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Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

Heart First

Poetry and singing can open your heart to God.

Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.

   - Proverbs 4.23

Buas i.e. full knowledge of poetic art: because science goes after poetic art...

   - Cormac, Glossary, Irish, 10th century

Late in the period of the Celtic revival, as all the various earmarks of that period were beginning to fade –fervor for missions, deep spirituality, disciplined community life, and so forth – a sense of loss seems to have settled on certain leaders of the Irish Church. In various ways, we see them looking back with longing for a time that had come to an end.

For example, Cormac mac Cuilennáin, an abbot who also served as a local king, became concerned that many of the old Gaelic terms and words, common to previous generations, were falling into disuse and so might be forgotten. He seems to have known that this loss of vernacular terms was significant, that it meant that the Irish people were losing their language and, with it, probably much more. So he began making a list of all the terms which were no longer in use. His Glossary may have been intended to preserve for future generations words and their meanings that played such an important part in the Celtic revival of preceding centuries.

Among the terms no longer in use in Cormac’s day was buas. Interesting, this word, buas. It indicates more than just what its definition suggests. For Celtic peoples poetry was the highest form of learning, the greatest art, the most important cultural achievement. Poetry speaks to the heart, and from the heart to the mind; if the poetry is noble, virtuous, and spiritual, it fills the mind with thoughts of eternal verities and glory.

Science, on the other hand – and, in Cormac’s day, this would have included what today we call “theology” – speaks to the mind apart from the heart. Science and theology define, organize, classify, compare, and conclude. Poetry teaches us what to love. Science without poetry leads to learning without love.

Along with buas, Cormac noted several other terms related to the poetic craft which were also falling into disuse in his day, among them, filidh, the word for “poet.” Priests, abbots, bishops, and lesser clergy abounded in 10th-century Ireland, but poets were few and far between.

The loss of indigenous poetry in Cormac’s day was an indicator that the spiritual tide of the Celtic Revival was at low ebb. The heart had gone out of it, and was replaced by structure, Latinized ritual and language, and an ecclesiastical status quo which was increasingly formulaic and without Spirit.

The heart is the heart of the matter in the life of faith, as Solomon – writing in poetry – knew very well. One way to train the heart and to open it to greater spiritual vitality is to take up the reading of poetry, such as the great spiritual poetry of the Bible and of the Celtic and English traditions. Here we can expect the saints of old to speak to our hearts, improving our affections and, with them, our thoughts, our priorities, and our lives.

You may not think poetry has anything to offer you. You would be wrong.

Open your heart to great spiritual poetry, perhaps by beginning to sing more as part of your spiritual disciplines. If you'll open your heart to poetry, poetry may open your heart wider to God.

Psalm 112.1-4 (Beecher: “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”)
Praise the Lord, all you who fear Him, blest are all who love His Word.
Mighty are the upright children of the blessèd of the Lord.
Wealth and riches shall not fail them, long their righteousness endures.
Light in darkness shall avail them in God’s grace and mercy sure.

Lord, open my heart to poetry; let singing be the road into my soul, so that You might shape my heart to love You more.

T. M. Moore, Principal
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T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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