This may end up having nothing to do with contemplative community, but for today, it is the Irish that are on my mind. As we celebrate the feast day of St. Patrick of Ireland, I am reminded of my own Celtic heritage. On my father’s side, I give honor to my Anglo, Jute and Saxon infused ancestors. On my mother’s side, I give honor to the indigenous people of Ireland and Northern Wales (short of stature, black hair, dark eyes) whose blood runs in mine. These are the ancestor’s whose spirits run most strongly in my own blood and with whom I feel the most intimate kinship. These are the ancestors who show up in my dreams and have most strongly influenced my own life path and passions. These are the people of magic and mystery, art and music, literature and poetry. Ok…I guess we are talking about the contemplative life afterall! 🙂
I think the thing that stands out most strongly about my Celtic ancestry is the resilience of these people – Most especially the indigenous tribes of Ireland and Northern Wales. Today, we are most acutely aware of “the troubles” in Northern Ireland as the Bloody Sunday massacre still rings in our consciousness. But, for centuries, the indigenous people of Ireland and Northern Wales have suffered prejudice, persecution and slavery. They were the target of Viking raids, Roman rule and English imperialism. And, the “troubles” still go on today. And, sadly, the man we give honor to today, St. Patrick, might not have been such a saint afterall.
St. Patrick is called the patron saint of Ireland and is given honor for the miracle he accomplished in driving the “snakes” out of Ireland. I am sad to inform you that the “snakes” were not slithering serpents, but are a metaphor for the destruction of the pre-Christian traditions of the native Irish. In harsher language, St. Patrick is honored for destroying the earth-based religion of the Celtic people in favor of the Christian faith. While I honor Jesus as my personal guru, I have a hard time honoring the destruction of indigenous practices. But….here is where the resiliency of the Celtic people shines the brightest. While they may have embraced the teaching of Christ, they never truly left behind the rituals and practices of their ancient traditions, and these traditions have become seamlessly integrated into our Christian holidays, rituals, saint stories and practices. And what is most humorous to me is that most of us are completely unaware of these pre-Christian influences. Let me just name a few:
St. Brigit – honored as a Catholic saint, is really a Celtic goddess that was given saint status in an attempt to win over the Celtic people.
Candlemas/St. Blaise Day – The original dates of the worship of the Celtic goddess, Brigit, and the ritual for giving honor to the return of the light and the coming of spring.
Halloween/All Saint’s Day – the dates of the celebration of Samhain – the Celtic holiday for honoring the dead and for recognizing their spiritual presence in our daily lives.
So, while the Irish have suffered the waves of political and religious invasion, they continued to maintain their mystical connection with the God of their understanding. It is this connection with the Divine that has kept them going and allowed them to move through the “troubles” without losing faith (ok, and an occasional shot of whiskey or pint of ale:). This connection with the Divine through music, mystery, ritual, poetry and art is what has survived and remains as a testament to the resilience of the Irish people. So today, as we celebrate the Feast of St. Patrick, let us look to the Irish spirit and their passionate connection with the Divine as a source of inspiration and guidance for our own spiritual journeys.