Finding the Sacred Everywhere
[PHOTOS BY BRIAN WILLIAMS]
TEXT By Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM
Unfortunately, many of the popular images and ideas about Native and Celtic spirituality are romanticized opinion. Since there are few written primary sources, there is no way to prove or disprove many claims. For all their weaknesses, “religions of the book” have a documented, verifiable tradition. Much of the lore now circulating seems to be based on modern projections—what we wish and imagine Celtic and Native spirituality to be—rather than founded on original sources or solid research.
The Celts did create the richly illuminated Book of Kells (which includes the four Gospels) around 800 AD, but there were few other texts and few people could read in Britain and Ireland during the Middle Ages. “The Deer’s Cry” or “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” attributed to Saint Patrick was most likely written in the 8th century by someone who was influenced by the 5th century missionary. Most Native American tribes depend on oral teaching and story-telling rather than written language. For example, Chief Seattle’s famous speech, given in 1854, no longer exists in its original form. The most popular version circulating today was actually written for a film in 1972.
Yet this very lack of codification allows the oral traditions easier access to the non-dual mind. Huston Smith writes that orality guards against the loss of “the capacity to sense the sacred through nonverbal channels. Because writing can grapple with meanings explicitly, sacred texts tend to gravitate to positions of such eminence as to be considered the preeminent if not exclusive channel of revelation. This eclipses other means of divine disclosure. Oral traditions do not fall into this trap. The invisibility of their texts, which is to say their myths, leaves their eyes free to scan for other sacred portents, virgin nature and sacred art being the prime examples.” That really makes sense to me, even though I also know it is open to abuse, just as the three “religions of the book” have always been open to abuse in the hands of immature people.
One of the non-dual gifts of Celtic and Native traditions is their openness to inspiration and wisdom from nature, beauty, and signs and symbols that speak deeply to the unconscious. Because they are not tied to one sacred text, they are free to discover and honor the sacred everywhere. Timothy Joyce writes: “To wish to learn from the Celtic Christian is to wish to sense the passionate presence of God in all of life. It is to find God in the ordinary events of life, love, eating, working, playing…It is also to perceive that time and place do not separate us from what we ordinarily do not see and sense. The ancient Celts believed that the other world was always close to us and became apparent in the ‘thin times’ and ‘thin places’ in which the veil that usually obscured them was lifted.”