The Saining of Speech

From Oban to Skye, from the Outer Hebrides to St. Kilda they traveled, two Aberdeen photographers intent on capturing and preserving the life of a remarkable people.  The beautifully colored lantern slides of  George Washington Wilson and Norman Macleod,  an iconic collection now in the hands of Mark Butterworth, were produced in the late 1880s, fifty years before color photography came to Scotland,

Even as Wilson and Macleod pursued their photography, Alexander Carmichael was traveling the highlands and islands from Arran to Cithness, from Perth to St. Kilda, collecting traditional prayers, invocations and blessings of the people. Between 1855 and 1899, he compiled his Carmina Gadelica (Gaelic Songs),  magnificent examples of Celtic tradition combined with Christian faith.

After St. Patrick’s arrival in Ireland and St. Columba’s missionary journey to Scotland, a unique culture, theology and spirituality began to evolve.  Our modern eagerness to separate sacred and secular would have seemed laughable to those early converts.  In the words of Avery Brooke, “Celtic Christians seldom left the spiritual behind in the living of their lives, nor the world behind in their prayers.”   Tolerant of  Celtic beliefs and practices, Christian missionaries were more than willing to adapt the prayers, blessings and invocations Celts wove into the fabric of their daily life. As Brooke says, “Christ was the Chieftain of Chiefs, but the old tales, songs, customs and runes – not to mention the crops, the fish, the daily work and nightly sleep – were sained, or marked with the sign of the cross, just as were  fæiries, banshees and people.”

At heart, saining was a matter of consecration, but not in our modern sense of setting aside or apart. We tend to understand consecration as removal from the realities and routines of daily life, but for the people of the Isles, consecration elevated and hallowed every ordinary circumstance. Continue reading

St. Patrick & the “Saining” of Speech

 

Treasured as a traveling companion and source of inspiration since coming to me as a gift in 1979, Alexander Carmichael’s wonderful collection, Celtic Invocations, celebrates a faith and world-view I find deeply appealing. An English translation of Carmichael’s famed Carmina Gadelica ( or Gaelic Songs), it was compiled as he traveled Western Scotland from 1855-1899 and  is rooted in the culture of the highlands and islands stretching from Arran to Caithness and Perth to St. Kilda. The prayers, invocations and blessings it contains represent a combination of Celtic vibrancy and Christian richness.  When St. Patrick arrived in Ireland and Irish St. Columba (521-597)  carried the faith on to Scotland, the culture, theology and spirituality which resulted was unique.  It remains so today. Continue reading

Lamb, Loom & Seed ~ Touchstones for Life

 

Treasured as a traveling companion and source of inspiration since coming to me as a gift in 1979, Alexander Carmichael’s wonderful collection, Celtic Invocationscelebrates a faith and world-view I find deeply appealing. An English translation of Carmichael’s famed Carmina Gadelica ( or Gaelic Songs), it was compiled as he traveled Western Scotland from 1855-1899 and  is rooted in the culture of the highlands and islands, stretching from Arran to Caithness and Perth to St. Kilda. The prayers, invocations and blessings it contains represent a combination of Celtic vibrancy and Christian richness.  When St. Patrick arrived in Ireland and Irish St. Columba (521-597)  carried the faith on to Scotland, the culture, theology and spirituality which resulted was unique.  It remains so today.

Our modern tendency to separate sacred and secular would have seemed laughable to those early converts.  In the words of Avery Brooke, “the Celtic Christians seldom left the spiritual behind in the living of their lives, nor the world behind in their prayers.”  Brooke also notes the unusual tolerance of Christian missionaries toward Celtic religion and traditions.  Because so much of Celtic life was “sained”, blessed and taken up whole into Christianity, Celtic tradition which might otherwise have been lost is accessible today in the wonderful prayers, blessings and invocations which were woven into daily life.  To quote Brooke again, “Christ was the Chieftain of Chiefs, but the old tales, songs, runes and customs, along with the crops, the fish, daily work and nightly sleep were sained – marked with the sign of the cross – as were the fæiries, the banshees and the people.”

When I think of  Celtic Christianity, the word which seems most appropriate is “consecration”.  We tend to think of consecration as a “setting aside” or “setting apart” for a holy purpose.  In our world, the consecrated is separate, quite removed from the realities and routines of daily life.  For the people of the Isles, consecration served to elevate and hallow all the circumstances of the day even as it emphasized their dependence on life’s giver and sustainer.  

Certainly there were morning prayers and evening prayers, invocations of the Saints and hymns to Jesus.  But there was far more than obviously “religious” prayer woven into the fabric of Celtic spirituality.  There were rituals which marked the passing of the days and the cycles of the year. There were blessings for households, for the “smooring” (smothering) of fire at night and for the kindling that “lifted” the fire in the morning. There were songs for the heifers and milk cows, prayers for protection of cattle and songs of praise for the ocean and moon.  There were blessings for fishing, hunting and reaping,  prayers for traveling and prayers for sleep.  Celtic prayer was less something one “did” than an attitude toward life: grateful, receptive and filled with recognition that divine grace and providence is the mysterious ember glowing in the heart of humanity.  Like the home ember nurtured each morning and protected each night with ritual and prayer, the spark of the divine was meant to be tended by humanity. (Click here to read more)

An Hour, A Day, A Life

 

When reminders about the end of daylight savings time began to crop up last month, the usual congenial grumping began.  Some people wished it never would end.  Others expressed hope the practice would be abolished.  Arguments broke out at dinner tables and over fences: is the practice left over from a more agricultural society?  Does it really save energy?  Should it be standardized across the country?  Does it help or hurt school children?

At least for now, Daylight Savings time is gone, but the transition back to Standard time always amuses me.  I have one friend who takes the reminder to set clocks back one hour at 2 a.m. so literally she sets an alarm to wake her at 1:45.  She doesn’t want to be late in meeting her civic obligation.  She’s done it for years, and for years I’ve given her a bit of a hard time about it.  She says she does it because that’s the way it’s “supposed” to be done, and if everyone would get up in the middle of the night and set their clocks as they’re told, we wouldn’t have so many people being late for Church or missing television programs on Sunday. 

I’ve never dared tell her about my approach to the end of daylight savings time.  If she knew, she’d be scandalized, and probably would be knocking at my door at 2:05 to get me moving.  She’d have to, because the fact is I’ve never risen in the middle of the night to change clock settings.  I don’t even reset them before I go to bed, as my mother does, or adjust everything, one by one, as I move toward the first early sunset the day after the change.

The way I see it, that hour we “gain” as we “fall back” is pure gift.  It’s a little chunk of time, just lying there at the edge of my life, and it’s mine to do with as I please.  Every year, I save my hour of re-claimed time until I need it, or decide what to do with it.  While everyone else is running around resetting clocks, I’m sitting back with my feet up and a smile on my face, secure in the knowledge of that hour safely tucked into my pocket.  When I decide I need that extra hour, I reset the clocks, and am back in synch with everyone else.

Continue reading