“P.A.T.H.S. (Praying the Psalms; Adventures in Blessing; Trinitarian Prayers; Holiness of God in Creation; Spiritual/Soul Friendships)
Dear friends in Christ, may I (Rev. Chris) ask for your prayers for my Doctor of Ministry project (Acadia University), running in my parish from Sept-Dec 2018: “An Experiment in P.A.T.H.S. of Celtic Christianity”.
My thesis question: Can an adapted and renewed program of certain “Celtic Christian” spiritual practices, as commended by various authors on spiritual and/or missional renewal today (David Adam, Ian Bradley, Calvin Miller, Michael Mitton, Philip Newell, Ray Simpson, Robert Van de Weyer, Esther De Waal, etc. –and it’s amazing how many of these folks happen to be or were Anglican), be realistic, inspiring and effective for “mainline” Anglicans like the members of my parish today?
Over 10 years the Church of the Good Shepherd has been using the evaluative tools of “Natural Church Development” (Christian Schwarz) to guide our retooling ourselves as a church for our emerging “post-Christendom” society. Over six surveys, we have discovered our “minimizing factor” (that dimension of our parish life most inhibiting our church growth) has persistently been “passionate spirituality”. But how do you increase “spirituality”? We have tried various American Evangelical resources, and some have been open to charismatic renewal (Cursillo, Anglican Renewal Ministries). But the bottom line is, as a traditional Anglican parish, those just didn’t fit our ecclesial “culture”.
We have also been studying (because of my leadership, but it has been popular) “Celtic Christianity” in different ways together, and enjoying “Celtic” “flavoured” liturgies and Christian music on a regular basis. So why not experiment with some adapted spiritual disciplines?
Now it is not realistic to ask my parishioners to do things like stand naked and pray for hours in a cruciform position in the Bay of Fundy! (Nor of course are any of today’s “Celtic Christianity” promoters recommending that.) So this is what we’ve come up with (for volunteers who sign “informed consent” covenants):
P: Praying the Psalms. Devotionally reading and praying a selected psalm five times a week, during a brief daily “devotional time”. (Insular Christians loved the Psalms, and still do, from chanting them in English churches to singing them in Gaelic in the Highlands!). Rev. Chris is recommending an optional resource book for this - "A Light on My Path: Praying with the Psalms in the Contemporary World" (Cost $33 if you'd like Rev. Chris to order one for you).
A: Adventures in Blessing: One personally chosen, intentional activity each week of giving “blessing” to another or others outside the parish. This may take the form of service, outreach, hospitality, an encouraging communication like a visit or a card, paying for a coffee for the person in line behind you, doing a chore for a neighbour... but include an actual greeting or prayer “God bless you!. (A very watered-down version of “peregrination”!)
T: Trinitarian Prayers: Seven brief prayers in the Celtic heritage (Trinitarian and triadic, poetic, easily memorized prayers) to be offered to God throughout each day (rising, starting the day, mealtime graces, a daily devotional with a psalm, and bedtime). Prayers to be provided, or choose or compose your own. (Think of the throughout-the-day prayers of the Highlanders recorded in “Carmina Gadelica” and promoted by De Waal etc. – only very brief, easily remembered in our sound-bite culture.)
H: “Holiness of God in Creation”: Once a week, a personally chosen but intentional effort to enjoy the presence of God in Creation: start recycling, with a prayerful or singing spirit; erect, watch and attend a feeder for wildlife; reflective time on the beach (yes, the magnificent Bay of Fundy!), observant nature-walk.
S: Spiritual/Soul friendships: Biweekly meetings with a chosen partner for discussing your experience of the habits, praying together, mutual prayer support, sharing, mutual accountability. (A simplified, beginner-level version of the Celtic Christian practice of “anamchara”.). Guides will be provided.
At the beginning of the experiment, participants will complete the NCD “Spiritual Colour test”, which will help them gage their relative strengths, weaknesses and “style” (Schwarz identifies nine “styles”, with many possible “blends”). These will be passed in and numbered (so I do not know scores by names unless they indeed want to talk about them with me). At the end of the “experiment” they will complete the test again. I will see if there are any changes, individually or in an aggregate way; measuring both qualitative (their spiritual “colour” to use NCD terminology) and quantitative (have their “scores” grown?). We will also ask participants to join in a guided “Focus Group” discussion of their experiences at the end (groups no larger than 8 –confidential).
So, does a modern “version” of “Celtic Christian Spirituality” really “work”? As I indicated, I would really appreciate folks’ prayers for me, and my parishioners, as we undergo this venture!
(Photo: “Pentecost”, from the “Benedictional of St. AEthelwold”, Winchester, 971-84 AD.)