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Tammie Grimm ~ A Flame of Love: Celtic Christianity Within Reach


This post is part of a series on integrating the values and practices of Celtic Christianity into our lives.

On a cold winter’s evening, whether to toast marshmallows, chat with friends or curl up and read a book, many of us might enjoy the opportunity to cozy up to a brightly burning fire in the hearth. But how many of us depend upon a fireplace—excepting in dire emergencies—to heat up our homes? The reality is, despite whatever scouting skills may still be lurking in your back pocket, most of us need only rely on a switch or a button to raise the temperature on the thermostat. And those of us with smart phone and security cameras can adjust our homes as needed from remote locations. With effortless ease, our homes are kept comfortable with the flick of our wrist or the point of our finger.

Not so the medieval Celtic woman. She had to be skilled in the art of fire tending: how to keep the fire from smoldering and filling the house with smoke, yet not use too much peat as to waste the precious resource that had been cut from the bogs months before and dragged to the home where it dried before burning. Physical labor, often dusty and dirty work, was also necessary—to haul the peat, shovel the cinders and keep the flue clean and safe from chimney fires. The fire she lit each morning in the hearth of her home was the fire she depended on to heat the home, cook her family’s food, and be a ready source of flame to ignite a splint that would light a trimmed wick from which to see; the fire depended upon how well she “smoored” or banked down the fire the previous night. In the midst of this manual labor, a prayer to the Trinity such as the following accompanied the nightly ritual which involved spreading embers into a raised heap before it was divided into three sections on which peat was laid.

The sacred Three

To save,

To shield,

To surround,

The hearth,

The house,

The household,

This eve,

This night,

Oh! this eve,

This night,

And every night,

Each single night. Amen.

The next morning, as she stirred the ashes and coaxed a flame from the coals, she prayed again. And just as she prayed the evening before, her prayer was more than a simple wish for the fire to light; it was a prayer that her day’s labor would be guided by the one who is the source of all Light.

I will kindle my fire this morning,
in the presence of the holy angels of heaven,
in the presence of Ariel of the loveliest form,
in the presence of Uriel of the myriad charms,
Without malice, without jealousy, without envy,
Without fear, without terror of any one under the sun,
But the Holy Son of God to shield me,
Without malice, without jealousy, without envy,
Without fear, without terror, of any one under the sun,
But the Holy Son of God to shield me.

God, kindle Thou in my heart within

A flame of love to my neighbor,
To my foe, to my friend, to my kindred all,
to the brave, to the knave, to the thrall,
O Son of the loveliest Mary,
From the lowliest thing that liveth,

To the Name that is highest of all,
O Son of the loveliest Mary,
From the lowliest thing that liveth,
To the name that is highest of all.

I wonder how many of us pray when we adjust the thermostat? Sure, we may pray the furnace keeps heating and the lights stay on as we prepare for an ice storm, blizzard or other wicked weather. And the exclamation, “Thank God!” when power has been restored after a power outage is not exactly the prayer of gratitude to which I refer.

Do we regularly stop and consider all the ways in which God is present in our lives and has provided so our homes have electricity, power and running water? Do we pray as diligently and as intentionally as the Celtic woman’s kindling prayer for the basics of life? I confess I do not, and I am willing to wager that I am not alone. I suspect one reason we do not pray for the utilities that supply our homes is that we have come to expect them as a consequence of modern-day first-world living.

And underlying our expectation that electricity, heat and hot water are effortlessly a part of contemporary life is our very disassociation from the basic necessities of life and the constant need to attend to them. Unlike the fire in the fireplace or the wick in the oil lamp, our modern-day conveniences do not require the regular tending – except to pay our monthly bills in a timely manner.

But if we pay attention to the Celtic woman’s kindling prayer, we realize what she prays for is more than a comfortable home. She asks God to kindle a flame of love within her heart that will reach out beyond herself to include her neighbors. As she attends to the basic needs of her home, she is also looking beyond her family to take care of the needs of others. Her kindling prayer reflects the nature of the Triune Godhead who is whole, complete and integrated as its own self, yet bothers to invite humanity to share in the gift of divine love.

The kindling prayer teaches us that once ignited, the flame of love needs regular tending. Our relationship with God and our relationship with others is not an on-again, off-again event that can be controlled by the flip of a switch or the turn of a spigot.

Our cues from the kindling prayers invite us to attend to the relationships that sustain us, to understand we depend upon God and one another. In many respects, the kindling prayer reminds us that relationship is as basic a necessity to life as heat and light. The kindling prayer considers the plight of our neighbor, both the ones we like and the ones we do not. How many of us know all the neighbors on our block? In our apartment complex? For too many of us, it is not until the power goes out and stays out for more than a few hours that neighbors begin to pool their resources and check in on one another. And despite the inconvenience of doing without power for a day or two, a sense of community can be cultivated and experienced as folks band together to survive the black-out. But once the power is restored, it is easy to lapse back into our homes and the creature comforts we enjoy in our private domain, neglecting to regularly attend to and nurture the community in which we live but have no part.

So what’s a twenty-first century person to do to capture the spirit of Celtic Christianity? Jettison the modern conveniences of life? Go live in a cabin in the woods? Could it be something as simple and as mindful as praying the kindling prayer? Can we be like the Celtic woman, as diligent and as intentional to check in on our neighbors even when there isn’t an emergency?

This week, I invite you to pray the kindling prayer as part of your morning routine and the evening ‘smooring’ prayer, intentionally placing yourself before God at least twice a day.

Don’t simply adjust the thermostat in your home—or even check it, especially since it might be pre-programmed—without asking God to ignite the flame of love within your heart for your neighbor.

Be willing to allow God to use you as kindling in your community, to spark a flame that attracts others to its glow and spread the Light of the world into the dark shadows that oppress your neighborhood.

May the God of peace bring peace to your home,

May the Son of peace bring peace to your home,
May the Spirit of peace bring peace to your home,

This day, this night and evermore. Amen.