We are in the midst of a summer worship series called: The Souls Slow Ripening: 12 Celtic Spiritual Practices for Seeking the Sacred, by Christine Valters Paintner. In Ch. 4 she writes:
“One of the beautiful practices of the Celtic tradition is blessing the world, blessing each and every encounter and experience, even and especially the most ordinary, mundane moments. There is probably a connection to the beautiful Jewish offering blessings for the gift of every moment – when walking, crossing a threshold, eating a meal, lighting candles. The Talmud calls for 100 blessings each day. The act of blessing is a way of paying attention. It is mindfulness infused with gratitude. It is a moment of remembering WONDER as our PRIMARY RESPONSE to the world. It is an act of consecrating time.”
Imagine what a grounding, counter-cultural practice this is. Wonder & Awe is our primary response to the world. When life becomes stressful, filled with anxiety, we are invited to turn to wonder, to gratitude, to blessing to honor God’s presence with us & the sacred rhythms of the earth.
Christine offers a payer:
“Bless this shimmering moment; may my eyes receive its gifts; may my heart open ever wider in response.”
In the Benedictine monastic tradition, everything is considered sacred. The stranger at the door is to be welcomed in as Christ. The kitchen utensils are to be treated like altar vessels. The movement of the sun throughout the day calls us to remember the presence of God again and again. Where are the moments in the day or night that calls for your reverence and attentiveness? The smell of morning coffee, the chirping of the bird outside your window, the food you are about to eat that nourishes your body, the phone call of a friend that nourishes your spirit. When we bless the turning of the hours, and all that we do, we begin to live with an enlarged sense of being, bringing ourselves fully here, rather than distracted by endless demands, which only serve to make us feel inadequate and anxious.
Desert mothers & fathers knew that the soul thrives in slowness and that the divine spark of life reveals itself when we simply pay attention. The Irish monks followed them on this path, cultivating watchfulness – watching one’s thoughts and noticing patterns with affection. It can call forth loving witness and compassion for ourselves and others as We learn the inner landscape of our own minds. Beneath the tumultuousness of our lives is a deep pool of stillness from which we can behold this inner drama and not get lured into reacting to it.
In the midst of discernment we can begin to make decisions from a place of calm and centered grace rather than anxiety and a desire to control. Being present to life as it is, not how we would like it to be. Blessing helps us to remember what we already have and what is good in our lives.
In each of these 12 Celtic Spiritual Practices, Christine connects each practice with a Celtic Saint. In the late 5th century, Gobnait was born. Gobnait went to the Aran Islands to study monastic life with St Enda. In a dream, An angel instructed her to go on a journey to the place of her resurrection where 9 white deer would be grazing. While she was comfortable at the monastery, she recognized this holy disruption as an opportunity to open herself to divine leading. She listened and discerned then wandered through the country as a peregrine, a pilgrim – on land and sea – looking for 9 white deer.
There is a rich tradition among Irish monks to seek out the place of one’s resurrection – where the soul leaves the body – or where the soul becomes truly alive. In Celtic mythology, the soul was thought to depart the body as a bee or butterfly. Finding one’s place of resurrection was done through the practice of peregrinatio, setting sail without oar or rudder to let currents of love carry you.
At one point three white deer come into view, and then six. But that was not the place. She journeyed, offering blessings along the way, paying attention to life as it unfolded. Finally, when she arrived in Ballyvourney, County Cork, Gobnait saw 9 white deer grazing just as the angel promised. She dedicated the remainder of her earthly life to pastoral work, founding her monastic community with the help of St Abban. She was famous for cultivating bees and is known as the Patron saint of beekeepers and of the sick. One story tells of how she cured one of her nuns who was sick and how she kept the plague away by drawing a line along the eastern borders of the parish with her stick. The plague never crossed that line. She is said to have had a strong relationship with bees and used honey in the treatment of illness and healing of wounds. She also used bees to protect her community. Many accounts exist of how Gobnait prevented invaders from carrying off the cattle – on their approach she let loose the bees from her hives and they attacked the invaders, forcing them to flee. Gobnait is one of the best loved local saints. Her well is still at Ballyvourney and is an attraction for pilgrims. Her feast is on World Day of the Sick, Feb 11, the same day Mary appeared to Bernadette at Lourdes, France.
Christine wrote a poem about St. Gobnait and there are a few lines that I absolutely love. That call me back home to myself and to God. And remind me of the work before me – to simply soften and wait. To pay attention, to offer blessings as I go, and to consecrate each arrival in my life. I am going to read the poem, and then we will watch a short video of Gobnait’s journey with a song based on Christine’s poem.
St. Gobnait and the Place of Her Resurrection
On the tiny limestone island
an angel buzzes to Gobnait
in a dream, disrupts her plans,
sends her in search of nine white deer.
She wanders for miles across sea and land until at last
they appear and rather than
running toward them
she falls gently to wet ground,
sits in silence as light crawls across sky,
lets their long legs approach
and their soft, curious noses surround her.
Breathing slowly, she slides back onto grass and clover and knows nothing surpasses this moment, a heaven of hooves and dew.
Is there a place for each of us,
where we no longer yearn to be elsewhere?
Where our work is to simply soften,
and wait, and pay close attention?
She smiles as bees gather eagerly
around her too, wings humming softly
as they collect essence of wildflowers,
transmuting labor into gold.
Have you found the place of your own resurrection? The place that brings you alive and where your gifts can thrive?