Letting God into the whole of your life
Suzanne Cooke has been recalling her early encounter with God on the island of Iona, and suggests that the Celtic style of Christianity would be a good model for our lives today.
The first time I was fortunate enough to encounter what some people call ‘Celtic Christianity’ was at college 25 years ago when, at the end of my first year, May 1993, I spent a week with the Iona Community on the Island of Iona. It was here that I first took Holy Communion. I have a very clear memory of walking out of the Abbey Church into the cloister and saying to God “OK, if you really want me to give this thing a try, then I will!” Of course, I was talking about becoming a Christian, and the rest, as they say, is history.
But that first encounter is important because after a long journey it has led me here, to live out my faith amidst the hills, wildlife, and people of the far north of England.
When recently I was reading the book of Job, I was reminded that one of the things that caught my attention in those early days was the way in which those early ‘Celtic Christian’ people, communicated with and understood God. For them, there was none of the compartmentalising of religion, restricting God to particular parts of their lives. For Christians who lived so closely to nature, whose lives depended on the cycle of the seasons and who were so affected by a dry summer or a particularly cold, snowy winter, the divine presence of God was everywhere and present in all things. For them the pretty, flowery words some use to talk to God are largely replaced by very real emotions, sadness, heartbreak, anger, hope, love, gratitude – platitudes don’t really wash when you are communicating with God about life and death, both your own and that of your family.
I have often wondered if Christians in more challenging circumstances, whose lives are a far cry from being safe and secure, have more openly ‘had words’ with God. Biblically, of course, Job was one of those people. Job, like the Celts, had a very ‘personal’ relationship with God, one which involved the Divine presence in every aspect of his life - the good the bad and the even worse.
This is what I remember from the stories I was told about those first British or ‘Celtic’ Christians – God was part of their whole world, their whole being. Theirs was a different kind of relationship, one that sought to understand God at work in the world in both the positive and the negative.
Allowing God into our lives, on the good days and the bad days, actually takes courage, it requires us to broaden our understanding of how God acts in the world and, sometimes, just to accept that we have no answers for the hardest of questions. I have always been drawn to this kind of understanding of the Christian faith because I believe it is part of a more intimate and maybe mature relationship.
At times of extreme change, like those we are currently living through it is, maybe, this more robust relationship that will truly sustain us – and one which we might ask ourselves if we are all called to develop and commit ourselves to.
The picture above shows the cross outside the Abbey on Iona, and is courtesy of Suzanne Cooke.
Rev Suzanne Cooke is the vicar of four rural churches, sitting at the foot of the Cheviot Hills in the far north of Northumberland. Her call to ministry came whilst living with her family in North Norfolk and she is proud to have begun her ordained life in the Norwich Diocese.
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