A few months ago a neighbor and friend gave me a gift. It is a copy of Celtic Benediction, a book of Morning and Night Prayer by J Philip Newell. In his introduction Newel reminds us of what he sees as a “contrast” between “Celtic” and “Mediterranean” spiritual perspectives. Newell writes, “Celtic spirituality is marked by the belief that what is deepest in us is the image of God. Sin has distorted and obscured that image, but not erased it. The Mediterranean tradition, on the other hand, in its doctrine of original sin has taught that what is deepest in us is our sinfulness. This has given (Newell’s opinion) rise to a tendency to define ourselves in terms of the ugliness of our failings instead of the beauty of our origins.”
I must admit that I still waffle a bit from one of these perspectives to the other. I would like to say that I lean most often and embrace most closely what Newell calls, “Celtic Spirituality.” I want to believe that what is deepest in me, and all others, is the image of God. But I catch myself, too often, not seeing beneath my brokenness, or the brokenness of others, becoming fixated on the failure rather than remembering that we are all created in God’s image.
The words of the late, Henri Nouwen, seem to help me with my perspective. Nouwen once noted that:
One of the most exciting aspects of the Christian life is that it does not put people in a mold, but creates a rich variety of people in whom the love of God becomes incarnate in very different ways…..We all reflect God’s love in different ways. Together we are like a mosaic. In a mosaic one stone is bright, another stone is gold, another stone is small. If we look at it closely we can admire the beauty of each stone, but if we step back from it, we can see that all the little stones reveal a beautiful picture and tell a story that none of the stones can tell by itself. Together the different stones reflect the face of God to the world. Following Jesus: Finding Our Way Home In An Age Of Anxiety
The irony of Nouwen’s observation, for me, is that most of the experiences I’ve had of people trying to put me in a particular mold, or to tell me I must think or act in a particular way, have happened in the context of life in the church. At the same time, many of the best examples of the uniqueness and variety of individuals in whom God’s good gifts have been on full display have also been in the context of the church.
One of Newell’s prayers seems a fitting benediction (blessing).
Blessed are you, O Child of the Dawn,
for your light that dapples through creation
on leaves that shimmer in the morning sun
and in showers of rain that wash the earth.
Blessed are you – for the human spirit dappled with eternal light
in its longings for love and birth
and in its pain-filled passions and tears.
Blessed are you, O Christ, for you awaken me to life.
Blessed are you for you stir in me true desire. Amen.
Still In ONE Peace,
Jon (the Methodist)
If you would like to view past editions of How Sweet the Sound, follow this link: https://sounddistrictnc.org/category/from-the-ds/