The Celtic Revival: The Monasteries (7)
Here begins the Monk’s Rule of St. Columban the Abbot. First of all things we are taught to love God with the whole heart and the whole mind and all our strength, and our neighbor as ourselves; next, our works.
- Columbanus, Monks’ Rule (7th century)
Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith…
- 1 Timothy 1.5
At their best, the monastic rules of Celtic Ireland were designed to promote love for God and neighbor, as we see in the forward to Columbanus’ Monks’ Rule.
The rules which guided the early Celtic monasteries were derived from the Word of God. Celtic Christians, following Paul, insisted that all instruction and all disciplining of our bodies must aim at promoting love for God and neighbor. And all rules of discipline, derived from such instruction, should help to promote love throughout the community.
Unless people living in close community love God and obey Him, they will not love their neighbors as they should. Such discipline can be difficult and even painful, as Columbanus explained in Sermon IV. The discipline of loving God and neighbor, in which the monks were to be trained, and which they would teach throughout the rest of the community, “is in fact the training of all training,” as Columbanus put it, “and at the price of present sorrow it prepares the pleasure of an unending time and the delight of unending joy.”
Learning to love others begins by being grounded in the Word of God. From there, love is shaped and molded in prayer, where the Spirit of God can work with His Word to form us more completely into the image of Jesus Christ. To help monks and members of the community make progress in love, monastic rules prescribed various common activities, the most important of which was prayer.
The practice of prayer in Celtic monasteries took various forms, designed to help members of the community hang their day on prayer. Thus they could improve love for God and their neighbors by being often in that setting where the Spirit could shape them for love.
Personal prayer was foremost, of course, but not the only way prayer was practiced. Prayer often took the form of singing, together and individually, and especially, singing through the psalms. It’s interesting to note that Columbanus adopted this practice because it was the example of previous generations of Christian leaders: “...our predecessors have appointed three psalms at each of the day-time hours...” Monastic rules thus also helped to establish connection and even communion with previous generations of believers.
Prayers were offered for all members of the community as well as for kings and even enemies. This practice served previous generations of Christians well, Columbanus observed, allowing them and their communities to flourish; so Columbanus and other monastic leaders adopted it for their monasteries.
Prayers were made at set times throughout the day. By praying according to a schedule, praying together at certain times, and praying common themes and psalms, the members of the community trained their hearts to submit to God’s Word and follow His lead in praise, thanksgiving, and intercession for others. By singing the psalms they learned melodies which could accompany them throughout the day, during their work, or as they went on journeys (peregrinatio, mission) together.
We can all improve in love for God and one another through our prayers. Prayer can be the training ground where we learngreater love and how to express it. By taking a more disciplined approach to prayer, as suggested by the example of our Celtic Christian forebears, we can grow in love for God and for the people in our Personal Mission Field, and for people everywhere.
How might you improve your use of the discipline of prayer? Are you careful to begin and end each day in prayer? Do you set aside time throughout the day to come before the Lord for prayer and meditation? Are you learning to pray the psalms, so that God’s Word guides you into a fuller and more rewarding life of prayer? Do you make a point to sing your prayers to the Lord? Do you have a prayer partner you touch base with for prayer from time to time?
These are a few of the ways Celtic Christians worked to hang their day on prayer, and by making more time for prayer, to grow in love for God and neighbors. Let your rule of disciplines include more focus on prayer, spread throughout the day, and the Lord will use that time to discipline you for greater love.
1. What’s one practice mentioned in this article that you might adopt to improve your prayers?
2. Are all your prayers focused on seeing Jesus, being in His Presence, and seeking to become more like Him?
Psalm 26.1-3 (Aberystwyth: Jesus, Lover of My Soul)
Vindicate me, Lord on high; I have walked within Your Word.
Never wav’ring, though I sigh, I have trusted You, O Lord!
Prove me, Lord, prove even me! Test my heart and try my mind.
Let Your steadfast mercy be in the path for me to find.
Help me to become more constant and consistent in prayer, O Lord. I want to grow in love for You and for the people in my Personal Mission Field, and I know that in prayer…
The Disciplined Life
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T. M. Moore, Principal
All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.