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Monday, March 22, 2010

God is where we are

This past Wednesday on the Roman calendar was the Feast Day of Saint Patrick. I cannot claim to be Roman Catholic, and have only vague connections to Irish roots, but as they say, on Saint Patrick's Day, we are all Irish. For the last two Saint Patrick's Days I have marked the occasion with a "Celtic Communion" service at a nearby senior's residence. Much of the liturgy is borrowed from the service book of the Iona Community. I love these words from a prayer of approach and confession:

"O hidden mystery,
sun behind all suns,
soul behind all souls,
in everything we touch,
in everyone we meet,
your presence is around us,
and we give you thanks."

I think that this sense of the immediacy of God- of God being where we are, is one of the gifts of Celtic spirituality. Of course, it is much more likely that we will be aware of, and appreciate the closeness of God, if we are also present where we are.

On Sunday I talked a bit about the challenge of actually living in the present moment, in the place and time occupied by our body. It is very easy to "be somewhere else" emotionally, mentally, spiritually. We have memories that tug us backward, and worries that pull us forward.

In the Gospel lesson for this past week, Judas Iscariot chided Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, because she lavished an expensive gift on Jesus. Mary anointed Jesus' feet with perfume made of nard, an expensive substance often reserved for the preparation of a body for burial. Judas railed that the perfume might have been sold, and the proceeds used to help the poor.

Judas may have a point, and the conversation he seem to want to have, about how people of faith should use their resources to do acts of mercy, would be worth having. But I think that Judas is also trying to shift attention away from that particular moment. It may be that he finds Mary's expression of love and of anticipated grief too much to face.

Talk about money, and obsession with possessions is often a way to avoid living in the moment, and directly experiencing the pain and the joy of human existence. I know that I do it! Often after an emotional pastoral visit I will go for a walk through a department store or a thrift shop. I usually don't buy anything- but the "shopping therapy" is a deliberate strategy of escape.

Part of the appeal for me, of Celtic Spirituality, is the invitation to stay in the present moment, because that is the place where we can meet God, and know that God is with us in all of our celebrations and consolations.

In her article. "The extraordinary in the ordinary", a scholar of Celtic spirituality named Esther de Waal quotes an ancient prayer spoken at the beginning of the day, by a woman in her hut in the Outer Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland:

" I will kindle my fire this morning
In the presence of the holy
angels of heaven. "