Having asked so many questions of the humble sermon, I admit to having recently been blessed by sitting under just that style of preaching. Perhaps fittingly, this took place in a church in the Western Isles.
In many parts of the Outer Hebrides Christian faith is still visible, especially where statues, crosses and standing stones remain. Popular caricature speaks of swings tied up on the Sabbath, but vibrant moves of the Holy Spirit are also recorded.
I once heard a Lewisman describing Celtic Christianity as spirituality in work boots. And certainly my experience of the Western Isles is of fiercely resilient, hardworking, humorous and generous people. I would add open, calloused hands to the work boots.
It’s therefore hard to reconcile the sentimental and mystical nature of current resurgent ‘Celtic Spirituality’ with the actual experience of Island life. Many Islanders appear more likely to shoot the goose than recognise it as an embodiment of the Holy Spirit.
Interestingly a number of commentators suggest that today’s Celtic Christianity is a recent development based on scattered elements from a diverse historical reality. These critics highlight that the current Celtic resurgence reveals more of the needs of 21st Century urbanites than of the historic faith of the Islands to which they make pilgrimage (eg Prof. Donald Meek – here and here). Of greater concern is a perceived pagan and New Age creep within the movement.
The missionary zeal of the ancient Celtic saints has much to teach us but does it matter that what today passes as a unified Celtic Spirituality appears to have little historic basis? And despite the tenuous link to history, how do we take seriously the needs of contemporary Christians revealed in this new spirituality?
This matters because there are problems in current mainstream Christianity which the Celtic movement aims to address. There is a need for a whole life spirituality which encompasses work and nature. There is a need for a more earthy language of faith and to value the community and creation as well as the individual.
Perhaps the real issue is the attempt to found this contemporary approach to faith on a questionable historic reconstruction. Forgive the flippancy, but if the same movement was instead to call itself Jedi Christianity it would avoid the historical problem, and might it sometimes be a more accurate title?