Even though my parents were Christians and I grew up going to church with them, they were never pushy or forceful about religion. It wasn’t mandatory and they welcomed my questions and doubts. They wanted my faith to be something that I chose and when I was twelve I decided that I wanted to be baptised. To this day, I am thankful that they allowed me to make that decision on my own. I know that twelve is still very young. Like, what do you have to think critically about at twelve? How to beat Zelda on N64? How to dispose of your vitamin shake without mom seeing? But honestly, I remember thinking hard about that decision. It wasn’t something that happened because I had reached a certain age or because everyone else was doing it. It was a commitment I wanted to make. I had periods of time where I just went through the motions or ignored my faith altogether, but when I started to do mission work, I was never really the same again. It exposed me to the enormity of the world and rocked my tiny viewpoint.
My faith, which had once seemed small and simple became increasingly challenging and complex. I went to six different countries and in each I was confronted with injustice and brokenness that sank my heart and made my blood boil. But I found it impossible to be disheartened to the point of giving up on my faith because the people who had every reason to believe that God had abandoned them were the most faithful, resilient, grateful and joyful people. Consistently. Everywhere I went. And they could tell you of all the ways God provided for them. Even when the world was dark and evil, He was still good, they told me. There was never any denying of the loss that comes from war, poverty, famine, or disease…but there was always rejoicing in hope. I think in much of the third-world there is a greater understanding of Jesus’ words, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). It’s not going to get any better, really. It seems like Jesus is warning everyone that life is always going to shit on you. It will lack logic and reason. It will be easy to lose heart but he says, take heart, people! If you only live in the world, you’ll be full of anxiety and disappointment. If you live in me, you’ll find the peace and love you need to navigate allllll the troubles.
I have read quite a bit about the Celtic faith since being here and have appreciated this way of understanding. It developed far away from the Roman and Orthodox churches, starting around monasteries in the British Isles. It began with rural people, to whom tribe or kinship was very important and therefore living in community was essential. Being monastic, there was no real separation of living and praying. The Celts were very connected to the earth and an awareness of the elemental forces is woven through out their prayers. There is an emphasis on imagination which is emulated through symbolism, storytelling, and poetry. The monastic life is about a never-ending journey of the old into the new. It relies on a deep understanding of oneself and interior reflection, but the journey is not just a personal one…it is fundamentally about finding Christ in others, becoming a more loving person, and growth into relationships. Celtic spirituality has a deep sense of connectedness, valuing harmony and interdependence. This reflects their deep conviction to worshipping God as Trinity: three persons in a unity of love.
You know, thinking back to the places I’ve been…Christianity looked different everywhere I went. Obviously, there are core principles that remain the same…but the way it manifested and was expressed differed by culture and individual. It fascinates me that so many people possess this need to know what is ‘right’ and ‘true’ when we are all made differently. We have completely different contexts and backgrounds. I don’t understand how there could ever be one way of understanding that would work for 6 billion individuals. And this is one thing I find really beautiful about Christianity– God is bigger than your understanding. If Jesus is the way, the truth and the life…then you aren’t. And that is ok.
But anyway… In my reading, I stumbled upon a series of Caim prayers. “Caim” is a Scots Gaelic word meaning “sanctuary”, “protecting”, “encircling”. The encircling prayers affirmed the presence of God with them in the circle. Wherever they walked, God was with them, and they drew these circles around themselves as a reminder of God’s presence and protection. The Celtic way of prayer is rooted in the notion of Immanuel, “God with us.” These prayers have been so, so important to me in my time here. Carrying a deep awareness of Immanuel with me and ‘taking heart’ has been crucial to my sanity. I started out feeling extremely vulnerable when I arrived in Scotland. I was newly-divorced, thousands of miles away from home but five miles away from Clayton, beginning the most gruelling academic work of my life. My grandparents were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and cancer. The rain, wind, and darkness (night starting at 2:30 pm is just not okay) felt like they would never let up. It suuuuuucked. I didn’t know how to navigate it and I definitely haven’t done it well the whole time. But hey, sometimes you win and sometimes you learn, right? I have done my best to encircle myself in sanctuary. I have reconnected with Jesus’ teachings and just what a badass he was. Is it okay to call him that? I don’t care, he was. Even in the darkest times, I have experienced the peace that comes from resting in His protection and love (and the bosoms of the fiercely amazing friends I have made here ;)). When I get hit with a wave of intense (insert emotion), I remember the Caim circle and am mindful of myself as a sacred space where God dwells, surrounded in every direction. I acknowledge what I am thinking or feeling and pray to keep the truth/positive within and the lie/negative without.
I drew my own Caim circle. And then I got it tattooed on my forearm.
Now it really is with me wherever I go.