Spiritual Vikings

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Traigh Ban nam Manach (White Strand of the Monks), Iona Island

Shalom, my Sisters and Brothers!

This photo is of one of my favourite beaches on Iona – Traigh Ban nam Manach – the White Strand of the Monks). It’s at the far north of the island, so it’s quiet and peaceful. The sand is like talcum powder, and the water is usually crystal clear.

But these sands and waters hide a brutal past. It was here that a number of monks were slaughtered by Viking raiders on Christmas day in the year 986.

Every time I’ve been to this beach, I’ve thought about this – how terrifying it must have been for the monks seeing the Viking ships cut across the water, knowing that this was their last day on earth.

For some reason, this beach popped into my head this morning during my prayers. But the mental image I had was of us as the Vikings – Warriors, moving in the ship of the Church, under the protection of our heavenly Abba, guided by our King Jesus, and blown along by the wind of the Spirit!

I’ve said this before, and I will keep on saying it. We, as the Church, aren’t called to sit comfortably in a Sunday service every week. We’re called to be Warriors! Just as the Vikings left the comforts of their homes and countries in order to go on raids, so must we be willing to leave our comforts in order to attack Satan and his forces of darkness!

Just as the monks on Iona were terrified at the sight of the Viking ship, so too should the demons tremble at the sight of the ship of the Church! When they see this mighty ship slicing through the waters of life, they should be petrified, because they know that within that ship are brave, fearless Warriors who are filled with the Spirit! Warriors who are on a Divine mission to fight for King and kingdom!

This was the same spirit that moved men like Columba and Patrick to take to the open waters, and enter foreign hostile lands in order to spread the Gospel.

And now is the time that we regain that spirit! For too long the Church has been sitting lazily by while the forces of darkness have advanced over this earth. But I believe God is sounding the trumpet, and calling for His Church to wake up! I believe that mighty prayer warriors are being raised up, who will step up to the battle lines and shoot their prayers like fire to heaven!

Now is the time for Satan and his demons to tremble, for the Warriors of God are preparing for battle!

May the God of heaven and earth empower you to put on the full armour of God, and may His Spirit fill you so that you may stand firm against the enemy! Amen.

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The Sacred Coffee Mug

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My Sisters and Brothers,

One of the things that drew me to the Celtic way of living my faith was the fact that this is precisely what it is about – Living!

In the western church, there seems to be a distinction and separation between the sacred and the ordinary. But this is a distinction that the ancient Celts couldn’t see or understand. For them, their spirituality infused every aspect of their lives… whether it was mucking out the barn, or cleaning the house, or tilling the field… or even something as simple as drinking a cup of coffee (they probably didn’t have coffee, but I’m putting it into modern terms!)

For the ancient Celts, blessings permeated everything that they did. There were blessings for waking up, blessings for going to sleep, blessings for washing, blessings for eating, blessings for walking, blessings for resting. In fact, there was pretty much a blessing for everything.

The thread of the Sacred was woven into the fabric of every aspect of their lives!

God wasn’t some distant deity who had to be worshipped in a specific building. To the ancient Celts, He was closer than their own breath, more real than physical reality! His presence could be seen in everything, and everything existed within Him!

In his book, Listening For the Heartbeat of God, J. Philip Newell writes the following:

“The Christ who is above them in the brightness of the morning sun is the Christ who is beneath them in the dark fertility of the earth. … The Christ who is within, at the very centre of their soul, is the Christ who is to be looked for in friend and stranger, Christ at the heart of all life.”

Christ is, after all, God made flesh. When He came to earth, He sanctified the ordinary things of life. By becoming human, He made sacred all the commonplace things that we do – eating, drinking, socialising, working.

But for some reason, the western church lost this permeation of the sacred through all of life. The sacred became something that priests did at an altar, following carefully prescribed rules & rituals. And the separation between the sacred & the ordinary acts of life became bigger and bigger.

This is why so many young people travel to places like India. Over there, they still see what the ancient Celts saw. Everywhere you go, there are shrines and temples, incense and chanting. The air itself seems to pulse with spirituality.

And this, I think, is what we need to get back here in the west. Like our ancient Celtic Sisters and Brothers, let us learn to look at life – ALL of life – through the eyes of the spirit. When you wake up in the morning, and make your mug of coffee, say a blessing before you drink it. This isn’t just a mug of coffee… this is a SACRED mug of coffee! God breathed His breath into the soil from which the beans came forth. He breathed His breath into the beans themselves… and the rivers, streams, or lakes where the water came from. His breath is in the clay of your mug, the metal of your spoon, the milk and sugar!

His breath is everywhere! His heart beats in the soil beneath our feet, and His voice whispers in the wind! His hands are constantly caressing us, and the earth, holding all of Creation together!

May our God, the Creator of everything seen and unseen, open your eyes to the sacredness of the ordinary. And may your lips utter blessings, and your heart sing songs, from the moment of waking to the moment of sleep… and even within sleep, may your soul be ever in His presence! Amen.

Fire From Heaven

My Sisters and Brothers,

Two thousand years ago, a rushing wind tore through Jerusalem, converging on one small house where a handful of peasants were gathered. The people who witnessed this incredible thing reported that they saw tongues of fire fall upon the small group, resting on each person’s head!

For the thousands of Israelites that were gathered in Jerusalem at that time, it was a very portent sign. The day was Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks. But it was also the day that they remembered another mighty event that had happened a thousand years earlier. Their ancestors had been gathered in the desert, much like this motley group of Believers had been gathered in the house in Jerusalem. Back then, Mount Sinai had shook and trembled as El Shaddai, the Almighty God, descended in the form of fire! And in the midst of thunder and lightning, He spoke to the people, giving them His Torah – His Law.

Every person gathered in Jerusalem would have seen the significance of the tongues of fire coming upon the Believers! To those people, steeped in the traditions of their faith, the symbol of fire hearkening back to the fire on Sinai would have been unmistakeable! The same God who descended in fire on Sinai to deliver His Law had just descended again…

… but differently!

At Sinai, God gave His Law. At Pentecost, He gave Himself!

Just a few hundred years earlier, He had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.” (Jeremiah 31:33)

That day had finally come!

And this is the day that we celebrated last Sunday. Every year, the Church gathers at Pentecost in order to remember this momentous occasion, when the Holy Spirit descended to earth to live within every Believer! He is the Comforter that Jesus promised, the One who is always present in us, deep down within our souls. He is the One who guides us, convicts us, ministers to us, prays for us, and illuminates the mysteries of God for us within our hearts.

What’s fascinating about the Torah – the Law that God gave on Sinai – is that it was originally written without vowels. This can make interpretation very difficult. For example, take this sentence:

TH SHP SLD.

Does this read, “The ship sailed”? Or is it maybe, “The shop sold”?

Without the vowels, we can never know completely. We can infer meaning by looking at the context… but when everything else within that context is written without vowels, can we ever really know the context? This is how God gave the Law at Sinai. Part of it remained a mystery. But when He came down at Pentecost, He started filling in those blank spaces. The Holy Spirit is the One who gives context to that Torah. He is the One who illuminates its meaning. And that is because it is no longer words written on tablets of stone, but rather words engraved on our hearts!

May the Spirit of Truth illuminate your heart and mind with His Light! May He fill you to overflowing with discernment, and understanding, and clarity! And may the Word of God Almighty continue to be engraved on your heart, deeper and deeper within you, so that you will always have that Word to be a lamp unto your feet (Psalm 119:105)! Amen.

The Womb of God

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Caibeal Odhrain (St Oran’s Chapel), Iona Island

My Sisters and Brothers,

I’m tired. I’m on the early shift this week at work, which means I’ve been waking up at 3am. And right now, my eyes are feeling heavy, and my body is weary.

But this tiredness is making me think of Iona – that magical, mystical island that I love so much! There were many times when all the walking tired my body out, and I would rest myself for a bit in my favourite building on the island – Caibeal Odhrain (St Oran’s Chapel).

It’s a small building, next to the abbey, consisting of just one room. When you walk inside, your footsteps echo on the stone floor, and the smell of dust and candle wax fills your nose. A few birds live in the roof rafters, and their tweets are the only sounds that break the silence.

When you are alone in this little space, it almost feels like you’ve entered a quiet, comforting womb (as strange as that may sound).

I remember sitting in this chapel a few months ago. It was winter, very early in the morning, and it was pitch dark. A wild Hebridean wind was blowing outside… but inside, I felt safe and cocooned within its stone walls.

As I sat there, with a couple of candles illuminating the darkness, I thought of one of my favourite Hebrew names of God – ha-Rachaman (the Merciful or Compassionate One). The root of this name is rechem, which means “womb”.

The Mercy and Compassion of God for us is that of a mother for the child within her womb!

It was a very comforting thought on that cold, dark, and windy morning. And it has been a comforting thought ever since. Whenever I feel lonely, or weary, or sad, this memory fills my heart. And I know that no matter what I’m going through, I am always safe and protected in His womb!

May our Merciful and Compassionate Father enclose you within the safety of His womb! And may you always feel His heartbeat echoing in your ears as He protects you and nourishes you in the deepest part of Himself! Amen.

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