So after Last week’s foray into family legends I’m still thinking about my roots, about where I come from. About where we all come from. And the great thing about where we all come from is that it’s essentially the same place. And when we all became so different, languages, cultures, our genes so cleverly diversifying, our bodies adapting to heat, cold, to deserts and jungles – we still all kept telling stories. And God kept telling stories. One of the things that strikes me most is that the thread of God’s heart is interwoven through the stories and histories of all cultures, of all peoples. Those of us who are students of the biblical narrative are very much used to the idea that in the history and stories of the people of Israel God peppers pictures of His coming Kingdom; he has strewn the history of the Jews with Metaphors of what Jesus would be like, what the kingdom would be like, what being a disciple would be like. Whether historical events (however accurately recorded) or obvious myths and legends, God displays his master storytelling in presenting us with pictures of sacrifice, redemption, substitution, resurrection and servanthood. But what often gets missed is that these same principles and ideas are also strewn throughout the stories and myths of other peoples. – Odin hanging on the tree, the annual sacrifice of the king for the benefit of the land, the humbling of a Prince to serve in a kitchen, the cauldron that gives life everlasting – I am of course touching on stories I know well, those of the northern peoples, the Norse and the Celts.
And this is where I’m from – old Celtic Stock, perhaps even a touch of the Pict. Certainly Welsh, definitely Irish, distantly Scots. Ethnically, Culturally blood and bones Celt. Mostly. And though I see the seeds of the Kingdom and Jesus’ Story in the Celtic Legends and practices, what most strikes me is the characteristics of the culture and people that help me understand the characteristics of citizens of the kingdom of God, of disciples of Jesus.
For if there is one defining characteristic of all of the Celtic peoples it’s the dual forces of Wanderlust and Hiraeth driving and motivating. Hiraeth is a Welsh word with no real English equivalent. Its simple translation is ‘homesickness’ – but it is immeasurably more than that. It is longing not just for home, but the the land itself, a physical pain that longs for the mountains, the seas; a desire to be reunited with the people who are the brothers and sisters of your heart – the friends of the soul; a nostalgia for both the past and a hope for the future, for restoration. All of this and more is Hiraeth. It’s sometimes characterised by a physical pain when too long absent from the homeland, and pictures of mountains or a smell of the sea can set off weeping in the short term and depression in the long – we can be a melancholic lot. In contrast, we can also be prone to a celebratory poem, song or dance, usually in honour of either ‘home’ or the family.
I’ve seen my Celtic brethren in their homelands and in the lands they have travelled. Apart from perhaps the Norse peoples (and i’m not convinced there’s not a common root between these two) the Celtic peoples are some of the farthest flung around the planet. They have a drive to wander, to explore – more than the ordinary Human desire to explore, which is part of every one of us – in the Celt this drive is somehow supercharged. But here’s where the contrasting desires also complement each other – and shows us an insight into Kingdom living. For wherever they go, because they so long for home, they cannot help but take much of home with them – you might also notice they also usually go to places that physically remind them of home – Mountains and Beaches are a must have for the Sturdy Celt. The footprint of the Celt is evident the world over – Welsh speaking Patagonia, pretty much the entire Chicago Police and Fire Departments wouldn’t exist without the Irish, the Canadians are immaculate exponents of Curling and large swaths of New Zealand’s south island is more scots than Scotland (Invercargil, Dunedin, Queenstown). The love of food and family, that for some Celts is almost a religion in itself, drives all these Celtic Influenced Cultures. The Haggis and Pipes are as familiar a sight in Christchurch NZ as they are in Edinburgh.
And so… This is what we are called to by our father. We are called to Go, to expand our horizons, to reach out to neighbour and enemy alike. But to Go with such a longing for our Father’s house that we spread the culture of Kingdom wherever we go – not by telling people what to do, but simply by behaving as if we were already home. We show the inhabitants of these “foreign lands” what Justice is by behaving as if Justice was normal. We show the natives what love is by doing it. We give our enemies Hope by lending our hands and coats to them on a daily basis. But no matter how well we demonstrate the upside down Kingdom of God’s culture and behaviour – if it’s all happening at home it won’t help anyone (except ourselves). It’s got to be both. We’ve got to Go, to Wander, to explore. And we’ve got to take our longing for home with us.
Embrace your Inner Celt My friends – Heed God’s call to be Wanderers and still long for home.