Seven Streams by Karen Lowe

We park by the reservoir,
a living art installation
involving human beings is
far harder to manage, than
might well be imagined.

Plynlimon wet mountain
source of seven rivers,
broods over a black
reservoir, and its own
wet dreams of flood.

Those carrying acres of
multi-coloured cloth, are
not hard to spot, as they
struggle with exploding
plastic bags of satin,
smeared now in true Plynlimon colours, dried
cow pat gray and sheep
pooh, pellet black.

Shit! and yet more shit,
who forgot to bring the
blue cloth?

Blue speaks of revelation,
but clearly not today.
Dancers pirouette, spin
slip-slide on stones, as
we weigh down the cloth,
pay homage to Gormley’s
artistic, autistic piles of
stone, as we celebrate the
cold multi-coloured streams
that rise in Wales, as in
youthful arrogance, we
name afresh, re-brand the
rivers, as we call for new
generations of seers to arise.

Deserving and Undeserving Poor

I recently went with a friend to see “I, Daniel Blake,” Ken Loach’s latest social commentary and it was a hard hitting and challenging as “Cathy come home” in the 60’s. The depiction of the strength of resolve, friendship, small acts of kindness and erosion of personal dignity by an inhuman and bureaucratic welfare system left many in the audience in tears and all of us silent in our seats at the end, unwilling to move – felt like a mark of respect for the story we had just been invited into.

The film focussed on the deserving poor and was a stark contrast to do the depiction of the undeserving poor in the media and programmes such as Benefits Street. Some voices criticised the film. I watched a conservative MP being interviewed who was adamant, “It’s not like that!” He buys into the narrative that the welfare system is subject to whole-scale abuse with scroungers, people who do not want to work taking advantage (polite word there). Phil McDuff’s article has some interesting perspectives.

The distinction between different categories of the poor goes back hundreds of years. The Elizabethan poor laws were designed to keep the poor at home to stop them from becoming vagrants. By the 19th Century, with the rise in population, the escalating cost of war, and disparity between the level of support given to the urban and rural poor the government concluded that the old poor law wasn’t working. They felt that a great deal of poverty was not inevitable but a product of fecklessness and that the Elizabethan poor law encouraged irresponsibly large families. With the introduction of the workhouse system the distinction between deserving and undeserving poor became a legal one and the harsh regime of the workhouse was designed to discourage people asking for help, and it was only available to those who could not work. Sound familiar!

The reality is that there are people who are struggling financially through no fault of their own – made redundant, unexpected bills, health issues which means they can no longer work and need help to transition to benefits. There are also those who make unhealthy lifestyle choices, take advantage of the help that is available and would keep on taking if you let them. It’s not one or the other but both.

Antioch’s food/clothes/furniture bank has been running for 5 years in an area of high deprivation where drug and alcohol abuse are major problems. We have a responsibility to steward the donations and resources given in good faith by hard working people and people on benefits. We have to hold boundaries, don’t want to create dependency or support unhealthy lifestyle choices but as a faith community we know that grace always favours the undeserving so there are times when we choose to help on the basis of valuing the fact that a person is made in God’s image however marred or screwed up their lives are.

The narrative of the deserving poor or the undeserving poor is an unhelpful one and the welfare system needs a major value recalibration, a recognition of citizenship through the introduction of the Basic Income – but no doubt we would then be talking about the undeserving rich!

Peregrinatio

‘When you travel,
A new silence goes with you,
And if you listen – you will hear what your heart would love to say’
John O’Donoghue, The Bendictus

This journey might not mean we leave our homes, families or communities in a white martyrdom of self imposed exile from all we hold dear but it may mean that we willingly embrace the unknown. That which we have no concept of and leave behind our pre-conceptions, traditions, internal structures and concepts of ‘how things should be’ and risk a journey that could reshape our lives, families, homes and communities.

This love of journey, peregrinatio, ‘wandering for the love of God’ is rooted in the Celtic Christian heritage of these lands and even further back to the Celts themselves as they wandered across Europe with no destination in mind, just a living connection to the land.

So rooted in their culture, the ‘open ended curve’ or ‘sinusoidal wave’ expressed free will, free choice and an independence of spirit also found in their art, torques, shields and everyday objects. Their inspiration drawn from nature and a ‘primordial dependence upon natural life.[1] They were brokers in time and space where nothing was finite, no edges or boundaries and everything was possible.

Frank Delaney captures the Celtic draw towards movement, from one moment to another beautifully “The pages of the Book of Kells simply call to mind a love of pattern, intricacy, colourful expression drawn from everyday life and embellished to – literally – fantastic extremes. And each moment within each page depends and relies upon the moment next to it: in the tension dwells the soul.” [2]

The melding of the love of journey and the love of God amongst the Celtic monks found an outlet in their unique expression of pilgrimage –

“The word itself is almost untranslatable, but its essence is caught in the ninth-century story of three Irishmen drifting over the sea from Ireland for seven day, in coracles without oars, coming ashore in Cornwall and then being brought to the court of King Alfred. When he asked them where they had come from and where they were going they answered that they “stole away because we wanted for the Love of God to be on pilgrimage, we cared not where.” This wonderful response and this amazing undertaking comes out of the inspirational character of early Irish spirituality. It shows at once how misleading is that word “pilgrimage” as we use it and how very different indeed is the Celtic peregrinatio from the pilgrimages of the Middle Ages or the present day. There is no specific end or goal such as that of reaching a shrine or a holy place that allows the pilgrim at the end of the journey to return home with a sense of mission accomplished. Peregrinatio is not undertaken at the suggestion of some monastic abbot or superior but because of an inner prompting to those who set out, a passionate conviction that they must undertake what was essentially an inner journey. Ready to go wherever the Spirit might take them, seeing themselves as hospites mundi, “guests of the world,” what they are seeking is the place of their resurrection, the resurrected self, the true self in Christ, which is for all of us our true home.

So peregrinatio presents us with the ideal of the interior, inward journey that is undertaken for the love of God, or for the love of Christ, pro amore Christi. The impulse is love. And if the journey is undertaken for the love of Christ, then it argues that Christ must already hold a place in our lives.”[3]

No doubt many of us have been journeying for years, internally and literally moving to and through nations following the wind of the Spirit but it does feel like there is a fresh wind blowing on the movement of people across nations, spheres and institutions. Martin Scott has for some time talked about a repositioning of the body of Christ out of the building and into the world and I sense the pace is picking up.

 

[1] Frank Delaney, ‘The Celts,’ p130

[2] Frank Delaney, ‘The Celts,’ p135

[3] Esther de Waal, ‘The Celtic Way of Prayer’

Perenindota

When you travel,
A new silence goes with you,
And if you listen – you will hear what your heart would love to say’
John O’Donoghue, The Bendictus

Efallai na olyga’r daith hon ein bod yn gadael ein cartref, teulu na chymunedau mewn merthyrdod gwyn o gaethglud wedi ei gosod arnom ein hunain oddi wrth bopeth sydd yn annwyl gennym. Ond fe all olygu ein bod yn cofleidio’r anwybodus, yr hyn nad oes gennym syniad amdano a gadael ein rhagdybiaethau, traddodiadau, strwythurau mewnol a chysyniadau o ‘sut y dylai pethau’ fod a mentro teithio a allai ail-siapio ein bywyd, teulu, cartref a chymunedau.

Mae’r cariad hwn at bererindota, ‘teithio er mwyn cariad Duw’ wedi ei wreiddio yn etifeddiaeth Cristnogaeth Geltaidd yr ynysoedd hyn a hyd yn oed ymhellach na hynny yn ôl at y Celtiaid eu hunain wrth iddynt groesi Ewrop heb ddiwedd i’r daith mewn golwg, dim ond byw mewn cyswllt a’r tir.

Wedi ei wreiddio yn ddwfn yn eu diwylliant, roedd y ‘gromlin ben agored’ neu’r ‘don sinwsoidaidd’ yn mynegi ewyllys rhydd, dewis rhydd ac annibyniaeth ysbryd oedd hefyd i’w weld yn eu celf, eu torchau, tariannau a gwrthrychau bob dydd. Daeth eu hysbrydoliaeth oddi wrth natur a ‘dibynadwyaeth cynoesol ar fywyd naturiol’. [1] Broceriaid mewn amser a gofod oeddent lle nad oedd dim yn gyfyngedig, heb unrhyw ymyl na ffin a lle’r oedd y cyfan yn bosibl.

Mae Frank Delaney yn dal symudiad y Celt o un foment i’r llall yn hyfryd: “The pages of the Book of Kells simply call to mind a love of pattern, intricacy, colourful expression drawn from everyday life and embellished to – literally – fantastic extremes. And each moment within each page depends and relies upon the moment next to it: in the tension dwells the soul.” [2]

Cafodd uniad y cariad at deithio efo’r cariad at Dduw ymhlith y mynachod fynegiant yn eu syniad unigryw o bererindod:

“The word itself is almost untranslatable, but its essence is caught in the ninth-century story of three Irishmen drifting over the sea from Ireland for seven day, in coracles without oars, coming ashore in Cornwall and then being brought to the court of King Alfred. When he asked them where they had come from and where they were going they answered that they “stole away because we wanted for the Love of God to be on pilgrimage, we cared not where.” This wonderful response and this amazing undertaking comes out of the inspirational character of early Irish spirituality. It shows at once how misleading is that word “pilgrimage” as we use it and how very different indeed is the Celtic peregrinatio from the pilgrimages of the Middle Ages or the present day. There is no specific end or goal such as that of reaching a shrine or a holy place that allows the pilgrim at the end of the journey to return home with a sense of mission accomplished. Peregrinatio is not undertaken at the suggestion of some monastic abbot or superior but because of an inner prompting to those who set out, a passionate conviction that they must undertake what was essentially an inner journey. Ready to go wherever the Spirit might take them, seeing themselves as hospites mundi, “guests of the world,” what they are seeking is the place of their resurrection, the resurrected self, the true self in Christ, which is for all of us our true home.

So peregrinatio presents us with the ideal of the interior, inward journey that is undertaken for the love of God, or for the love of Christ, pro amore Christi. The impulse is love. And if the journey is undertaken for the love of Christ, then it argues that Christ must already hold a place in our lives.”[3]   

Heb os mae nifer ohonom wedi bod yn teithio am flynyddoedd, yn symud yn fewnol ac yn llythrennol at a thrwy’r cenhedloedd yn dilyn gwynt yr Ysbryd, ond mae’n teimlo fel petai yna wynt ffres yn chwythu ar y mudiad o bobl ar draws y cenhedloedd, cylchoedd a sefydliadau. Bu Martin Scott yn siarad am beth amser am ailosod corff Crist allan o’r adeilad ac i’r byd a synhwyraf fod y cam yn cyflymu.

[1] Frank Delaney, ‘The Celts,’ t130

[2] Frank Delaney, ‘The Celts,’ p135

[3] Esther de Waal, ‘The Celtic Way of Prayer’

Celtic Monasticism – part 2

The last 5 characteristics are equally compelling –

  1. Creation Affirming – Their love of nature and affirmation of creation wasn’t rooted in pantheism (the view that God is everything and everyone and that everyone and everything is God, so a tree is God, a rock is God, an animal is God, the sky is God, the sun is God etc) but rooted in a wonder of the One who created all things, holds all things together and who will one day restore the created order. This expressed itself in their strong sense of place, land, roots and identity as well as a care for all living things with an affinity with animals (which predated Francis of Assissi).
  1. Spiritual Warfare – Possibly due to their Druidic roots and pagan culture the spiritual realm was very real and accessible. It was also seen as a place of spiritual conflict and warfare with powers of evil constantly trying to destroy the work of God. They similarly trusted in the power of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to protect and used liturgical prayer to confront these powers wherever they may be found – in the heart or the land. Many historians who recorded the lives of the saints mention their signs, wonders, healing and miracles. The sign of the cross, the erecting of High Crosses at crossroads and key places were part of their approach.
  1. Belief in the Trinity – A common theme throughout Celtic religion was triune gods – gods with 3 manifestations so the Celts were naturally open to a presentation of the three-in-one Father-Son-Holy Spirit. There were echoes within their existing pantheon of an all powerful father and heroic self-sacrificing son so it is no wonder the Trinity was deeply engrained in the Celtic Christian’s understanding and flowed through their praying. There was no issue with God as three persons in loving relationship from whom all community flows.
  1. Love of Learning – deeply rooted in the scriptures they loved listening and learning, but more as a quest for wisdom than knowledge. They wanted to learn how to live, how to follow Jesus as a way of life. Monasteries were centres of learning and education where creativity was encouraged in music, story, and calligraphy as exemplified in the Book of Kells. They produced hand crafted gospels for the monks to take with them on their wanderings to preach from.
  1. Understanding of time – Time was a sacred dimension to be used wisely and well. Not merely chronological i.e. one event following on from another but connected to the temporally everlasting God who was, and is, and is to come. The past, present and future all linked to God’s now so we can be aware of the great crowd of witnesses, those saints who have gone before us as we walk forward.

At different times we will focus on one of these characteristics, on particular saints or how we express them, but hopefully this gives you some sense of the longer term historical roots of the journey.

Mynachaeth Geltaidd – rhan 2

Mae’r 5 nodwedd olaf yn cymell llawn gymaint –

  1. Cadarnhau’r Greadigaeth – Nid oedd gwraidd eu cariad at natur a chadarnhad y greadigaeth mewn holl-dduwiaeth (y farn fod Duw yn bawb a phopeth a phawb a phopeth yn Dduw, felly mae coeden yn Dduw, mae craig yn Dduw, mae anifail yn Dduw, mae’r awyr yn Dduw, mae’r haul yn Dduw ayb) ond yn hytrach roedd ei wraidd yn rhyfeddod yr Un a greodd bopeth, sy’n dal popeth at ei gilydd ac a fydd un dydd yna adfer trefn y greadigaeth. Mynegwyd hyn yn gryf yn eu hymdeimlad cryf o le, tir, gwreiddiau a hunaniaeth yn ogystal â’u gofal at bopeth byw gydag affinedd at anifeiliaid (a oedd cyn cyfnod Francis o Assissi).
  1. Lles Ysbrydol – O bosib, oherwydd eu gwreiddiau Derwyddol a’u diwylliant paganaidd, roedd y deyrnas ysbrydol yn real iawn ac yn hygyrch. Gwelwyd y deyrnas hon hefyd fel lle o wrthdaro ysbrydol ac ymladd, gyda phwerau drwg yn ceisio dinistrio gwaith Duw drwy’r amser. Yn yr un modd, roedden nhw’n ymddiried ym mhŵer Duw; Y Tad, Y Mab a’r Ysbryd Glân, i amddiffyn ac yn defnyddio gweddi litwrgïaidd i wynebu’r pwerau hyn ble bynnag yr oeddent yn ymddangos – yn y galon neu’r tir. Mae llawer o haneswyr a gofnododd fywydau’r saint yn sôn am eu harwyddion, eu rhyfeddodau, eu gwellhad a’u gwyrthiau. Roedd arwydd y groes, a chodi Croesau Uchel ar groesffyrdd ac mewn mannau allweddol, yn rhan o’u ffordd o ddelio gyda hyn.
  1. Cred yn y Drindod – Thema gyffredin ar draws crefyddau Celtaidd oedd duwiau tri-yn-un – duwiau fyddai’n ymddangos ar 3 ffurf, ac felly, yn naturiol, roedd y Celtiaid yn agored i gyflwyno’r Tad-Mab-Ysbryd Glân fel tri mewn un. Roedd yna adlais o fewn eu pantheon presennol o dad hollalluog a mab arwrol fyddai’n aberthu’i hun, ac felly nid yw’n syndod fod y Drindod wedi’i hargraffu’n ddwfn ar ddealltwriaeth y Cristion Celtaidd a’i bod yn llifo trwy’u gweddïau. Nid oedd unrhyw drafferth derbyn Duw fel tri pherson mewn perthynas gariadus y mae’r holl gymuned yn llifo ohono.
  1. Cariad at Ddysgu – roedd eu gwreiddiau’n ddwfn yn yr ysgrythurau ac roedden nhw wrth eu bodd yn gwrando ac yn dysgu, ond mwy fel ymchwil am ddoethineb yn hytrach na gwybodaeth. Roedden nhw am ddysgu sut i fyw, sut i ddilyn yr Iesu fel ffordd o fyw. Roedd mynachlogydd yn ganolfannau dysgu ac addysgu ble anogwyd creadigrwydd trwy gerddoriaeth, straeon a chaligraffeg fel y gwelir yn Llyfr Kells. Roedden nhw’n creu efengylau wedi’u llunio â llaw i’r mynachod fynd â hwy gyda hwy wrth iddyn nhw grwydro, i bregethu ohonynt.
  1. Dealltwriaeth o Amser – Roedd amser yn ddimensiwn sanctaidd i’w ddefnyddio’n ddoeth ac yn dda. Nid dim ond yn gronolegol h.y. un digwyddiad yn dilyn un arall, ond yn hytrach wedi’u cysylltu at y Duw bydol dragwyddol ac oedd, sydd yn ac sydd ar ddod. Mae’r gorffennol, y presennol a’r dyfodol oll wedi’u cysylltu at nawr Duw felly gallwn fod yn ymwybodol o’r dorf fawr o dystion, y saint hynny a fu o’n blaen wrth i ni gerdded ymlaen.

Ar adegau gwahanol, byddwn yn canolbwyntio ar y nodweddion hyn, ar saint penodol neu sut yr ydym yn eu mynegi, ond gobeithio y cewch ymdeimlad o wreiddiau hanesyddol mwy hir dymor y siwrnai.

Celtic Monasticism – part 1

“the heart of Celtic spirituality was simply living the life, following the Way, travelling the journey in the everyday ordinariness of life –the pain and the pleasure, the heartaches and the hopes, the disappointment and the dreams. This is of great importance because this is essentially what spirituality is.” Trevor Miller

The Northumbria Community identifies 9 aspects to Celtic spirituality and they all resonate with me (full article here). I have summarised the characteristics and added some thoughts, the first 4 are –

  1. Monasticism – in their world, every church was monastic. The monastery was a monastic school, a community not so much focussed on knowledge but on living, which is relational and personal. It was a ‘teaching what we live by living what we teach’ approach beautifully expressed in St. David’s last words to his disciples, “Do those little things that you have seen me do and heard about.”
  1. Sacramental – They celebrated the ordinariness of life and an earthy humanity. Nothing was seen as secular as all was sacred, God was in and through everything. They had a reverence for God’s creation and it’s care.

“The Celtic approach to God opens up a world in which nothing is too common to be exalted and nothing is so exalted that it cannot be made common.’ They believed that the presence of God infused daily life and thus transforms it, so that at any moment, any object, any job of work, can become a place for encounter with God. In everyday happenings and ordinary ways, so that we have prayers for getting up, lighting the fire, getting dressed, milking the cow etc.” Esther De Waal

  1. Contemplation and Mission – the monastery was a base for their connection with communities both near and far. A twin focus on the inner journey through the landscape of the heart and the outer journey across the land and its peoples were both embraced and expressed availability to God and others. They acknowledged the need for solitude and reflection and their priority was on personhood rather than productivity – ‘human beings’ not human doings.’ Their expression of pilgrimage – peregrinatio (wandering for the love of God) was very different from the later and even modern day models.
  1. Hospitality – Whether this was welcoming God into their hearts each day, providing food and shelter for friends/visitors or caring for the poor they were aware of Jesus’ teaching, “In as much as you did it to the least….you did it to me.” They welcomed all sorts of people without label or judgement.

Over many years we have explored these values in community at Antioch and are still finding new ways to express them.