Author: Robert Van de Weyer (ed.)
Publication date: 1991
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Celtic Fire is a compilation of historical narrative, tales, and devotions of British and Irish monastics of the fifth through the seventh centuries C.E. This collection, gathered and retold by a contemporary Anglican priest, shows us a faith sustained by ecstatic connection to the natural world. The emphasis is Christian, but readers of other faiths can find enrichment here. There is much of historical interest, and some of the devotional material can certainly be adapted for individual or group use.
The early Christians of the British Isles drew heavily from Druid traditions in assimilating their new faith. Their God made all, and their God was contained in all. Earth and sky were thus cherished, and birds and beasts were regarded as concelebrants in endless worship. For these early Christians, all things did indeed work together through and for the love of God. They were also a people who loved well-placed words, loved a good story, loved to express themselves through music. A hermit monk sang, "O King of the Tree of Life, the blossoms of the branches are your people, the singing birds are your angels, the whispering breeze is your spirit." The song continues with a prayer for the breath of Godís spirit to cover all Ė not all mankind.
In addition to these songs of the heart, Celtic Fire contains much of historical and literary interest. We learn the stories of saints half-known and well-remembered, understand references: St. Patrickís Breastplate, Brigidís pasture, Caedmon the Welsh singer. Many readers will be surprised at the Churchís apparent independence from Rome and its doctrinal emphasis on the individualís relationship with deity. Christians of this time and place were heavily influenced by those quirky solitaries of the desert, Origen and his contemporaries, as well as that great heretic Pelagius. Pelagius was repelled by the communal decadence of the Roman church. He preached an individually centered faith that regarded Jesus as intimate friend and brother; the cornerstone of Christian life should be sharing with the poor and living simply. This approach to spirituality will appeal to many today.
Celtic Fire is particularly suited to Christians at odds with organized religion as well as those seeking a spirituality that embraces nature. But others will be enriched by the retelling of history, insights into the monastic life of the period, and worship ecstatically entwined with love of the natural world.
Reviewed by Cathryn