Most people are familiar with the word Advent, either secularly, representing days 1-24 of December, or in the Christian context of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. But, before the Roman version of Christianity became dominant, (after the Synod of Whitby in 664AD), there was an ‘indigenous’ Christianity in Britain, focused on the communities of Iona and Lindisfarne and driven by the missionary work of the Irish saints. In this ancient church, there was a parallel with the forty days of Lent before Easter. Therefore Advent, a similar time of prayer and preparation started forty days before Christmas, (15th November), the celebrations always taking place in the evening of the day.
Over the last few decades, there has been a renewed interest in these early Christian practices, especially because of their relevance to many concerns that are in sharp focus today; environmental awareness, living simple lives in harmony with the land, and a faith that is free from hierarchy and discrimination.
On a personal level, my attraction to the Celtic form of Christianity has come from a desire to better connect with the landscape I live in – the British Isles. I have been a Christian for nearly twenty years, and in the beginning I embraced the evangelical form of Christianity wholesale. But as I have matured as a person and as Christian, I have found it too harsh, too strait-jacketed and too focused on programmes and progress for my tastes.
To explore Celtic Christianity is to take the slower and deeper path. It’s to place your focus on consistency, discipleship and internal transformation, rather than anything that can be measured by the standards of the world. It’s to live a quieter and more reflective life, taking your cues and timescales from the turning year, rather than from computer processors.
During these next few weeks I’m going to be following ‘Celtic Advent’ by David Cole, however, my blog posts may not necessarily draw on the material for that day, preferring instead to consider this time of year more widely. There are a great many British customs and traditions that interest me as I try to connect to the rhythm of the year. Not all of them that I will discuss will be explicitly Christian. One of the ways that my expression of faith has changed is by drawing on other spiritual practices that are wider than evangelical Christianity. Please don’t think that I am wandering away from the Christian faith, I’m not. In all things my central belief is anchored firmly in Jesus. All I am seeking to do is to connect with God (to borrow from the Twelve Step tradition), as I understand him.
One of the most resonant scriptures for me this year comes from Jeremiah 6: 16.
This is what the Lord says:
“Stop at the crossroads and look around.
Ask for the old, godly way and walk in it.
Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls…”
I’m going to spent the next few weeks exploring that old, godly way. I hope you’ll travel along with me.