Hearing the Different Sounds in the Water
To be at home everywhere – on earth, with others, in various languages: this is a major aspect of the Celtic spirit. So much of what passes for Christian teaching goes in an opposite direction. “Flee the world which would deceive us,” warned one of the hymns of my youth. Don’t do this; don’t do that: the spirit of negativity surrounds us. A world-affirming spirit, however, invites us into a universe that shouts Holy everywhere and lets us see our conversations as evoking that Word which informs every word. Where is that world-affirming Celtic spirit when we need it?
I want to live that spirit but it is difficult. There are blocks in our path. Particularly in the west, we divided the world into body and soul, and soul takes the hindmost, as my father would say, meaning that it gets little support and small nourishment. Of course the division is the problem to begin with, and that is the initial answer to my “where” question. The world-affirming spirit needs a world-affirming person to show it forth, and when we split body from soul we lose the ability to affirm the whole because we ourselves are no longer whole. To be materialistic is not to be world-affirming, it is to magnify one aspect of life at the loss of what, throughout history, most sages knew was more foundationally important: the spiritual.
Lest the reader jump to the conclusion that I am denying the material at the expense of the spiritual, let me hasten to shout No. What I’m after, and what the Celtic tradition exhibits again and again in ordinary people as well as in the saints, is a vision and understanding that the world is a spiritual-material realm and that one cannot be denied without detriment to the other. But the Celts knew that the spiritual is the source, the ground, the fountain of the material and also the glue that holds the material world together. This was quite locally focused for the Celtic saints.
The poet William Blake spoke out of that tradition when he said that we could see the universe in a grain of sand. The spiritual friend Julian of Norwich spoke out of that tradition when she said that the hazelnut could reveal to us the goodness of God wherein “all things would be well.” You don’t have to be Irish, in other words, to attain this spiritual vision, although when the Celtic world was eclipsed by the world-hungry Romans Ireland, along with Wales, became the default center for the Celtic world. The vision is available to all of us.
Concentrate on the ordinary, reflect on the uniqueness of all things, and then you will discover in the object of your focus the extraordinary. It could be a morning sunrise, an evening sunset, the hands of your child, the peculiar way your dog tilts its head at the sound of your voice. The spiritual is there just below the surface, shining through the surface, and resplendent with glory.
When Jesus said that God knows every hair of your head and when the sparrow falls from the tree, he is affirming this vision.
In the Black Book of Carmarthen, a Welsh manuscript from about 1250,
a Christian poet writes: “I praise the One…who is God himself. He made Mars and Luna, man and woman, the difference in sound between shallow water and the deep….” Note well that final phrase. The poet’s ear is so fine-tuned that he hears the difference in water, most likely at a local stream, as a manifestation of the Holy. That is the world-affirming spirit. May it be yours, as well.