Tuesday, May 23, 2017
A Celtic Journey
As of May 2017, I am pursuing a Certificate in Celtic Christian Studies offered by the Community of Aidan and Hilda. You can find more information on the Community at their website. Over the past several years, I have had a growing interest in Celtic Christian spirituality and have been formed in significant ways by this treasure house of spirituality. Part of my curriculum requires that I keep a 'Learning Journal.' I have decided to use my blog as this journal in order to share my learning with those who might find Celtic Christian spirituality inspiring or though-provoking. You can find these entries by clicking on the 'Celtic Studies' button above. To begin the conversation, I offer you a brief reflection on my spiritual journey which was written and sent to my tutor in this program.
My spiritual journey has been filled with wonder, though not without its fair share of difficulties. I was born into a Southern Baptist family. My paternal grandparents were missionaries to Puerto Rico. My father grew up as a missionary child and maintained the faith of his parents when my sister and I were born. Though we went to church with some regularity, it was not the center of our family life. By the time I entered middle school, I had drifted from the faith of my youth and no longer claimed to be a Christian. However, one fateful night at youth group, I had a transformational experience with the Living Christ that changed me forever.
Experiencing the presence of Christ so intimately had a profound impact on my life. I sought to learn more about Jesus Christ through intense reading of the Scriptures coupled with very basic theological readings. As I grew in my faith, I felt called to devote my life to ministry. So, as a 14 year old, in response to the love of God in Christ, I committed myself to full-time ministry. Now, here I am, nearly 20 years later, a parish priest in the Episcopal Church. But, before I get ahead of myself, I’ll explain how a Baptist boy became an Episcopal priest.
In high school, I found myself uncomfortable with the theological approach of the Southern Baptist Church. After a particularly inflammatory statement made by the pastor about Muslims, I informed my parents I had no interest in returning to that church. From then until early college, I floated around various churches, never finding a community I could call home. When I arrived at college, I found myself attending the opening night of a somewhat-Charismatic campus ministry. They needed a bass player for their band, and I loved to play bass, so it seemed like a fine place to serve and worship. Though I didn’t identify as Charismatic, I found a group of Christians who helped to form me as a more intentional disciple of Jesus Christ. However, I found myself increasingly drawn towards the mystery and beauty of liturgical worship. It was, at first, a kind of curiosity. As a life-long Baptist, I had never experienced this kind of worship. I decided to attend a local Episcopal parish’s service of Compline. It was a stone sanctuary lit only by candles, full of the sweet smells of incense. Once the liturgy began, it was like a hook from heaven pierced my heart. It was an experience unlike any I had before. I bought a copy of the Book of Common Prayer and my prayer life quickly became centered on praying the Daily Office.
As the time came for me to attend seminary, I wanted to attend a school with a significant program in Historical Theology. I attended Duke University Divinity School and spent most of my time reading Patristic Theology. Once again, as a Baptist, I had no exposure to the riches of the Patristic thinkers. Yet, they became a well-spring of life for me. My identity as a Baptist kept becoming encroached upon by liturgy, sacramental theology, and the mystical life of those early saints. But, in order to answer the call to serve in a congregation, I remained a Baptist and began serving at a moderate Baptist parish that tolerated my seemingly ‘Catholic’ interests.
This balance, however, became difficult to maintain. Though I was a Baptist pastor, I felt drawn to something more. As a respite, I began regularly attending mid-week services of Holy Eucharist at the Episcopal parish across the street from where I served as a Baptist pastor. Eventually, after confiding in my wife that I didn’t feel like I was living fully into God’s call on my life, she said, “You need to be a priest, and I’ll support you all the way.” I resigned from my Baptist church and began working as a hospital chaplain. I was able to invest fully in my new life as an Episcopalian. It was like coming home to a home I never knew I had. The sacraments were then, as they are now, a sustaining and strengthening force. The Book of Common Prayer was, and still is, a treasury of spirituality for me. Reading about the saints became a spiritual discipline that aided and strengthened my faith in the Living Christ. Eventually, I went forward for ordination, was approved by the Bishop, and returned to seminary for an additional year of education. I served my first curacy in North Carolina, and now I am the rector of a wonderful parish in New Mexico.
It was primarily during my curacy that I became interested and fascinated by Celtic Spirituality, though during seminary I had read book called “The Celtic Way of Evangelism” which opened me up to some of the themes and patterns of the various Celtic churches. I was somewhat familiar with the great Celtic saints, but it wasn’t until the rector I served under decided to have a Saturday Evening Celtic Eucharist that I began to draw deeply from Celtic Spirituality and Celtic Christianity. My initial experience with Celtic Liturgy came from Iona Abbey and their Worship Book. Their particular liturgical rhythms left a great impression on me, and I sought out more avenues for experiencing and learning about Celtic Christianity. Exploring the aspects of Celtic Christianity found in the Episcopal Church of Scotland, the Church of Ireland, and the Church in Wales was a natural step for me as an Episcopalian. I encountered some of the works of J. Phillip Newell and Brendan O’Malley and incorporated some aspects of their scholarship into my approach to the Celtic Eucharist. My affinity for this expression of the Christian faith grows, and I relish more opportunities for learning.