My “becoming a Christian” story is not unusual in Evangelical circles. I was 16 years old when my youth group took a trip to Denver–the big city closest to my small Nebraska town. We were there to attend a popular Evangelical youth conference complete with bands, speakers, and lots of corny Christian themed T-shirts. A vibrant and compelling speaker ended his speech with an “Alter Call”–an invitation to ‘accept Jesus into your heart’. I responded to this one similarly to how I had responded to the few prior ones I had experienced at Christian punk rock shows. Yup, that was a thing. The big difference this time was that I was immediately surrounded by a few of my friends and mentors who congratulated me on making the biggest decision of my life. They welcomed me into the “Christian Household.”
Looking back, those were some of the simplest and most incredible feeling days of my life. For the first time I felt as if I was a part of something bigger than myself. I very quickly became the ideal Christian youth. I spoke at youth events and was asked to be on a few “Ministry Teams” in my town. As I look back, I might describe those days similar to the way Paul described his Pharisee days. I was about as good a “Christian teenager” as you could find.
My friend Kathy Escobar would call this my “Fusing” experience. Everything made sense and no question would go unanswered. My fusing experience lasted for about 5 years. But eventually certain questions started breaking through my defenses in college and caused me to ask whether I really believed the things I said I did. I managed to convince myself that I did for another few years. Then I had my moment where it all came crumbling down. I was 26. My wife was pregnant with our first child. I took a shower and was struck by how “real” this shower tile was. I realized that it was infinitely more real than the God I had constructed in my head based on all the answers that had no questions.
After 24 hours of trying to convince myself that I was an Atheist, I gave in and admitted that I did still believe in God. But something was visibly different about what I was willing to say I believed. I had this image in my head of a large ship safely navigating the raging sea of questions. I felt as if God was inviting me to trust the questions and jump in. It felt unsafe. It felt uncertain. Many of those questions looked as if they had no certain answers. Still, I knew I needed to jump in and allow the waves to take me where they will–even if that means they take me away from Christianity.
For about 2 years prior to my “Shower Tile Experience”, the chaplain for our staff, Father Scott Jenkins, had shared a few things from this relatively new (to me) spiritual stream called Celtic Christianity. I remembered feeling a sense of warmth when he would share his insight based on how the Celts would view this Scripture, or this season, or this life event. Remembering these things, I went to Scott and asked him if he had anything he could give me on Celtic Christianity. I told him that it felt like something I would like, but that I really didn’t know much about it. He eagerly went inside his office and came back with his copy of “Christ of the Celts” by John Philip Newell.
As I read Newell’s book, I felt as if God was gathering the pieces of my faith that had shattered in that shower. I felt as if God was telling me that some of those pieces would not fit anymore, but that I should hang on to the ones that do and allow Celtic Christianity to help construct a new container–one that might hold them with the tenderness their fragility called for in that moment. What I have experienced in the years since can only be described as life changing. There is so much about Celtic Christianity that I have found incredibly healing, but I want to take a minute to share the top 3 with you.
It honors the mystery
A huge part of what led to my “Shower Tile Experience” was feeling as if I needed to have answers. Ultimately the questions were piling up faster than the answers, and even the answers I had previously accepted as satisfactory were beginning to show weakness. Celtic Christianity invites us to embrace the mystery of God in a way that honors the questions as sacred without demanding that they be answered. Newell says that “Celtic Spirituality is more poetic than doctrinal. Belief is pointed to rather than defined.” As I found myself being beckoned out of the ship of answers into the sea of questions, this posture of poetic listening offered me life where I was beginning to believe there was none.
It teaches that God is present within all Creation.
Celtic Christianity teaches that God is within everything and that everything exists within God. This great mystery offered me a theological frame that showed deep concern and love for our environment, our neighbors, and even our enemies. For the first time, many of Jesus’ teachings felt as if they were being affirmed by my spiritual practice rather than pushed to the margins.
It honors the feminine
Marrying my wife created a tension within me thanks to the teaching of male superiority I had been trained to believe. For those of you who don’t know her, just take it from me, she will not sit by and allow anyone to tell her that she is subordinate to men, period. Celtic Christianity affirms (even throughout its history) not only the gift of leadership within women, but also the presence of a feminine divine energy in God. It recognizes within the pregnant woman the grace of being invited into the creative process in a deep and absolutely divine way. God is viewed as having “given birth” to all of Creation. My wife, Nicole, says that “Embedded deep within the feminine is a divine, creative force that beckons women to create. To create sacred spaces for community. To create homes. To create ideas and movements.” Celtic Christianity affirms that women should not be marginalized in our society or within our faith traditions.
I am grateful that you are still reading this. It took a bit of vulnerability to write it all out and I have a very important reason for doing so. I wanted to share my experience because I am wondering if you too might find life within the Celtic stream of Christianity. My dear friend Father Scott Jenkins, and his dear friend Teri Thompson, have started their own Denver area non-profit called The Celtic Way. If my story peaks your interest, please look them up. They are officially launching their non-profit on May 11th. John Philip Newell has graciously offered to help launch this beautiful adventure by teaching at the event. Please consider this your official invitation to grab a ticket and join me on the 11th as we explore this ancient, deep, and rich spiritual tradition.