The Celtic Revival: Celtic Christian Culture (2)
And when they sat down to table, a bird alighted that moment on the prow of the ship, and made music sweet as an organ with its wings, beating them on the sides of the boat. And Brendan perceived that it was telling something...[and] Brendan bowed himself to the ground, and wept and cried and gave praise and thanks to God, the Creator of all things.
- Anonymous, Vita Brendani (12th century, from an earlier ms.)
…because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
- Romans 1.21
Celtic Christian hagiography comprises a body of writings telling the stories of great saints from the period of the Celtic revival. It is part history, part devotional literature, part partisan boosting, part myth, and part Irish story-telling. I like to think of it as history on a wink and a prayer.
It’s a challenge to ferret out whatever meaning the mostly anonymous writers intended. One of the most beloved of these many stories is that of Brendan the Navigator. So popular was the story of this Celtic saint, that more than 125 copies of it, in three languages, have survived from the period of medieval history.
Brendan (fl. mid 6th century) is remembered as “the Navigator” because his calling took him onto the ocean in search of the promised land of the saints. With his company of fellow monks, Brendan journeyed in boats made of leather, following the Lord’s leading in a variety of adventures meant to symbolize the life of devotion and mission.
His encounter with a bird came during one of those journeys, at the end of a period of rest when Brendan was seeking the Lord for where to go next. He had been wracking his brain trying to figure out a particular course of action, where he and his group of men should sail next. Weary from his exertions, he sat down with his mates for dinner.
That’s when the bird arrived. The bird’s wing-beating drum solo made something click in the Navigator’s mind, and he knew at once, intuitively, what he should do. God had spoken to him somehow through the rhythms and sweet thumpings of a bird’s wing against the prow of his leather coracle. Brendan perceived direction from God in these actions, and he gave praise and thanks in return.
Both of which – to perceive and to praise – most of us fail at with alarming consistency.
It’s not clear what Brendan deciphered from that bird’s display, but he knew God was speaking to him in this humble creature. God does speak to us through created things. The Scriptures insist on this over and over. The heavens and all things declare His glory, manifest His character, and grant us glimpses into His good and perfect will. We are surrounded by a glory-show every moment of our lives.
Unlike Brendan, however, few of us ever take the time to observe or listen, and so we fail to perceive whatever it is God may be wanting to make known to us. Failing to perceive, we fail to praise; thus, we are little better than the pagans who, knowing that God is speaking to them in created things, nevertheless refuse to acknowledge Him, decline to give Him thanks and praise, and thus submit to a darkening of their minds, which prevents them from knowing and serving the Lord as they should.
But, what can we expect? After all, unbelievers are not in the least interested in the knowledge of God or in submitting to His will. They have their own idols to satisfy – self, happiness, things – and can’t be bothered with listening to any voice from God whispering delightful insights or timely words of guidance through the things He has made.
As I said, what can we expect? They’re unbelievers.
What’s our excuse?
Our forebears in the faith believed that God has given us two “books” of revelation – Scripture and creation. Scripture is our primary source of revelation, but the creation also offers insights to God and His will. Both provide insights, illuminations, examples, and experiences which can strengthen our relationship with the Lord and lead to richer, fuller, and more consistent worship and obedience.
We should work hard at learning to meet God and His glory in Scripture (2 Cor. 3.12-18).
But we should work just as hard to perceive the Presence and glory of God all around us, and to voice our praise for what He shows us there.
1. If we really believed God was making Himself known through creation, what would we do?
2. Can you think of a time when you felt the Presence of the Lord in creation? Can you describe it?
Psalm 111.1-3 (Manoah: “When All Your Mercies, O My God”)
Praise the Lord! O Let my heart give thanks here amid His chosen race!
Your works are great, O Lord, and sought by all who know Your grace.
For Your work is full of splendor, Lord, and of majesty most pure;
Your righteousness, O glorious God, forever will endure!
Lord, help me to understand the creation, so that I might know You better and…
About the Celtic Revival
Want to learn more about the Celtic Revival. Go to our new web page on this important topic by clicking here. Listen to our newest podcast, Celtic Legacy, by clicking here.
Thanks so much to those of you who faithfully support the work of The Fellowship of Ailbe. God uses your gifts and prayers to reach thousands of people every day in over 160 countries. We praise the Lord for His having moved and enabled you to share with us in this ministry.
If you’re not a supporter of this ministry, won’t you please prayerfully consider making a gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe? Only God can move you to do this, and we believe He intends to support this ministry from within the ranks of those who are served by it. If this includes you, please seek the Lord in this matter. You can click here with your credit card or through Anedot or PayPal, or send your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.
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.
 Plummer, pp. 59, 60.