Calvin Miller: Rethinking Prayer, Retelling Christ's Story
- Thursday, April 16, 2009
When I got into that book—it’s called Carmina Gadelica and “Gaelic songs” is what it really means in the Latin—it was such a beautiful thing … the praise that came from these ancient peoples across the centuries. At this time I didn’t have much of an understanding that the word Celtic among people who are anti-New Age or anti-humanist … well, I had no idea at that time that there was a backlog of disrespect toward the Celts. That came later when I began to realize how many Wiccan meetings were being held on the island of Iona. But what I discovered was, these people on Iona are kind of latecomers. It was during the time of Patrick in the Irish Revival, when thousands of people came to Christ and were swept with passion across Europe. And people were hungry for the Gospel. And that whole way of life began to just really catch hold in Europe. This passion they had to spread the Word of God was consuming. These were some of my things, and I moved through this kind of literature. And there were such beautiful things written about Jesus that I fell in love with the whole movement.
What did the Celts do when they prayed and what makes their way stand apart from how Christians pray today?
Well, first off they always were more Trinitarian. Probably more than we are. They saturated their prayers with the Trinity. They would say, “I’m rising this morning to serve the God who created me, to serve his Son who redeemed me, to serve his Spirit who fills me.” This was typical. It wasn’t a rote thing that they did. They addressed all three persons of the Trinity. That was a huge thing for me, because I don’t generally hear of that among evangelicals. We generally pray in Jesus’ name only—not that there’s anything desperately wrong with that since Jesus and God and the Spirit are all one. Nonetheless, it’s kind of a partial theology. It’s kind of like Saint Anselm who said, “God is within himself a sweet society.” I love that. And the Celts really believed that.
You also can’t miss the fact that they prayed Scripture. Some evangelicals do it, but not many do it. For example, the Celts would take the Psalms 119 and they would pray those passages each day. They had it memorized, because they were largely illiterate. It’s the longest chapter in the Bible, so it’s quite a feat to memorize.
And then they prayed to be free of sickness. That doesn’t sound like it’s unique, but these are called the “Breastplate Prayers.” And these are very common among the ancient Celts. The lorica was the breastplate. When Paul says in Ephesians 6 about putting on the breastplate of righteousness he’s talking about the lorica. In a world where there was no aspirin or doctors, everybody died at 27 with no hope once they got sick. So these “Breastplate Prayers” became very important to them.
Another kind is the prayers of confession. And then the long-wandering prayers. [The Celts] were always on pilgrimage. Once they became born again, they began these pilgrimages but they never returned home again. You know, in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales the pilgrims are all going to Canterbury. They had their rituals and said their prayers and went on home. But the Celts were different. They moved and went out into the world and never came home again. The shrine was always ahead of them. It was never behind them, and they never went back. They believed that while they moved forward, they should talk to God. And they did it in wonderful ways. They often broke off the rudders from their ships. They let the sails go slack and committed their boats to God for him to let the wind push them wherever he would have them go. So there’s a lot of mysterious trust and wonder about the Celts.
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