CELTIC WISDOM FOR OUR TIME

                              “No despair of ours can alter the reality of things, nor

                                stain the joy of the cosmic dance, which is always there.”

                                                            ——-Thomas Merton

It can be hard to connect to the “cosmic dance,” in the midst of the pandemic,climate change, and now, war in Ukraine. Add to that our own daily woes and those of our loved ones, and despair looms like a great howling beast scratching at the door.

 In my search to find a spiritual home in these maddening times, I discovered the Wisdom School at Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle. This discovery came after the isolation of Covid inspired me to turn directly to the divine in a way I never had before. Ironic, since I have written a play and acted the role of Saint Teresa of Avila (On the Doorstep of the Castle), but while I could explore Teresa’s relationship with Christ, I avoided exploring  my own relationship with Him. I was haunted by the Christianity of my youth, which seemed filled with strict, often arbitrary edits, and a portrayal of man as “sinner,” while being utterly void of a path to a life of psychological freedom, joy, and delight in the interconnection of all living things.

In another irony, the solitude of the pandemic opened a door in time and space. I began to talk out loud to the Earth Mother from my dreams, and ultimately, Christ entered in a very different form from the cardboard figure of my youth. The results were profound. I became aware of a progressive movement called Wisdom Christianity through books by Cynthia Bourgealt (Mary Magdalene, Wisdom Jesus), Adyashanti (Resurrecting Jesus), Richard Rohr (The Universal Christ), and my beloved Thich Nhat Han’s Living Buddha Living Christ, who referred to Christ as “the Buddha of the West.” Wisdom Christianity is very much like Zen in that it is not about punishment or dogmatic interpretations of scripture, but envisions Christ as a revolutionary prophet whose mission was for humanity to wake up to the reality of the divine in all things.

 I was deeply inspired by this, but it was a solitary journey. I didn’t go into a church because I was afraid I would be turned off by what I remembered as hollow or shaming pronouncements about going to hell for our sins. And yet, the words of Cynthia Bourgealt haunted me. In Wisdom Jesus she wrote, “My concern is for those of you who have begun to find your way in the wisdom stream, that in this time of institutional retrenchment you not be tempted to throw the baby out with the bathwater….the same religious practice can look like a very different animal when articulated at different levels of human consciousness….at heart the Eucharist is a wisdom practice originating from a nondual level of consciousness.” She continued, “Search your local area for the most open, inclusive, and mystically attuned Christian community you can locate…. Meet the Wisdom Master (and your own true self) in the breaking of the bread.”

  I took my fear in hand and searched the website of Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral. I had been there many times over the years, to attend my daughter’s Women’s Chorus performances, and a myriad of workshops as a member of the Jungian Psychotherapist’ Association.

Lo and behold, there it was, right on the Saint Mark’s website: The Wisdom School.

I recently met my Wisdom Master, Cannon Jennifer Daugherty, author and presenter of Creation Spirituality; Delight, Wonder and Reverence. Drawing on the wisdom and nature-based spirituality of the ancient Celts, Jennifer led us into a world where the divine is everywhere. The Celts would have been confused by the notion that heaven is a different realm, or that there could ever be a schism between the world of sensate world,  and the “cosmic dance,” of Thomas Merton. The “Saints” were always with them. A Saint could be your mom who just passed away, your favorite uncle, or a child who died at birth, or any of the official Saints, like Saint Patrick, or Saint Brigid. The Holy Spirit was always present with the Celts as they tended their fields, spun their wool, or performed rituals inclusive of the whole community.

I was particularly moved by the Celtic definition of sin. It simply means, “separation from God,” and should be met with sorrow, not judgment or guilt. The person experiencing the sadness of sin is surrounded by the love of the community and brought back into connection with the divine. A non-dual world, where God walks with you through plague or famine or war.

Hence the deep relevance for our time of plague, hunger, displacement of thousands, and the horror of war.

 A video of Jennifer Daughtery’s class is on-line under the offerings of the Wisdom School on the Saint Mark’s website. I commend you to check it out.

She gave us homework after the first class, to write our own Lorica, a Celtic prayer of protection that describes our own view of the divine. This is what I wrote:

Mary, you are here.

Christ, you are here.

I feel the presence of your essence

In the great blue heron,

The purple hyacinth,

Those tiny baby spiders that come in the spring,

Everything.

Hold me in your love,

Hold all living things in your love,

As I, gratefully, hold you in mine.

After experiencing the beauty, openness, and welcoming spirit of Jennifer’s class, I went to Sunday morning service at Saint Mark’s. I took part in the liturgy, sang hymns, learned that “glory” does not mean glory in war, or even in worshipping the glory of God, it means the feeling we all have when we experience the divine living within us. Thich Nhat Han would call this “Enlightenment.”

 I ate the bread of the Eucharist, seeing it with the fresh eyes of Wisdom Christianity: a nondual celebration of the unity of consciousness.

 Last night I went to Saint Mark’s Ash Wednesday service. Guess who administered the ashes to my forehead and the bread to my waiting palm: my Wisdom Master, Cannon Jennifer Daugherty. Full circle, even as the Celts celebrated the circle of the seasons as an expression of their spiritual whole. 

May all of you reading this blog find your own unique path to being held in divine love, as we sail the uncertain seas of our times, together.

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