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Celtic Wisdom: Treasures from Ireland Hardcover – September 1, 2009
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What did I learn from this brief, 95 page package stuffed full of treasures? Plenty. I didn't realize the role Ireland played in preserving scripture and true Christianity during the Dark Ages; it was further isolated from the rest of Europe, even England, than I had considered. I learned that the monastic life in Ireland was a far cry from anywhere else, and that the Roman rules didn't apply. Did you know that there were married priests in Ireland? And women clergy? Neither did I. Many of us knew that Patrick was a missionary from England, but maybe others are as ignorant as I was of how Ireland then returned the favor, sending out missionaries to other countries to re-introduce the fundamentals and truths of the Bible. Patrick's Confession was a far larger and more important document than I knew before, and after reading the translated excerpts in Celtic Wisdom, I am determined to seek a translated copy of the whole thing. The whole culture of the early Irish Christians appears to be much closer to the New Testament church than I ever imagined. It was reassuring to know, yet it left a feeling of sadness as I wondered at the changes over time. But this can be said of the state of the church everywhere today.
Celtic Wisdom is a rather scholarly work, complete with bibliography (as it should be). Since much of what is known of that time is based on oral tradition and legends, those are included. Often Cindy Thomson recounts traditional stories and legends without any comment as to their veracity, leaving it to the reader to decide what to accept and what to take with a grain of salt. On occasion she offers plausible alternatives, as in the true origin of the legend that Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland. She also provides insight into the shamrock legend and the importance of Three in Old Ireland (I noted to myself that three has great significance throughout the Bible as well). Some of the legends I found amusing, but all of them lead to a better understanding to that early group of Christians.
Make Celtic Wisdom a part of your library, but leave it on the coffee table for others to pick up and enjoy as well. Only 95 pages--small, but that actually makes it more accessible for those of us who are always too hurried to sit down to a longer scholarly work. Well researched and enlightening, Celtic Wisdom is a real treasure.
One very interesting legend about St. Patrick is that he used the shamrock to illustrate the Trinity. "One plant, three leaves; one God, three persons." This is a wonderful concept that we can easily share today, whether it was first used by St. Patrick or some unknown person.
I found food for thought in a legend about St. Kevin (Coemhghein in Irish). St. Kevin's foster son was ill and asked for an apple, though there were no nearby apple trees. Legend has it that Kevin blessed a willow tree and then found some apples. His foster son ate one and recovered. I wondered whether C. S. Lewis had grown up hearing this particular legend of the British Isles. Perhaps St. Kevin's story inspired The Magician's Nephew, where Aslan gives Digory an apple to make his ill mother well again.
If you want to learn the lore of Ireland, you can't do better than this beautifully illustrated book by the author of Brigid of Ireland: A Historical Novel
This book is an excellent survey but hopefully it will whet your appetite to recapture the whit, wisdom and understanding of an age long forgotten by today's urban worries. By the time you finish reading it, you will feel the mist on your skin and the peat under your feet and see a light emanating all around you! Yet, it's a quick read, well worth your time and energy if you are seeking a new old way of approaching God.
Ever wonder how the ancient Irish found the Christian path? It's in the book! Ever wonder what the Celtic thought on prayer was? Page 84 explains which position they were urged to pray in. Liturgy was important for these ancient people, yet they nurtured a personal, continuous conversation with God. From Patrick and Brigid to Celtic learning and art, readers will find insights into Celtic Christianity.
Thomson writes as if she's teaching a class about this culture. "Erin (Eire), the Irish word for the Island of Ireland, was the mother of life to the ancient Irish." She teaches us about the ancient Irish phrase Sli na firinne and how it is relevant today. I love the educative aspect of this inspiring book, which is rich and applicable today. We gave a copy as a Christmas gift to someone who loves everything Irish. Whether a lover of Irish history or petite coffee table books, I recommend Celtic Wisdom.