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St. Patrick’s Day & Celtic Imagination

March 17, 2012

A celtic cross (made of peat) that a member of my congregation brought back from Ireland for me.

For me St. Patrick’s Day is an annual opportunity to reflect a little bit on St. Patrick, on the Irish side of my family, and of course watch the Phillies in their green uniforms (God bless Tug McGraw). So it feels like a Celtic-themed post would be most appropriate for this day.

I have found George Hunter’s The Celtic Way of Evangelism to be a helpful book which illustrates how some very old ideas might provoke our imaginations to better engage with our neighbors and culture. As someone who helps to cultivate spiritual formation in congregations, I have for some time drawn inspiration from the practices of the Celtic Christians. This community seemed to believe that a multi-sensory approach to spiritual formation was beneficial to draw people into relationship with God. Hunter writes,

Celtic Christianity strongly illustrates this through its use of the visual arts. For instance, they used the famous “Celtic Knot,” whose spirals intertwine endlessly to symbolize God’s encircling protection of his people, to symbolize eternity, and to suggest the movement, pilgrimage and progress that is essential in the Christian’s life. Again, Celtic Christianity’s distinctive tall standing cross, with a circle intersecting the upper half of the cross, was an imaginative way to visually integrate the themes of creation and redemption. The biblical scenes sometimes carved at the base of a cross served as teaching aids. The theme of imagination thus helps us to see that the Celtic Christian movement took an intentionally “redundant” approach to communicating Christianity. They did not rely, as some traditions come close to, upon preaching alone to communicate the fullness of Christianity. They seem to have employed as many different “media” as they could to get the message across, and to get people involved with the message. (74).

I love the idea of letting the “visual” speak as a vital part of the message, and also of using our imaginations to seek ways to be immersed in the Story. What would it look like for Mennonite communities to become a little more “Celtic” in this way, learning from an older branch of the Christian family tree we are part of?

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