A Celtic Lent: 3 Ways To Spiritual Spring Cleaning
I avoid many popular spiritual movements, they seem to come and go like a breeze, devoid of substance and sometimes lacking authenticity. But Celtic Spiritualty is not one of these fads. Celtic shamanism is deeply rooted in my spiritual heritage. I am drawn to its emphasis on nature as an awake, vital, fecund expression of the Divine.
I remember standing under the cherry tree as a small girl in my Oma’s backyard on a crisp winter night. Living on the edge of an Austrian village you can see the star-sprinkled sky on a clear night. The longer I stared into the vast blackness, the more my eyes would adjust to the darkness and sparkles would magically appear. One star was particularly radiant, and I stood knee-deep for many chilly minutes in the snow in sacred communion with its brilliant light. It seemed to be communicating with me, shining rays of comfort into the secret places in my hurting heart. All the grief that consumed my spirit in the previous year melted away. I finally walked on, assured that God would guide me in my next steps. The sacredness of all elements of life is a cornerstone of Celtic spirituality, and this gnosis energizes my relationship with God everyday.
As we begin the Lenten season, Celtic spirituality can be a marvelous catalyst for renewing and strengthening our relationship with the Creator. Contrary to popular belief, Lent is much older than Catholicism. Lent, which comes from the Germanic word for springtime is the ancient Celtic practice of spiritual spring cleaning: a time for taking spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder us from being the fullest expression of who we are.
This year the six-week period of Lent begins on Valentine’s Day, February 14. After indulging in pink heart candies, I invite you to gift yourself the raw honesty and contemplative practise that is characteristic of the Celtic tradition. Carving out space in your life to deepen your awareness of Spirit’s omnipresence could be beneficial to anyone, Wiccan, Christian, Buddhist, Agnostic, or otherwise!
Here are 3 of my favourite inner pilgrimage practises to return to Spirit in everyday moments. Join me in making the most of this reflective season as we slog through the rest of winter and anticipate the coming of spring.
1. God in the ordinary
Every aspect of Celtic life accepted that the mundane is filled with divine presence. The Celts sensed Spirit’s permeating embrace throughout their daily activities, no matter how ordinary. The Book of Kells and the Carmina Gaedelica are evidence of the vast collection of prayers, hymns, blessings, and folklore infusing Celtic culture with praises of the regular human experience. They sang and prayed while working, fishing, kneading bread, weaving cloth, milking cows, and kindling the hearth. Dawn ‘til dusk, birth ‘til death, they blessed their existence.
We can do this too! Just like them we are immersed in mundane daily routines, and God is in our midst. Our Celtic prayers today can revolve around activities like sitting at computers, driving the car, helping the children with homework, preparing dinner, or watching sports.
Lenten Ritual: Choose one thing you do daily. It can be brushing your teeth, rising from bed in the morning, drinking a cup of coffee, turning on your computer, etc. Every day for the next six weeks, pause when you do this action and tune in to the sensations in your body. How do your shoulders, neck, belly, back feel? Where can you soften you body and bring more spaciousness? Invite an intentional breath into your body and remember that Spirit is with you. You are loved.
2. Observe the unfolding of spring
The Celts were madly in love with the natural world. Love poems were written to the moon, songs to the seals, prayer rituals performed in rivers. They experienced unity with God in green hills, dark caves, deep wells, cheerful birdsong, and countless other parts of creation. Similar to the Hebrew psalms, cosmic images such as stars, the sun, and planets are woven throughout Celtic literature. They celebrate the “musician of bird call”; they wonder at the “awakener of soil,” and they call out to “the hope-bringer in the night.”
Most of us today live inside buildings, rarely venturing into nature unless on a special occasion of hiking, beach walk or park. Even people who work outdoors rarely take the time to recognize the sacredness that surrounds us. It takes a deliberate softening of the heart and a desire to notice the wonder intrinsic in creation.
Lenten Ritual: Spend one moment each day to listen to nature. Be attentive to the first buds on a branch, notice a cloud drifting by, or attend to the sound of the wind. Nature is always speaking to you. Open to receive the hidden messages, and you will notice your subtle senses grow and with a refinement of your senses comes a deeper experience of being home.
3. A love of learning
Celtic culture was essentially non-cloistered monasticism. Common folk, pagans and Christian alike were absorbed in a regular schedule of spiritual growth. In pre-Christian times the Druids were the first to foster studying by learning about morality through myths and developing wisdom through prayerful daily routines.
Continual learning and open-minded curiousity fuels spiritual growth. It is too easy to neglect feeding our spirits the nourishing soul food it needs to thrive. Many of us abandon poetry, song and storytelling in the face of hectic schedules and deadlines. How easy it is to starve our souls when life feels full. The Celts’ love of learning reminds me of my own inquisitive heart, yearning to grow wiser.
Lenten Ritual: How are you stretching your spiritual practice? Are you actively seeking to become more tolerant and loving? Do you have a commitment to ongoing self-inquiry? In the next six weeks read a good spiritual book or participate in a workshop at your church or in your community.
I wish you “a good Lent!” I would LOVE to hear from YOU. Please share your favourite mindfulness practises in the comments below. How are you going to participate in Lent this season?