The term `Celtic Church’ is used to describe almost the earliest native form of Christianity in the islands of Britain and Ireland, it dates from around 400. The Celtic Church established itself as the most successful evangelistic movement Britain has ever seen with people like Ninian, the first known evangelist in Scotland, David, who had such an influence on Wales, Patrick, a Scot who evangelised Ireland, Columba, an Irishman who led many in Scotland to Christ.
In the Celtic tradition the Holy Spirit is represented as a bird, but not the peaceful and serene dove landing on Jesus at his baptism. For their symbol of the Holy Spirit, the Celtic church people chose the Wild Gose, ( An Geadh-Glas) This has become, the logo and name for the worship branch of the Iona Community.
Why did the Wild Goose speak to those ancient Celtic Christians? To begin with, wild geese aren’t controllable. You can’t restrain a wild goose and bend it to your will. They’re raucous and loud. Unlike the sweet and calming cooing of a dove, a goose’s honk is strong, challenging, strident and unnerving – and just a bit scary.
In much the same way the Spirit of God can be, demanding and unsettling. Think about the story of Pentecost, and the impression the disciples made on the crowd. People thought they were drunk and disorderly!
Its one thing for a gentle dove to descend peacefully on Jesus – it’s something all together different when the Spirit descends like a wild, noisy goose!
Early Christianity in Celtic lands had a more natural,
less imperial feel than it did elsewhere and it’s spirituality is reviving
today. This has a strong sense of God’s presence in creation and in
everyday life, celebrates God through all the senses, releases creativity,
respects both women’s and men’s gifts and values contemplation.
Celtic Christians see life as a pilgrimage, use earthy yet poetic prayers, and have a vivid sense of saints, angels and the unseen world.
They believe that what is deepest in us is the image of God. Sin has distorted but not erased it. However, the struggle against evil in the human and the spirit world is real. Memorising Scripture, praying daily following the natural rhythm of the sun and the seasons, and working with a soul friend to overcome destructive passions are a means to this.
The early Celtic churches were communities of work, prayer and hospitality at the heart of local life, and those with a Celtic vision seek to restore these features to church life today.
The Celtic way of mission is to plant the experience of Christ within the natural patterns of the people, to be friendly towards all people of good will and respect other faiths.
Many people today see Celtic spirituality as a way to weave together again the separated strands of Christianity, and to heal a fragmented world.
Creation as Sacrament
Because the Celtic Church had not been infected with a dualistic outlook on creation, they did not see matter as evil, nor the spiritual world as divorced from the material. Thus, they looked on Creation around them as one great hymn of praise to its Creator, reflecting His nature and character, whilst not actually being God itself.
Because the Celtic believers lived in a rural world, life was lived in rhythm with creation and was made up of work, worship and rest, with everything cloaked in prayer. Thus, many Celtic prayers are associated with simple events such as rising in the morning, lying down at night, cleaning a hearth or baking bread.
They saw the creatures around them as fellow servants of God. So, on one occasion, Cuthbert chided a young companion for not sharing a fish with an eagle who had just miraculously presented it to them for food.
On another, Columba instructed a brother on Iona to give shelter to an injured bird which had fallen on the shore on its flight across the water, as an expression of God’s love for His creatures.
And there is the famous story of Cuthbert being warmed at Coldingham by sea-otters after he had come out of the cold North Sea where he had been singing psalms during the night.
Creation is therefore seen as an outward expression of God’s nature and character, sustained by His upholding Word, and declaring His visible glory. It is not seen as a decaying, disposable utility to be exploited by man, which came with the later dualistic thinking.