There is more to see and know in this world than our naked eye can see. And sometimes we need to be taught to see. We need an experience which can transform our perspective. To stand or lie in a place where you feel what the ancients, and people today would call an experience of awe and wonder.
For the ancient Celts there was never any doubt that the material and spiritual, were one. Yet they also believed in Sacred Places where the veil between the visible world and invisible world was thin. As Margaret Silf (2001) in Sacred spaces: Stations in the Celtic Way, puts it ‘places where we stand still, in awe, where the barrier between our time-bound and our eternity seeking selves is lowered’(p. 9). For many of the Celts these sacred places were marked in some way by Cairns or Celtic crosses. This practice is echoed in the story from Genesis about Jacob building a cairn, to mark the numinous encounter of a sacred dream, and also in the renaming of the place where he encountered God – the House of God.
I wonder whether you have experienced a sacred place and where it might be for you, is it outside in nature? or in a building? or in a surprising place?
The experience of awe and wonder is not an isolated one, I have regular conversations with people who tell me of a significant place or places where they sense God or the sacred. And as a trained Spiritual Director I regularly listen to people share their sacred stories of meeting God in their daily lives. The thing that strikes me is how different the experiences of where and when people say they meet God.
I remember listening to a Uniting Church Frontier Services Padre at a conference share how he found God in a small aeroplane travelling over the wide regions of Australia, where in that place high above the earth, prayer was easy, as he felt the nearness of God.
Thin places, where the Celtic peoples encountered the Sacred or the Mystery, we name God, did not have to be external, though certain wells, groves of trees, hills and crossing places were commonly deemed Sacred Places. They could also be within a person, and part of the endless knot of the weaving of life’s moments. And so Sacred Places could also be experienced in our bodies and ourselves. This thought is compatible with what writers of the letters to the churches in Corinth (see I Cor 3:17 & II Cor 6:16) claimed and invited members of the early church to know, that their bodies were ‘temples of the Holy Spirit’.
The understanding that the divine presence of God can dwell within us and breathe through us fits with the idea in the second Genesis creation narrative that we are made in the image of God: Imago dei.
What does this mean if we started to see God’s image in our neighbour, in ourselves, in creation?
It might mean that living the Shema; the great commandment – ‘Loving God and loving our neighbours as ourselves’ becomes more like a flow on effect as each way of loving is deeply interconnected. And the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 139 might become alive in our experience, that God knows us intimately, God’s presence is with us wherever we are, whether we perceive it or not, whether at the beginning, or at the end of our lives, we are still with God, and God is with us.
In this Covid time let us in our own way learn to trust the ‘within-ness’ of God, the ‘within-ness’ of God, and the ‘beyond-ness’ of God. So that we might sense, as did our Celtic forebears, that we can meet Christ in many places.
I finish with a Celtic prayer of John O’Donohue, who encourages us to find the sacred in the interconnected experience of each day:
I arise today
In the Name of Silence
Womb of the Word,
In the Name of Stillness,
Home of Belonging,
In the Name of the Solitude,
Of the Soul and the Earth.
I arise today
Blessed by all things,
Wings of breath,
Delight of eyes,
Wonder of whisper,
Intimacy of touch,
Eternity of soul,
Urgency of thought,
Miracle of health,
Embrace of God,
May I live this day
Compassionate of heart
Gentle in word,
Gracious in awareness,
Courageous in thought,
Generous in love.
John O’Donohue, (1998) Eternal echoes: Exploring our hunger to belong. London: Bantam Books, p. xxi-xiv.
Rev Lynette Dungan