Monday, March 17, 2014

Celtic Christianity's Lessons for Creative Life

If you came here hoping for a more spiritual post for St. Patrick's Day, let me direct you to this post on my theology blog.

This holiday celebrates Saint Patrick, a man able to accomplish astonishingly great things, in circumstances where most of us would not have dared attempt them.  Celtic Christians headed off to awesomely tough lands and successfully built monasteries which turned into flourishing centers of education, art, and spirituality.

Last week was a tough week, with news of stage IV cancer that has afflicted my high school friend and the art show retrospective of a colleague with pancreatic cancer.  This week will be a tough week of endless meetings with people who are not sent to campus to praise us.

This, too, shall pass.  I should look to the life of St. Patrick, who suffered as a slave, but was able to overcome.  And my life as a 21st century administrator is a life of ease and comfort, compared to the Celtic slavery that Patrick endured.

In these weeks where I haven't been writing as much as I'd like, I find it easy to slip into self-loathing and despair.  I worry about the publication opportunities I haven't pursued.  I think about the fact that I don't have too many decades left to write the work that needs to be created.

In short, it's easy to feel like I'm wasting my precious life.

Here, too, the Celtic monks can bring me comfort.  I should think about St. Columba, who some might argue was a man of massive mistakes, but out of those miscalculations came a thriving outpost of Christianity in Scotland.

Many of us might felt like those Celtic monks, trying to till a stony ground.  We may feel like the publishing world has shifted into something we no longer recognize.  Those of us who are working in higher education may wonder if we're headed to a time where very few people will go to college.  Those of us still making mortgage payments on homes declining in value may feel like the rules have changed, and we don't know how to play the game anymore.

We should take courage from the example of the early Celtic church.  Being sent to Scotland would be like being sent to a harsh, wild place--maybe like being sent to a barren planet today.  But just because we're inhabiting a barren planet doesn't mean we're doomed to failure.

We might find a completely different kind of success.

Of course, what we will have to master is the trick of letting go of our preconceived notions of what success will look like, so that we'll see the success that we're creating.

Celtic Christianity is one of the strains of Christianity that's healthy and thriving--and we can't say that about most ancient religions.  Yet if those Celtic monks had allowed themselves to be circumscribed by their circumstances, they'd be another one of those dead traditions that we might not have even heard of.

So today, as you drink your green beer or eat your corned beef and cabbage, think about those early Celtic monks without whom, we would not have this holiday.  Think about your own life.  How could you turn your corner of the world into an outpost where creativity can thrive?  How can your life provide comfort and courage to other creative types?  When you're having the kind of day/month/year that makes you feel like you're living on stony, thorny ground, how can you make good soil out of those circumstances?

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