I am the wind which breathes upon the sea,
I am the wave of the ocean,
I am the murmur of the billows,
I am the ox of the seven combats,
I am the vulture upon the rocks,
I am a beam of the sun,
I am the fairest of plants,
I am the wild boar in valour,
I am the salmon in the water,
I am a lake in the plain,
I am a world of knowledge
I am the point of the lance of battle,
I am the God who created the fire in the head. (Ed. P. Murray)
In Celtic spirituality there is no dualism. All is one. John O’Donohue quotes this poem in his book Anam Cara and explains that for the original author, Amairgen, “I am because everything else is. I am in everything and everything is in me.”
Starting two weeks ago, we began talking about Celtic spirituality and friendship. O’Donohue suggests that in order to have balance in our lives, we need to have deep friendships, not just with other people, but with our bodies, nature, the aging process and death.
(For the full video version, click here.)
Before the coming of the Christian missionaries, Celtic spirituality linked humanity intimately to the earth, animals, landscape, plants, trees, the sun and the moon. Because of their lack of dualism, this relationship was never humanity vs. nature, it was a true friendship. Creation was not for humans to subdue, but to live respectfully in harmony with.
Esther de Waal, who lives in Wales and has authored books on Celtic spirituality, has said that, “The greatest loss undoubtedly has been that of the Celtic understanding of creation. The relationship between people and the land is lost.”
Imagine walking on the earth and that it is truly the body of the goddess upon which you walk. This is how the ancient people of Ireland understood their land. And wells were considered sacred openings through which the goddess flowed forth. Many of those wells have now been appropriated by St. Brigid or other Christian saints, but are sill considered holy today.
Another legend, O’Donohue says, is about the “Tuatha De Dannan, the tribe of Celts banished form the surface of Ireland, [who] now inhabit the underworld beneath the land. From there, they controlled the fecundity of the land above. Consequently, when a king was being crowned, he entered into a symbolic marriage with the goddess. His reign mediated between the visible landscape with its grass, crops, and trees and the hidden subterranean world in which all is rooted.”
Keep in mind that the Celts were mostly rural, farming people who depended completely on the abundance of the land. Yet, we see from these legends, rituals and beliefs that the land was not just nature to them, it took on a numinous, or deeply spiritual, quality. We’ve lost this.
Recognizing humanity’s oneness with the earth, or advocating for the protection of our earth, has never been Christianity’s strong suit. Jesus really didn’t have anything to say about it, though perhaps that is because they didn’t have some of the issues we have today, or because he was dealing first and foremost with freeing the people from an oppressive government and rigid religion.
For centuries Christians have effectively ignored what has been happening to the earth because, well, the rapture is coming and then it isn’t going to matter anyway. All that was important was saving souls.
At this point in history we are further removed from nature than we ever have been. Estimates project that by 2050, 66% of the world’s population will live in cities. And according to a study sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American spends 93% of his or her time indoors
We are starting to see movements and practices arise that seek to restore humanity’s relationship to the earth and nature.
Theologian and spiritual leader, Matthew Fox, has recently partnered with two younger spiritual leaders and writers to form a spiritual community called the Order of the Sacred Earth. Their premise is that there are so many people – but young people especially – who are leaving the church and yet need a community that gives them a sense of sacredness and purpose. The vow that is made to become a member of this spiritual order is: “I promise to be the best lover and defender of Mother Earth that I can be.” While they are in the early stages of formation, this vow is intended to shape the principles and values through which they will operate.
Time Magazine recently ran an article about a new spiritual practice that is emerging in Japan that brings people back in touch with nature and themselves. That practice is called forest bathing. Many research studies have proved that there are significant health benefits from spending time in the energy of the trees. To forest bathe means to become aware – using our wonderful, sacred, sensuous bodies – and experience fully the beauty, energy and essence of the forest. One simply spends unhurried time in a forest, or near trees, simply being present and aware. Using our five senses we can bridge the gap between us and nature, helping us to destress and relax.
Reconnecting also brings us back into awareness of the wisdom that nature has to offer us.
The Old Testament has more to say about the beauty and wisdom of creation than the New Testament, and so I turned there for insight for today and found the wonderful passage in Job 12:7-10 that reminds us to look around us and learn from the wisdom of the animals, birds, plants and fish. They are our teachers.
Did you know that the wolf spider never builds its web between two hard objects like two stones. If it did this, the web would be torn apart by the wind. Instinctively, it builds its web between two blades of grass. What does this teach us?
Consider the Lotus flower which is rooted in the muck at the bottom of a pond and needs to work its way through the murky water before emerging into the light. It rests above the water, but remains rooted to the bottom of the pond. What does this teach us?
There is also much wisdom to be gained by being in tune to the seasons. Sadly, when the seasons change we’re more concerned with clothes we need to pull out of storage than what lessons they have to teach us.
Celts and other indigenous religions celebrated the changes of the seasons and honored the wisdom they brought, but Christianity successfully hijacked those celebrations and festivals and turned them into Christian holidays far removed from the natural world.
Seriously, we can’t spend 93% of our time indoors and expect to maintain a spiritual balance in our lives. We need to nurture a friendship with nature, to be present to the energy, wisdom and beauty that surrounds us, to remember that we are not separate from, but PART OF nature… we are one. There is no us and it… no duality.
Love & Light!