talking about as far when England (or more properly Northumbria) chose to go with Rome rather than Iona and Columba. That part I knew (full disclosure…I teach history in the local College); always thought it rather sad that the earlier form of Christianity in the Isles (I always call it the “earliest form of an English-speaking Christianity”…while of course knowing that no one was really speaking English at that time) was bumped off merely because of a misreading of the Bible…that Peter had the keys to heaven. But, I suppose if one takes that quite literally, then Oswiu’s (is that how its spelled?) choice makes some sense.
But to the dating, I wish there was a more obvious way to comprehend how they dated it. Wasn’t part of the issue that due to the lunar calendar (connected to how the Jews find Passover??) that the day of Easter could then fall on a non-Sunday?
From my understanding of what I have read, carl, that last statement you made was how John dated it, to fall on the day/date of the actual resuurection, so it would stay the same date but move days, just like Christmas day does for us.
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Hi folks, Practical point – what I really would like to know is how to calculate Easter in the Celtic tradition, so that I know in 2014 actually what date it is, why and how it’s different is very interesting, but how do I locate it actually in my diary today? Found something very confusing about an 84 year cycle, but that page did not give a clear description of how to work it out. Help!
May you know the greatness of the Divine strength within you today
I got an email notification that you had commented on this stream as I have commented in the past. I will do my best with this, but as it is, as far as I have ever known, not written anywhere what date the Celts actually celebrated Easter, as the victors write the history, it is a little bit of guess work, which is why you cannot find it anywhere.
However, the assumption is this: Originally the date of Passover was fixed, set in Leviticus 23v5 by God as twilight on the 14th day of the first month (Nisan). This was the first day of Passover, whatever day of the week it fell on, and Passover would last a week. It was the first day of Passover according to THIS dating which is mentioned John 19v14, not necessarily on a Friday. It wasn’t until the mid 4th century that the Christian church decided that Easter day should always be on a Sunday, therefore creating ‘Good Friday’ as well.
The Celtic church followed the teaching of the Apostle John who taught his followers to date resurrection day the original way, including Polycarp and Irenaeus who where great influences on the Celtic church.
The assumption is, therefore, that the Celtic church held the 14th day of Nisan as ‘Good Friday’ and the 16th day of Nisan as resurrection day, what ever day of the week they fell on.
The Roman church dated Easter as we do today and always celebrated resurrection day on the Sunday, so the coinciding of resurrection day between the two church streams did not always happen.
It is fairly easy to find out when the 14th and 16th days of Nisan are each year with online Jewish calendars. This year for example Nisan happens to fall exactly the same as April, so this year the 14th day of Nisan is April 14th, therefore resurrection day, according to the original dating, would be Wednesday April 16th, which in our modern dating is the Wednesday during Holy Week.
I hope that helps, but it is a lot of assumption
Grace and Peace
Thanks for taking the time to reply so comprehensively, David!
That’s great David, thank you so much for your in depth reply, it’s very helpful. Many blessings!