We have seen characteristics of individual Celtic Christians. Some were missional, kind or thirsty for God’s love. Some excelled as teachers or healers. Others were relational or had great leadership qualities. We have glimpsed some who were loving, wise, creative, funny and nurturing. As we noted earlier, all this hardly starts to build up a complete picture of the characteristics of Jesus Himself … but still, it is a start.
So what then about the characteristics of Celtic Christianity as an entity; this reflection of a culture and expression of a people? Is it enough to say that we will know it when we see it? There are some specific characteristics which, although shared in part with other expressions of Christian faith, do point us directly to Celtic Christianity.
Chasing the Wild Goose. The Celtic Christians readily accepted relationship with the Holy Spirit. They were guided by their faith rather than anchored by it, and that, in large part, was due to the way they viewed the Holy Spirit. The Wild Goose was a great analogy, because it showed to the Celtic Christians that the Holy Spirit was not some tame pet kept in a box and brought out to entertain others. The Holy Spirit could be seen and identified, would guide and reveal, but you approached only on the Holy Spirit’s terms. And even if the Holy Spirit appeared calm and gentle, there could be an edginess.
As C.S. Lewis wrote of Aslan in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Bible-based. Celtic Christianity saw the Bible as a living guide to life. Biblical scenes on Tall Crosses were formal preaching sessions and encouragements for travellers. As we have seen, the Celtic Christians were especially fond of the Psalms and many who could read had their own Psalter: a small volume of the Book of Psalms and usually other devotional material as well as a list of saints and saintly characteristics.
Caring. Celtic Christianity cared for others through hospitality and anam cara, and through loving stewardship of both land and livestock. It sought help from God as the ultimate example of powerful and gentle caring. It was caring that not only noticed but also took action – and brought together the faith and deeds of Celtic Christianity, leaving us prayers such as:
The Three who are above in the City of glory,
Be shepherding my flock and my kin,
Tending them duly in heat, in storm, and in cold,
With the blessing of power driving them down
From yonder height to the sheiling fold.
Praying. And this, of course, was another characteristic of Celtic Christianity. It should be a characteristic – a hallmark – of all Christians. For Celtic Christianity, this often circled back to the Holy Spirit, for after all:
But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. (Jude vv. 20-21)
Four characteristics: not exclusive to Celtic Christianity, but together clearly indicative. Hold onto them and whoever or wherever you are, you represent Celtic Christianity.
[from Timothy Pitt]