Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Peace and the Celtic Spirit: Excerpts from a Journal (2)

In August 2010, just past the waxing quarter moon, I attended a retreat on Celtic spirituality and peacemaking in Northern Ireland. The hosts of the retreat asked us to respect the safe and sacred space created by the community, and refrain from attributing direct quotes to any of the attendants or speakers. With that in mind, the following are excerpts from the journal I kept.

Day Two — Learning to Translate

"God is merciful."


I find a lot of use of Christian language and terms going on, which is not unexpected and not even that bothersome. I understand the sentiment most of the time — and so the challenge for me is going to be, I think, learning how to express the same (or similar) idea "Druidically."

Let's start with the assumption that we all share a reality, we all experience (differently) a shared, common reality — and that we experience it as human beings. Let's start from a place that accepts a certain amount of common ground, common experience expressed and therefore shaped by different language and metaphors.


The speaker tonight said that his greatest hope is that God is merciful, despite all of our faux-pas.

I would not put it this way anymore. My goddess is, I think, merciful, a goddess of mercy as much as of justice (funny how the term "social justice" implies a kind of mercy within it, a mercy which is also justice itself, a balancing). But Spirit, the One, the Source, as I understand it is not "merciful" exactly — this is almost too personal a way of putting it.

Instead, I might speak of the Song of the World, and how it moves with exquisite harmony and balance and beauty. I might say that it reverberates in us, that it tunes us to that greater harmony — and no matter how deaf we might think we have become, we can always hear that World Song — for it is what sustains and moves us. This is a mercy, a kind of persistence. And in a way, it is also merciful for being somewhat impersonal, larger than any one of us — a way of connecting. "God is merciful" is like a way of saying that beauty and love endure — but it is in their nature to endure, for they are responsive and dynamic, and only things which are so can last, can move as history moves, move as landscapes change.



  1. Another way to translate those "God is" notions is to ponder what fruits are revealed in those who are rich in Spirit.

    I think it is certainly reasonable to say that those who are strong or deep in Spirit are merciful, for instance. It makes a pretty good yardstick of the degree to which someone is doing their work...

  2. Kevin Murphy8/31/2010 2:48 PM

    Lovely "translation," Ali. As a progressive Christian, I have no problem understanding and loving the Song of the World, as I understand it.
    During the retreat I wondered/worried how you were coping with the Christian-speak; I needn't have been concerned (though undoubtedly it was a challenge at times). Your perspective added a valuable dimension to the proceedings. Thanks for hanging in there and posting your journal excerpts. I'm finding them helpful in clarifying my own thoughts.
    Godspeed, uh, Goddesspeed!

  3. Kevin,

    Thanks for coming by and leaving a comment! :) As I'm sure I've said before, I had such a wonderful time on the retreat. In many ways it was refreshing to be the only Pagan among a bunch of Christians. It gave me the chance to hear different perspectives, and also to express my own understanding of my religious tradition (without having to bang heads with other Pagans over nit-picky details and definitions - something we're notorious for ;).

    What struck me as the week went on was that, far from having to constantly translate "Christian-ese" into "Pagan-ese," I often found myself noting how "Pagan" much of the conversation and prayer really was. Perhaps this is because, having been raised Catholic, much of Christian theology and conversation still feels like a natural language for me, while Paganism remains in some ways a learned or second language. But I also think that there is a great deal held in common and overlapping between Druidry in particular, and the themes of Celtic Christianity that we were exploring over the course of the week.

    I'm glad my reflections are giving you the chance to remember your own experiences and clarify some of your thoughts! That's exactly what I was hoping for when I began posting.... On the other hand, I know I have left out a great deal, partly because of G's request that we respect the privacy and sensitive nature of the conversation, partly because some of my reflections are too personal to share, and partly because there was just so much that I could never hope to capture it all! :)

  4. Cat,

    Yes, definitely! When I conceive of statements like "God is merciful" or "God is free," I often find myself thinking about what it means to "tap into" or embody this notion of Divinity or Spirit - what it means to be in relationship with the source of that mercy or freedom. I think this might be similar to what you're talking about....

    By the way, I think you would have greatly enjoyed some of the spiritual work that went on during the retreat. There were many moments of shared community silence that reminded me of what I imagine a meeting of Friends might be like. :) Now that I'm back home... I find myself seriously considering seeking out a local Quaker community just for that kind of shared silence and the connection it brings.

  5. Yes, it would have been wonderful for Cat to have been there! Maybe next year? he says, hopefully...

    Ali, the Quakers are, in my limited experience, a great community to hang out with. The Quaker Meeting in Atlanta once rented its space to a Wiccan coven, and the last time I went to a meeting, I ran into someone who knew me from Pagan gatherings. So I think Cat is hardly the only "Quaker Pagan" out there!

  6. Carl, is there going to be a "next year" most certainly? Because if there is, I'm going to start saving now!

    Ali - really beautiful notes and thoughts. I can't tell you how much I appreciate this window in to the retreat. You've spoken so eloquently to the concept of Mercy.