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)
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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
Recently I went and spent a weekend on personal retreat at the Franciscan Centre in Dorset, England – Hilfield Friary. My purpose for going was to take a couple of days out of my work schedule as a writer, speaker and retreat leader to just go and ‘be’ in the Divine presence in a space created for stillness. I was, for all intents and purposes, practicing what I preach.
The centre itself is a place where the Friars and other residential folk, some long term and some short term, live and work and have their being. It is not a silent place, but the stillness which rests upon it is evident to all. Slipping into the daily rhythm of prayers and meals/tea breaks was a wonderful way to punctuate the days which I spent there and the times of quiet stillness. The welcome and love I felt from all those who are resident there was palpable, and it simply added to the whole experience of just being.
St Francis himself was a man who understood the busy-ness of life. He and his brothers, back in the 13th century, were always hard at work either building churches or working to help the poor and needy. But he was also a man who understood the concept of peace and stillness and the importance of taking time out. He spent time-out with God in caves and deserted places in contemplative quiet. The idea of taking time out of the busy schedule was a part of who Francis was. He learned from Jesus, who ‘often withdrew to quiet places to pray” (Luke 5v16), the importance of taking time out to just ‘be’. This is something which is important to all of us, not just those who may be called to some form of monastic life.
The rhythm of prayer at Hilfield Friary allowed my day to be punctuated with deliberate times when I would take time out of solitary quietness and to go and gather with others to focus my prayers and my mind, which may often wander when sitting alone and just being. Morning, midday, evening, and night prayer were a joyous collective time of silence and chanting and listening and liturgy. The Daily Office book of the Society of St Francis (SSF) has a wonderful feel to the words and flow of prayer. This, along with the beautiful smell of the incense filling the chapel meant that one could easily slip into the Divine presence in the collective company of all as we all sat in the chapel to focus on the Divine.
Whilst I was there for the weekend, in the quiet, I was able not just to recuperate and enjoy the stillness without and within, but also to ‘hear’ the Divine voice of silence in the depths of my being. Some things were revealed to me (deep and personal things), as is often the case when you create the space for the Divine to move, and the beginnings of what might become another book (perhaps – when I finish the current project of a revision of my first book ‘The Mystic Path of Meditation’) are starting to formulate within me. This was all due to the fact that I created space in my diary to have just a couple of days where I went away with no agenda other than to just ‘be’ with God. I withdrew to a quiet place to pray.
I would encourage you to create space in your diary to do this very thing. I do it once a year, both as a personal practice which I have long done, and also now in accordance to the Way of Life I live by as part of being a vowed member of a New Monastic Community.
I know that when I write these words and you read them phrases such as ‘I don’t have the time’ or ‘can I afford it?’ may immediately spring to your mind. But my challenge to you, as it always is when I teach my workshop days or residential retreats, is just how important to you think spending time in stillness and quiet with God is? Is following the example of Jesus himself something which we should put ourselves out to do? We must create the time to do this to benefit our inner being, in the same way that we create the time regularly to sleep for hours for the benefit of our physical being. And really the question should be not ‘can I afford to do this financially?’ but ‘can I afford not to do this emotionally and spiritually?’. (If finances are a problem then there are options out there, for example, although there is a suggested cost at Hilfield Friary, it is, in fact, a donation based centre).
In the stillness and the quiet of places designed and sacredly kept for this purpose, such as Hilfield Friary, we can encounter the Divine in ways that we would never be able to do in our own homes or local places, even in our times of solitary or collective contemplation and meditation, taking time out in a different place has a different, deeper, and more transcendent affect on us.
It is time.
It is time for you to go.
It is time for you to go and ‘be’.
Last weekend I travelled to a group to run ‘Living in the Awareness of God’, one of the workshop days I offer, and this coming weekend I am travelling to teach a group on ‘Listening to the Heartbeat of God’ and abiding in the Divine presence. As I have prepared and presented these teachings it has reminded me of just how important it is to dwell in the Divine presence, both in deliberate acts and disciplines, as well as in the continued awareness throughout our day, in all we do.
One of the illustrations I use at the start of these days is that of the air and our breathing. The Meditation teacher’s basic 101 teaching – concentrating on the breath.
As I remind the participants, I remind myself, firstly the air around us is a constant presence – it is always there, and we share it with all other life. The other people and creatures around us breathe in and out as we do, and the plants which surround us ‘breathe’ in and out opposite to the way we do – breathing in what we breathe out, and breathing out what we breathe in. The air is always there.
Secondly, we are all breathing. In and out all the time, constantly, without ceasing, day and night, in and out, breathing. Yet we are almost never in a state of conscious awareness of either of these things – the air or our breathing. Through the practice of mindful meditation we become aware of the air and of our breathing. We draw in the air, and that which was outside of us comes into us. It fills our lungs and increases our physical capacity. Then we exhale and the air flows out of us again.
Just as the air surrounds us all the time, so the Divine presence surrounds us all the time. Just as we breath in and out and the air, becoming our breath, flows in and out of us, so the Divine presence is not just something outside us, but something which flows through us. The air and our breathing are just like the Divine presence and our existence. Just as we can use meditation practices to draw our attention to the air and our breathing, we can use meditation practices to draw our attention to the omnipresent Divine, and its flowing through us.
However, there is something more about the air and our breathing.
We don’t just breathe in the air around us and breath it out again, there is a point to it. There is a reason that our bodies do this. The reason is because there are things in the air which we need to survive as a being – oxygen, for example. The air flows into us through our breathing, but doesn’t just flow out again, first the life giving aspects of the air penetrate our physical being, it doesn’t just flow in and out of us, it actually becomes a part of who we are as a living being. It is incorporated into our being and it is this which gives us life. We can go for a while without food. We can go for a slightly shorter while without a drink. But we cannot go long at all without taking a breath! It is the most significant aspect to our survival, based on how long we can go without the things we need to survive. Breath is what we can go without the least.
This is also true with the Divine presence. As the Divine presence flows through our very being, it doesn’t just stay something separate to us, it isn’t just something external which flows into our being and through us, as it does that it becomes a part of who we are as a being. And it is what we can do without the least. We can go for a while without reading the bible, or going to church, or even verbal expressions of prayer, but without the interflowing of the Divine presence into and through our being, becoming a part of who we are, we will spiritually perish. So therefore this means that just like the air and our breathing and the interaction with our physical selves, the Divine is flowing through each of us and interweaving into being a part of our existence and of our very being all the time. We just live most of our lives completely unaware of it.
Just as the basic first fundamental teaching of meditation and mindfulness is focus on the breathe, and is a practice continued by even the masters, so the focused awareness of the Divine presence and its interflowing and integration into our very being is a basic practice for the spiritual meditator.
And just as with all other meditation practices, the more one does it, the more one becomes aware. The more one becomes aware, the greater affect it has on our being, our living, our existence. It becomes a part of who we are, and flows out from us as we live out our lives.
Stop. Breathe. Live aware.
It was a few years ago now that I became a vowed member of the dispersed New Monastic community ‘The Community of Aidan & Hilda’ (CA&H). Much more recently (at time of writing) I had the privilege of facilitating the service of one of the Explorer members of CA&H taking their vows to become a Voyager. These are terms which CA&H use for those people who have been spending time exploring living by the Way of Life (our monastic Rule) who are becoming a vowed member of the Community.
On my way to the service I went to collect a friend and we both drove up together in my car. The three of us, the person taking their vows, the friend I collected, and myself, are all mutual friends, but the one I had collected did not know a great deal about CA&H or New Monasticism, so on the journey, a little over an hour each way, they took the opportunity to ask questions and discover more about it. We discussed all the different aspects of what it meant to commit to take vows to live by a monastic rule as a lay person in a dispersed community, and various thoughts on spiritual disciplines. However, it became apparent as we spoke that something was not quite matching up. My friend just wasn’t quite getting what I was saying. Then it became clear why this was. Although I was speaking clearly, some of the words I was saying were leaving my mouth one way and hitting the ears of my friend in a different way. Specifically one, quite key, phrase. You see, as I said the words ‘New Monastic’ my passenger was hearing the words ‘pneuma nastic’. Being an intelligent person, they knew that ‘pneuma’ was the Greek word for ‘spirit’ used in scripture, and so was assuming that this was something to do with the Holy Spirit, but was not really getting the gist, as this little miscommunication changed everything, and made much of what I said unintelligible. Once we had cleared up this little misunderstanding, by my friend stopping the conversation and asking me ‘what is nastic?’, and laughing about it, things began to get much clearer for my friend. However, it got me thinking, I liked the idea of ‘Pneuma Nastic’, of a Spirit led something or another, but as far as I knew, ‘nastic’ was not a real word. It wasn’t a suffix of ‘monastic’ as the prefix included the letters ‘na’ from the monos of monk, meaning ‘one’, or ‘alone’. However, I decided to look it up anyway. Some of you may already know this, because you are cleverer than me, but to my delight I discovered that ‘nastic’ is an actual word! And it has a wonderful meaning to be allegorically translated into the Christian (Pheuma led) life.
Nastic is a term which comes from botany, it is the movement of plant parts in response either to external or internal growth stimuli. Nastic movements, which are generally slow, can be observed with time laps filming, which we have probably all seen on the amazing natural history and nature programs on telly.
How wonderful! Nastic means to grow, slowly, from an internal or external stimuli. Certainly Pneuma Nastic has now become a thing, at least it has for me! Being that I am a branch of the vine which is Christ, a nice botanical allegory, Pneuma nastic is the slow and gradual transformation and growth of my inner self due to the internal work of the Holy Spirit (Pneuma) or the external work, that is, through other people, of the same.
Therefore I am a Pneuma nastic New Monastic!
However, you don’t have to be New Monastic to live a Pneuma nastic life. In fact, the Pneuma nastic growth of our inner selves is really what being a Christian is all about! For example, this is what the Apostle Paul meant when he suggested to the church in Rome that they be transformed by the renewing of their minds. This ‘renewing’ was Pneuma nastic. Or when he wrote to the church in Corinth explaining how we are being transformed from one degree of glory to the next to become more and more like God, and become a better reflection of the Divine glory.
We may not all be New Monastics, but we should certainly all be Pneuma nastic! We should all be led into slow transformative growth by the prompting and stimuli of the Holy Spirit!
For many people the joy of spiritual disciplines, or following a monastic Rule or Way of Life is a life-giving wonder, and, speaking for myself, has been one of the greatest helps in my own growth. But whether or not you choose to be New Monastic, as we all continue on the path to which we have been led, I pray that we will all always live a Pneuma nastic life, and that the Holy Spirit will always be the stimuli for our nasticness (I think I made that last word up!).
If you wanted to know more about New Monasticism, and CA&H specifically, then why not visit www.aidanandhilda.org.uk, or dip into one of these books:
New Celtic Monasticism for Everyday People by Ray Simpson; Followers of the Way by Simon Reed; or Ancient Faith, Future Mission – New Monasticism as Fresh Expression of Church. Various authors
[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.”