A new book has recently been released which is authored by a number of different deeply spiritual members of the New Monastic Order I belong to - The Community of Aidan & Hilda.
As well as writing some of the book itself, i was also the editor of it, collating the chapters and pieces of chapters together.
Click here to read a blog I wrote for BRF, the publishers, on the release of the book, Caught up in Love - Celtic Prayer.
This year, 2021, March 17th, St Patrick's day, falls on a day in my Celtic Lent book where I tell one of the greatest legends about St Patrick. Also today, a new blog is released on my publisher's website that I wrote on St Patrick. I would love you to go and read the blog and comment here on it.
Happy St Patrick's Day!
[Jesus] came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water... Jesus said, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”
John 4 v 5-7 & 13-14
Physical, geographical Sacred Spaces:
God has always been involved in His creation, since the beginning of time, throughout every day since, and will continue to be so until He comes to reclaim it and all things are reconciled back to their Creator.
We seem happy in church to sing of such things, proclaiming that ‘this is the day the Lord has made’ for example, and singing songs with lines such as ‘who told the lightening bolts where they should go? Or has seen heavenly storehouses laden with snow?’ Both of these are Old Testament scripture references (see here and here), but do we really believe them? Do we really believe that the earth, or the whole of the created order, are sacred, special and interact with the Divine?
The bible tells us not only that God is involved in his creation, like the verses above, and many others like them, but that there is a great Divine love for it! One good example is a reference to God’s love for the whole of creation which I believe has been greatly misunderstood. The verse I am referring to, in my experience, has been understood and referred to as saying ‘people’, that it is referring to humanity. But it isn’t. It is so much more than that!
There is more than one word in scripture to refer to the ‘world’ so as to be able to distinguish the natural created order (which includes people) from just the people (humanity) from ‘fleshly attitudes’, three distinct things. One of these Greek words, the word for the natural created order of things, is ‘kosmos’. And all through the New Testament the word ‘kosmos’ is used and translated as ‘world’, which is correct. However, there is one scripture where the word ‘kosmos’ is used, meaning the whole of creation, and is translated as ‘world’, which is correct, which we seem to have been conditioned to misunderstand as meaning ‘people’. That scripture is John 3v16. The original translation uses the word ‘kosmos’: ‘for God so loved the ‘whole of creation’ (kosmos) that He gave His only Son (then moving onto people) so that whoever believes in Him…’ etc…etc... To understand this verse in this way gives us a whole different perspective of God’s view of nature and the whole of creation. It was for it all, the trees and plants, the creatures and birds, the waters and the rock, that Jesus suffered and died and not just for human beings.
If this is the case, if God so loved the Earth that he gave his only Son, and if God so loved the birds, and animals, and seas and everything in them, if God so loved the trees and plants that he gave his only Son, then what difference should that make as to how we see and treat the planet upon which we live? What changes in our Spiritual Ecology do we need to make to enable us to be in line with the Divine perspective of the world, the Kosmos? Some good books to help you through this include: L is for Lifestyle by Ruth Valerio; Simple by Helen Jaeger; Toward an Eco-Spirituality (Church at the Crossroad) by Leonardo Boff. Also see ecochurch.arocha.org.uk.
But it is not only God’s love of the earth that the bible speaks of, but the response by or from the earth back to God (and I am not talking about people). Romans 8v19-22 speaks of the created order groaning in child bearing pains waiting to be freed from it’s subjection to the fall. I don’t know if you are aware, but plants do actually emanate sound. Flowers, for example, emit two tones which can be ‘heard’ by bees, one signals that they are full of nectar, a welcoming sound, and the other signals that they have just been emptied and need a couple of minutes to replenish their nectar supplies. This, some scientists believe, is why bees sometimes hover in front of a flower and then leave without going in. Plants communicate through sound beyond the normal human hearing.
I have the privilege of living at the edge of 152 square miles of protected forest. I often go out into this wonderful surrounding to meditate. On one such occasion a few years ago I was sitting in a lovely wooded grove. I had woven some vines together around a couple of tree trunks to create something to sit on, and planned to sit there all morning in meditation. After a couple of hours in stillness and silence I began to hear a sound. It was a low, very low, humming sound, although not like a mechanical hum, more like a vocal hum. As I listened more I could hear that it was not just a single hum, but multiple hums, and in different tones, but in beautiful harmony. I sat and listened for a short while more to this beautiful sound. Then I opened my eyes. As I opened my eyes I could see what looked like a heat haze coming off the tops of the trees surrounding me. This seemed a little odd as I was wearing a jacket to keep me warm that day. As I watched, in probably less than 2 seconds, the ‘heat haze’ disappeared, and at the same time the beautiful harmonious humming sound faded out too. Both disappeared together. I believe that what I heard, from within a deep meditation, was the sound of the trees responding to their Creator.
In the gospel of Mark, Jesus commissions his disciples to go into the world (kosmos) and preach to the whole of creation (ktisis: all created things) 16v15. This seems a very odd thing to say! To go and tell all created things the Gospel of Christ. Unless, of course, we think that proclaiming the Gospel is more than just using words, but is also shown by our actions. Then acting out the Gospel, the good news of Christ to the whole of the created order is not so difficult to do. Perhaps this command by Jesus is a command to care for creation!
Creation is alive, has a ‘relationship’ with God (for want of a better word), and God is intricately interactively involved in every part of it in love (see Matthew 10v29 for example). We need to understand that the bible teaches that God has a relationship with every part of the whole of His creation, and not just the people of it, and that He dwells within it, and not just in His people.
Today it is perhaps the Celtic Christians who are most famed for seeing and believing in the Divine within creation, understanding it as panentheistic – God in everything (as opposed to the Pagan pantheistic view, which sees everything as a god). Perhaps, arguably, the best advocate of this from the Celtic Christians was John Scotus Eriugena who, in his Homily on the prologue of John’s Gospel states that we can ‘learn to know the Maker from those things that are made in him and by him’ and particularly in his book Periphyseon – on the division of nature, which as Oliver Davies says in Celtic Spirituality, ‘presents an understanding of the origin and meaning of the universe… [which] establishes the created world, both visible and invisible, as a theophany of God, who is unknowable in himself. God is thus simultaneously present in all things and infinitely beyond all things’. But it wasn’t just the Celtic Christians who believed this, many others throughout the Christian heritage did too, such as St Francis of Assisi, famed for his connection with nature, and also the Medieval German Mystic Meister Eckhart who said “If I spend enough time with the tiniest creature – even a caterpillar – I would never have to prepare another sermon, so full of God is every creature” (see here for a great book to explore examples of nature connection for Christians more deeply).
The concept of Sacred Spaces, or Thin Places has come from this knowledge over the generations of the Divine dwelling in the natural realms, that the spiritual and the physical are interwoven. Many specific places on earth have become sacred spaces, places where the Divine presence seem a little heavier, where the veil between the physical realm and the spiritual realm seems to be much thinner.
We can often better understand the spirit realms with a physical illustration; Jesus understood this, which is why He used so many illustrations. Hopefully this following one will help a little to understand the concept of physically sacred spaces:
If I have a large plot of ground and set up a sprinkler system above the whole of it, it would be true to say that the whole of it would be covered in the water. However, if I then took a hose pipe and held it constantly over one space of this ground, although the whole area would be covered in the presence of water, it would be true to say that the space under the hose pipe would be saturated to a much greater extent to that of the rest of the ground.
This is the concept of physical sacred spaces, that although the Divine presence is everywhere and in all places at all times, that there are specific spaces on the Earth where Spirit filled people have deeply saturated it in the Divine presence over long periods of time through prayer and worship, and so the presence of God is there to a greater extent than it is in other places, as the heavy presence of God dwells and lingers there.
A true story which may help to illustrate this:
Some years ago I lived and worked in London, and at a meeting I heard this testimony: There was a church which held a service one Sunday evening where the Divine presence became overwhelming to the people. The heavy presence of God, or to use a biblical/Hebrew word, the ‘Kabod’ of God, a wonderfully onomatopoeic word which means ‘the falling of the heavy presence’ of God, seemed to rest and dwell at the front of the church, similar to how the Spirit of God was over Naioth in 1Samuel 19v18-24. As people came to the front of the church, when they reached the front, they seemed to just fall to the floor under the presence of God. The meeting continued until it finished and all went home. The following day, as was usual, the cleaner came in to set things straight. One of her jobs was to remove the flowers from the stage and replace them the following week. She continued as usual to go to walk across the stage and take the flowers away. However, as soon as she reached the stage she fell to the floor under the continuing dwelling ‘Kabod’ of God which had lingered.
There are a great many sacred spaces which one can visit around the world. Some of those from the Christian heritage in Britain and Ireland include: Lindisfarne (also known as ‘Holy Island); The Isle of Iona; Glastonbury; Canterbury; St David’s; Bardsey Island; Caldey Island; Whitby; Skellig Michael; Glendalough; Kildare; Clonmacnoise; but there are so many others. Recommended books to help find these places include: Every Pilgrims Guide to Celtic Britain & Ireland by Andrew Jones; and Pilgrimage by Ian Bradley.
Inner Sacred Space:
I used the scripture passage of Jesus at Jacob’s Well at the start of this blog as an illustration of how the indwelling of God’s Spirit means we can also have ‘sacred spaces’ within ourselves as well as out side. Jacob’s well was a physical sacred space, but Jesus spoke to the woman about the spring of living water welling up within us, which is also a sacred space, an inner sacred space.
The move of God as recorded in the New Testament does not negate nor disregard that of the Old Testament - note that when the Apostle Paul spoke to Timothy and said “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” (2Tim 3:16) he was only referring to the Jewish scriptures, the Christian Old Testament. God did not stop all He was doing, but transformed it, and added to it, so we can now not only have sacred spaces in the physical world, like the Holy of Holies in the temple, but also within ourselves with God’s indwelling Spirit. This is what the tearing of the curtain in the temple at the moment of the death of Christ signified.
The way in which we create the inner environment to have and dwell in an inner sacred space is through contemplative prayer and practices such as meditation. There are many books which enable us to learn how to do this, including my own (which you can find here) as I believe that creating inner sacred spaces draws us closer to the Divine than any other form of prayer or worship or service, though all other forms are worthwhile, none draws us as deeply in the very heart of the Divine, into the Ground of our Being as much as contemplation.
God still intimately loves and dwells within His world, the ‘kosmos’, the created order, and works intricately in every part in a relationship with it all, and also works within His people, which He has always done. The need for personal alignment to the ‘Law’ is now no longer necessary, for we are now under the grace of God through the death and resurrection of Christ. All else, though, is the same, and we can encounter and dwell with the Divine Creator in physical sacred spaces as well as our inner sacred spaces. Find existing, or even create, external, physical sacred spaces, and also, through the practice of contemplation and meditation, create inner sacred spaces.
A blog post I wrote for a friend's website related to a retreat I ran with him. Click here to be redirected to his site.
Click here to read a blog David Cole (Brother Cassian) wrote for his publishers, BRF.
Click here to go to a blog on a different site written by David Cole.
Click here to read a blog on the publisher's website for David Cole's new book 'The Celtic Year'.
For the past 15 years I have been a part of a globally dispersed, Celtic inspired, New Monastic community – The Community of Aidan & Hilda (CA&H). 11 years ago I became a vowed member of the Community. And just this past weekend (June 15th 2019) I became the first person to take on the CA&H habit.
Let me begin with a little explanation of what ‘New Monasticism’ is. Although there have been whole books written on the subject, let me try to summerise as best I can: New Monastic communities are groups of people, either living close together or more widely dispersed, who do not feel called to live in first order monastic communities, but feel that some of the ways of life of the monks and nuns of the Christian faith can bring about something quite deep and profound to the lay person (the person living in everyday life). One of these things is to live by a Monastic Rule, or Way of Life, in a rhythm of daily prayer, but there are so many more aspects of New Monasticism. I recently wrote an article on New Monasticism for a website, although at time of writing this that is yet to go live. When it is I shall place a link here. In the meantime there are plenty of books to read on it.
So, those involved in New Monastic communities live by a monastic Way of Life, but in the world. Which is what I have been doing along to the CA&H Way of Life of for the past 15 years – first 4 years as an ‘Explorer’, as we call it, testing out if it is right, then 11 years as a ‘Voyager’ under vows. CA&H is a totally dispersed community, which means that we have no residential centre (although we do have a retreat centre on Lindisfarne, and some ‘community houses’ around the UK), but that members remain in their own houses and communities and live out our Way of Life in their own everyday existence – work, family, church, neighbourhood – connected through local groups, national gatherings, and social media.
A few years ago, as I studied and began to get more personally inspired with more traditional monastic practices, I felt a shift in my own path. It took a little over 3 years to unfold, with some ‘dead ends’ tried; it involved long periods in contemplative silence seeking Divine guidance, and some practical research; it involved visiting numerous monasteries, friaries, and convents, and speaking to numerous members of first order and third order communities in person, on the phone, and by email, but finally it came to the day where I became the first ‘Monastic Voyager’ and took on the CA&H habit, a vision which was part of the original founders 25 years ago (which is a great testament to keep hold of your visions if you really believe they are from God!).
In the morning of the day on which I was presented with the habit and became a ‘Monastic Voyager’ at the CA&H UK annual gathering, our Episcopal Visitor – Bishop Christopher Cocksworth, bishop of Coventry, gave a talk on New Monasticism referencing a book he had been reading. He spoke of many things, and put them much more eloquently than I am about to, but one thing which really caught my ear, being focused on what was to happen shortly after his talk, was something he said referring to words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who spoke of the need for a ‘Monasticism in the world’ rather than in the cloister. Now everyone in New Monasticism knows the quote from Bonhoeffer which says ‘The restoration of the church will surely come only from a new kind of monasticism...’. It’s where we get the term ‘New Monasticism’ itself from. But this, for me, was something more, there was something in this which for me begged the question ‘how will the people in the world recognise this ‘new monasticism’? How is this something more than just a thing I am doing for me?’. Despite the fact that I have been a vowed member of a New Monastic community for 11 years, and have been living this way, how, actually, do the folk out in the world, who won’t come along to anything we put on, know? How will this make a wider difference than to just me and my group? It seemed a timely talk for me personally in my journey. I am absolutely sure that others in the room were spoken to by God through the words spoken by Bishop Christopher, but for me, about to take on a habit, it was an affirmation to this call.
One of the things which I came to realise as I visited Religious centres around the UK over the past 2 or 3 years, was that these spaces were sacred spaces. That there was something about them that the residents held dear. Of course this is absolutely right, and I have previously written a blog on sacred spaces and places, but what about me? What does it mean to be living out a monastic Way of Life, in a habit, in the world, yet without a monastic centre? With the words of Bonhoeffer ringing in my ears these words came to me – the world is my monastery, the world is my sacred space, the earth is the place upon which I step with the heart and mind that ‘where I stand is holy ground’.
Now of course, it doesn’t take wearing a habit to have this frame of mind and attitude of heart. But for me the wearing of a habit in the world, which is my monastery, shifts something in my head, and I know in the heads of others.
Part of my 3 years or so journey into taking the habit included some research into the psychology of clothing. As the guiding council of CA&H met and formulated together this concept of ‘Monastic Voyagers’ we discussed the idea of wearing a habit. The psychology of clothing is fascinating. The clothes that you wear, and that others wear, shifts our subconscious. We react differently to others depending upon what they wear. You may think you don’t, or you’d like to think you don’t, but this is at the subconscious level, so it is not in your control. We also act differently depending upon what clothes we wear. This could be the difference between a suit and tie, and joggers and t-shirt. We have, culturally built into our subconscious, the idea that different clothes denote different things. The same is true for habits and other religious wear. Most religions have specific clothing to identify them, and Christianity is no different, although it has tended to just be the ‘professional’ members of Christianity who have worn such clothes. But these clothes are not just for identification, like the different colours of the kit of a sports team, these clothes have deeply spiritual significance, and it affects not just the wearer, but those they encounter as well.
So for me, wearing a habit in my everyday life does two things: firstly it shifts my subconscious about myself, about the call I am living, about how I behave, about what I project into the world; and secondly, I know that it shifts the subconscious of those I come across. In the main the response (as I wore a different habit as part of the research over the 2 or 3 years) is positive, and I have had more deeply spiritual conversations whilst wearing it than when not. It seems to make most people relax and feel ‘safe’. There are, of course, those who have obviously had negative and hurtful experiences with some religious person or group whose reaction is negative, but so far I have found them to be in the small minority.
Whether you wear a habit or some other clerical clothing or not, whether you feel called to do so or not, let us all live with the mindset and attitude of heart that the world is our monastery, it is a sacred place, and all those we encounter are our brothers and sisters, and live a life which reflects that Divine attitude.
Whether you wear a habit or not, live as if the world is your monastery!
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 13 – London, 1933-1935. Fortress Press. 2007. Pg285 (italics mine)
TICKETS AVAILABLE HERE
Celtic Christianity is becoming such a popular concept it is almost impossible to avoid, whether that be books, music, art, or jewellery. There are also a growing number of churches putting on ‘Celtic’ services. But what exactly is Celtic Christianity? Where did it come from and what does it mean to us in the modern church.
The Community of Aidan & Hilda, a Celtic inspired New Monastic Community, are putting on a week long Celtic Summer School in Durham in August 2019 as part of their 25th anniversary year.
The summer school has some excellent and well known teachers and authors of Celtic Christianity coming to speak, as well as music from some great Celtic musicians, and Celtic art workshops led by Mary Fleeson of Lindisfarne Scriptorium.
Over this week in August you will discover, through the talent of experienced authors and speakers, a broad stretch of wisdom and knowledge on the topic. As Dr Ian Bradley, one of our speakers, says ‘...how should Celtic Christianity be defined? Certainly not, as it sometimes seems to be, as a broad family or grouping of Christians like Catholic, Orthodox or Protestants... Nor should it be seen as a separate denomination like Anglicanism, Presbyterianism or Methodism... Rather we are dealing with something which is highly heterogeneous, with different expressions in different places and at different times. It is better defined geographically, linguistically and temporally, as the Christianity practiced by those living in the Celtic speaking regions of the British Isles [and Ireland] over a particular timescale.’ So it can be said that ‘...the term Celtic can be useful today to help identify a certain collection of peoples, tribes, and kin. Even though there may have been differences in their specifics, there are enough similarities to enable us to see a connection – which, if true for the people, would also follow when speaking of the ‘Celtic’ [Christians]. Although there were, historically, differences... there are enough similarities to enable us to see a connection... When it comes to Celtic Christianity, we are speaking of a distinct style and expression of the Christian faith which reflected the life and community of these ‘Celtic’ people groups.’
The summer school is using different churches in Durham city centre, as well as the Cathedral, as venues for these exciting talks. With three talks a day, and a weekend full of activities available to choose from, this week will be something not to miss!!!
Come along and discover much more of this rich and fascinating topic.
TICKETS AVAILABLE HERE
The program is as follows:
Wednesday 7th : at St Godric’s Catholic church
Pm 1: David Cole – Introduction - with music from Julie Cameron Hall & Nigel Cameron
Pm 2: Ray Simpson - Celtic Christianity – 12 criticisms, 12 keys
Thursday 8th : at St. Oswald's Church
Am: Ray Simpson - A Way of Life as life-long discipleship
Pm 1: Ash Barker - Celtic Christianity in a multicultural society
Pm 2: Ken McIntosh - The Bible through Celtic Eyes
Friday 9th : at Elvet Methodist
Am: Ash Barker - New Monasticism in an Urban context
Pm 1: Penny Warren – Contemplation in the Celtic Tradition
Pm 2: Ken McIntosh - The Celtic view of the work of the Cross of Christ
Saturday 10th – evening concert – Dave Bainbridge & Sally Minnear at Cathedral
Sunday 11th – an evening with Andy & Anna Raine at Cathedral
Monday 12th : at Elvet Methodist
Am: Simon Reed - Living a Way of Life in a Local Church Context
Pm 1: Simon Reed & Graham Booth - Soul Friendship
Pm 2: Graham Booth - The Celtic Way of Prayer
Tuesday 13th : at St. Oswald's Church
Am: Ian Bradley - The Celtic Way for Today
Pm 1: Ian Bradley - Dispelling Myths of Celtic Christianity
Pm 2: Greg Valerio - Celtic Christianity and Connection to Creation
Wednesday 14th : at St Godric’s Catholic church
Am: Greg Valerio - Celtic New Monastic expressions in a rural context
Pm 1: David Cole - Conclusion
TICKETS AVAILABLE HERE
 Bradley, Ian. Following the Celtic Way – a new assessment of Celtic Christianity. Dartman, Longman & Todd Publishing. 2018. Pg21
 Cole, David. 40 Days with the Celtic Saints – devotional readings for a time of preparation. BRF Publishing. 2017. Pg7-8