What does it mean for God to be omnipresent? If God is everywhere what does that say about the way we live in this world? Is there a difference between sacred and secular spaces? How do we see each other in this context? These are some of the questions that Bruce Epperly deals with in this second posting in his series on Celtic theo-spirituality.
Celtic Theo-spirituality I:
Divine Omnipresence and The Circle of Blessing
Bruce G. Epperly
I began this series, based on my most recent book The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for a Postmodern Age, with the affirmation that Christianity needs the wisdom of Celtic spirituality and theology. Christianity needs to recover a sense of the divine, present in every place and time, moving through the human as well as non-human worlds, and inviting us to partnership in healing the world.
Today, I want to reflect on God’s presence as experienced through the Celtic practice of the caim, or the “encircling.” I believe that good theology involves the interplay of vision, promise, and practice, that is, our world views and practices help us open to reality in its depths, most particularly the divine movements in our lives.
Celtic theology has a clear sense of God’s presence in every moment of life. God’s “thin places,” the intersection of divinity and creation, are everywhere. Grace abounds in every situation, despite our turning away from it. Even the most fallen creature is constantly being inspired by God. We are not depraved, as Augustine and the Calvin proclaim. How can we be depraved if God is moving, albeit subtly and anonymously, in our lives? Like Jacob, we need to be reminded that God is in this place – our very lives – and we did not know it! Spiritual practices awaken us to God in every encounter and each moment.
One of favorite Celtic practices is the caim, or encircling. The encircling joins vision, promise, and practice in its intention to awaken us to God’s omnipresence. It invites us not just to talk about omnipresence, but to “live” God’s omnipresence, trusting God in moments of elation and desolation. The traditional Celtic “caim” or encircling prayer involves simply drawing a circle around yourself or another person physically or in your imagination. As you draw the circle, you may choose to recite a prayer from scripture, poetry, tradition, or an extemporaneous blessing. This encircling prayer is grounded in your awareness of God’s loving omnipresence - the constant companionship and protection of the Holy Adventure. For the Celts, and for today’s process theologians, omnipresence is not an indifferent energy, but a loving movement gently, providentially, and non-competitively moving through life.[i]
One traditional prayer of encompassing invokes our awareness of the Ever-present Companion with these words:
The God of the Elements’ guarding,
The loving Christ’s guarding,
The Holy Spirit’s guarding,
Be cherishing me, be aiding me.[ii]
Another prayer of divine encompassing proclaims:
The encompassing of God and God’s right hand
Be upon my form and my frame;
The encompassing of the High Ruler and the grace of the Trinity
Be upon me abiding ever eternally.
May the encompassing of the Three shield me in my means,
The encompassing of the Three shield me this day,
The encompassing of the Three shield me this night
From hate, from harm, from act, from ill,
From hate, from harm, from act, from ill.[iii]
Though the pilgrim – and we all are pilgrims -may fear the darkness of the night and the strange shadows of the woods, she knows that her journey will be encompassed by the Divine Pilgrim, the Lively Encircling God, for whom even the darkness is light. This sense of divine encircling, guiding and protecting us with every step inspired St. Patrick’s Lorica, or Breastplate prayer. Threatened with death by a local chieftain, Patrick invoked the Encompassing God, he placed his life in God’s circle. Though he trusts his soul to God, this pilgrim’s daily path is fraught with dangers that tempt him to lose heart. With every footstep, he takes courage from his own affirmation of faith:
Christ behind and before me,
Christ beneath and above me,
Christ with me and in me,
Christ around and about me,
Christ on my left and on my right,
Christ when I rise in the morning,
Christ when I lie down at night,
Christ in each heart that thinks of me,
Christ in each mouth that speaks of me,
Christ in each eye that sees me,
Christ in each ear that hears me.[iv]
A contemporary prayer of encompassing proclaims the loving nearness of God in every situation:
Circle of love,
Open my heart.
Circle of wisdom,
Enlighten my mind.
Circle of trust,
Protect my path.
Circle of healing,
Grant me new life.
An important element in the spiritual journey is our blessing of others. To bless another is simply to place them in our hearts with the intention that they be surrounded, enlightened, and inspired in body, mind, and spirit by the Encompassing Love of God. I often say the following prayer as I visualize friends and family embraced by the
Divine Circle. I symbolically encircle them in my
imagination by imaging myself drawing a circle around them using flowing
dance-like movements. In so doing, I
commit them to God’s omnipresent care.
Circle of love
May your love well up within her/him
May your passion enlighten her/him.
Circle of healing
May your healing touch rest upon her/him.
Circle of protection
Surround _____________ with your eternal safety
Protect her/him from all temptations and ills
Give her/him courage and strength
To live always from Your safe and powerful center.
Celtic theology can be experienced. We can live God’s omnipresence through the ups and downs of the economy, health situations, relationships, and the aging process. Divine omnipresence is not just a fancy word, but a way of life that gives us courage even when we are afraid. Wherever we are God is here, and will provide for our deepest needs. We are always in the circle of divine love.
(For more on Celtic spirituality see, Bruce Epperly The Center is Everywhere: CelticSpirituality for a Postmodern Age and John Philip Newell, A New Harmony.)
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty one books, including Process Theology: A Guideto the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for a Postmodern Age. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.
[ii] Esther de Waal, Celtic Vision, p. 104.