Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Friday is for Friends

I will try an experiment today because this blog community has been so versatile and spirited. Today in our chp from Tracy Balzer, Thin Places, I want to post two items and get your reflections.
Chp 6 is about “Saints and Symbols,” but mostly about “Symbols (and a little about Saints).” Tracy’s opening section about symbols evoked Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World. “Since they [the Celts] seemed to have been determined to see the glory of God in all times and places, it follows that their own worship would be filled with image and symbolism” (135). In other words, the Celts found reason to see the presence of God or the evocation of God in the graphic, the visible, and the concrete. In short, ordinary things became sacramental.
Nothing like the Celtic cross, with its circle, and the Celtic knot. I’ve not done this but I’m wondering today if we could have a “meditative conversation.” I’m posting two pictures of a Celtic cross and a Celtic knot and ask you to reflect on what you see and what it leads you to think about.
Here is a pattern of the Celtic cross at the Durham Cathedral decorating a page of the Gospel of Matthew:
Here are my thoughts:
I see in every Celtic cross I observe — especially if I slow down to ponder it — an image of the Trinity — the Trinity who in perichoretic and unceasing love surrounds everything the Cross stands for.
I see in the Celtic knot the connection of heart, soul, mind and strength, the connection of all of earth with God, and the reminder to keep all of life focused on the one needful thing.

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posted September 28, 2007 at 1:34 am

I see the struggle of an early celtic christianity to interpret the cross in a very fysical way. A cross intertwined with a circle must have been the manner to look beyond the cross….

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Ted M. Gossard

posted September 28, 2007 at 4:14 am

Scot, I ought to put this post on my sidebar (on my blog). I love this.
I like what you see, and certainly I think they saw the Trinity in most everything and everywhere.
I certainly see beauty and glory as well. I see blessings, hands stretched out in blessing, I see it as for the viewer, and really for all- just like the sun. I see it as the place of unity in Jesus for the world.

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posted September 28, 2007 at 5:07 am

I see an appreciation of the stength of the Cross and what it represents. The circle represents eternal God (I heard that years ago, but don’t know if it is correct).
I see a symbol from a movement in a land that eventually had a great impact on much of the western world.

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posted September 28, 2007 at 7:34 am

To me, the sun in the background is the light of Jesus illuminating the cross, the darkest of places. “The light shines in the darkness.” I love this symbol too but was a bit offput once when a pastor dating a Wiccan told me the Celtic cross represented the “fusion” of the Wiccan and the Christian! As we’ve said in other threads, people see through their own lenses. I was especially interested in Tracy’s book because I’ve often seen Celtic Christianity co-opted for a New Age agenda. I have tended to steer clear of the Celtic because it can get very fuzzy around the edges and can be a way to reinterpet Christianity that is too out there for me. I’ve heard people say, oh the Celts isolated and didn’t get “polluted” by “Western” Christianity, and they can offer a critique of what’s “wrong” with “patriarchal faith” and you know, etc, the whole drill, the Celts revere the earth and the rest of Christendom doesn’t, etc, etc. I haven’t felt comfortable with that level of agenda. Tracy’s book doesn’t go there at all, which I think is great, but I’d also love to see the book that tackles the politics of Celtic Christianity. I did enjoy Tracy’s book and felt completely comfortable with its straightforward theology and its gentleness and simplicity (meaning simplicity as a high compliment).

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posted September 28, 2007 at 10:05 am

We have a couple of celtic crosses in our home (above the fireplace, and on another wall). I dont know if this is any official meaning, but when I look at them I see the circle as representing the whole Earth and everything in it. And Jesus’ cross is above all of it. Jesus died for all. He is redeeming all.

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Eileen Warren

posted September 28, 2007 at 10:56 am

I see a cross that a place of torture and the life giving sun (or Son) draped upon it. I see an unknown wheel that pilots each journey will we see its redemption or an altered swastika of hate.

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posted September 28, 2007 at 11:38 am

This is a little off topic, but last night at dusk I was sitting on the patio of someone’s home, watching the sun set over Orange County, CA. There was a concrete angel reclining with her hand under her chin on the wall around the patio. Directly behind her were many many rooftops descending a hill. She appeared to be resting on them.
I felt God’s presence in that scene. To think of it now, what moved me was the sense of God at rest while the concerns of the world go on below him. He is not worried or anxious. He knows the beginning from the end, etc. In His reality there is peace.
It is amazing that an artist can make concrete speak.

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Tracy Balzer

posted September 28, 2007 at 12:47 pm

Great comments and observations! Thanks for this discussion, Scot.
One thing that speaks loudly to me as I observe Celtic crosses, particularly those great high crosses in Ireland (and a few in Scotland)is that they are just that — HIGH, which can’t quite be seen in these photos. These 9th century crosses are huge, and their very size speaks to me about the supremacy of Christ. They make quite a statement, and it is rather humbling to think they’ve been speaking that statement to pilgrims for over a millenium.

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posted September 28, 2007 at 12:48 pm

Interesting conversation. I have not read the book, however, celtic crosses have always intrigued me – I’m wearing one right now. My understanding of the genesis of the Celtic cross is that the cirlce was a celtic symbol for the interconnectedness of life and was in use well before Christianity. When Christianity came to Ireland the cross and the circle were brought together to show only in Christ is life truly connected. There is probably more to the story and quite probably more than one accurate story. The bigger point is that a pagan symbol was redeemed and given new life in Christ. If Christ can redeem the Celts, then there is a good chance that HE can redeem me as a 21st Century American (whose native culture is every bit as pagan as the ancient Celts).

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Brother Maynard

posted September 28, 2007 at 2:32 pm

Excellent, Scot… this is somewhat mind-expanding. At the Anglican community where we sometimes worship, the liturgy is inserted into one of those plasticized menu folders where the dishes and prices are normally found (the association is intentional). Centering the page is a large Celtic cross, hand-drawn in a simple-ornate way (if that makes sense). The lower right corner has a quote on worship by, coincidentally enough, Alexander Schmemann. Thanks for opening up the symbolism a little here… I’ve just added Tracy’s book to my “wish list”.

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Ted M. Gossard

posted September 28, 2007 at 3:30 pm

Diane, Just a little thought. Christianity has commonly taken pagan practices or symbols and has changed them with Christian meaning. And the true worship of God in the ancient near east always had some corrollaries in other religions.
Christian worship looks different everywhere and is related to the people and their culture, customs. Of course there is the danger of syncretism which we see in Scripture as well. But to give the true meaning or Christian meaning of a symbol or practice with changes, I wonder if this wasn’t something going on in Celtic Christianity as Patrick brought it there, and the Spirit gave the gospel its expression there. I don’t know, but wondering….

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posted September 28, 2007 at 4:51 pm

I’ve been to the north of England and Scotland a few times and I like to visit old churches and cathedrals when I am there including, a couple of times, Durham Cathedral. A lot of the churches in England have bits of pagan symbolism woven into their architecture which guides will gleefully point out. Often Christian churchs were built in places that were considered sacred by pre-Christians. Part of the sense of a “thin space” (I haven’t read Tracy Balzer’s book but am going on what various people I spoke to in the border country told me) is that a place can be sacred in and of itself, the place will be somewhere where we will feel closer to the divine whether we are Christian or Pagan.
In the Celtic Cross there are those pre-Christian elements of the circle and the celtic knots fused with the Christian cross. The circle to me personally represents eternity and continuous creation, the celtic knots represent the interwoveness of the various elements of creation and the cross represents Christ transforming, redeeming and recreating that world.

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posted September 28, 2007 at 6:01 pm

As I have recently been trying to work out a visual that attempts to explain CovenantClusters, I did something with what I learned from Peterson’s “Eat This Book” about Lectio Divina and the whole perichoresis concept…and was struck that was I came up with was very like the Celtic knot.

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posted September 28, 2007 at 9:48 pm

I think I agree with what you are saying. Or I agree with what I think you are saying. I don’t mind Christianity taking pagan symbols and infusing them with Christian meaning. But, and I admit my bias here, I’m not happy with taking Christian symbols and infusing them with pagan meaning. And I’m not happy with taking Celtic cultural Christianity, changing it into an ideological construct, and appropriating it to prop up U.S. New Age. But I hope I didn’t sound too rigid before. It’s just that I’ve heard “Celtic Christianity” used as a code term for Earth worship or heaven knows what and so have become a little leery of it. I was glad to see Tracy reclaim its Christian context.

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posted September 29, 2007 at 8:34 am

Subversive Influence » Blog Archive » Random Acts of Linkage #28

[…] Yesterday Scot McKnight was discussing symbols, the Celtic cross in particular — he’s working through Tracy Balzer’s Thin Places: An Evangelical Journey into Celtic Christianity, which I’ve just now added to my wish list. […]

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