Monday, November 15, 2010

All Saints of British Isles and Ireland

The following is a brief piece I wrote for St. Andrew's Episcopal Omaha, the church I am serving at this year with my internship. You can find St. Andrew's here:

I would also ask people for their prayers for the Celtic Orthodox Church of St. Francis, a tiny, beautiful community which meets in the home of a monk friend near Boston. They were my source for this Icon, but were tragically robbed this past week. You can find out more about them here:

Few people are aware that the Eastern Orthodox churches honored many of our saints in the West esspecially those of Britain and Ireland before the Schism between East and west in 1054. The Russian Orthodox church, recently revived a special feast day for all of these saints in 2007.

I have friends in Boston who are part a "Celtic Orthodox" church planted in Celtic Brittany (France) in the 1800's with the help of Syrian Bishops, they do some lovely work around the world, and pointed this icon out to me. As this is the month when Anglicans especially remember our spiritual ancestors in All Saints and All Souls day (Nov 1 & 2), this seemed a lovely icon to share. Of course, today Anglicans come from all people and cultures, and we have an abundance of saints to be greatful for! But I thought this icon might be of interest to people wanting to learn more about our church's history.

The saints included in this image are English, Celtic saints of Ireland, Wales and Scotland, and also some of the saints of Jesus' time, such as Saint Andrew and Joseph of Aremathia who tradition gives connections to in the British Isles (Saint Andrews Cross, the symbol of Scotland is the blue part of our Episcopal flag; our first Bishop was ordained in Scotland just after the Revolution when the English didn't like us so much!).

One can see the island of Britain, with a beautiful celtic cross in the center. Ireland is to the left, with saints scattered on smaller islands where many established monasteries. In the top left corner, we even see Saint Brendan- the Irish saint who went on a fantastic see journey with his monks- and whom some claim reached America before the Vikings or Columbus!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

URGENT Winter Heating Aid Collection for Pine Ridge/Oglala Lakota Reservation

The church I'm working at, St. Andrews Omaha is in the process this month of raising desperately needed winter heating fuel for needy Oglala Lakota families of Pine Ridge Reservation. As some of of my friends may remember, last winter was brutal to many tribes out here, and another hard one is feared this year. A real matter of life and death for many folks (especially the elders and children), efforts like this are a lifeline to the community in some of the harshest US winters outside of Alaska.

There were tragic conditions last winter when $$ ran out, and our friends and church leadership on Pine Ridge consider it urgent to be better prepared, and able to maximize donations value by buying propane early at low prices.

If anyone has interest in helping from afar, even a few dollars please feel free to drop me a comment here or via email (kconroy42 @ It will be distributed through our trusted contacts with a Lakota church and their Priest, Cordelia Red Owl. These two churches have been working together for many years, and I'll hopefully be meeting some of these folks on a supply run in November.

For people closer/able to send other supplies, St. Andrews is also
collecting warm clothing, essp for children 0-12 years of age, and lastly some craft supplies for their children's programs.

Our friends' church involved distributing our aid, Church of the Redeemer near Kyle, SD. Their prayers and mass are entirely in the Lakota language. St. Andrews youth and adults are honored to work with them in annual youth visits and service projects each year .

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Inspired by Lincoln's Defense of American Liberty and Tolerance

(Rockwell's famous 1662 "Lincoln
for the Defense," depicting the man in
his younger years as a lawyer)

On my trip out here to Omaha, my father and I had the occasion to visit Lincoln's Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, IL. Its a stop I cannot recommend more to people who love this country's better ideals. The museum offers a wonderful, immersive journey though his life and the fierce human rights and political debates he lived through. Its an incredible place, with many quotes and lessons that are still quite timely.*

My favorite quote, of all of them:

"Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation we began by declaring that 'all men are created equal.' When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read 'all men are created equal, except Negroes and foreigners and Catholics.' When it comes to this, I shall prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy hypocrisy."
-Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln was speaking of xenophobia in his own Republican party and the grave threats to liberty. The Republicans, which he helped found contained, despite their strong abolitionist wing also an alliance with bigoted groups that considered my own Irish ancestors, and many other religions and cultures, even European cultures a danger to America and not worthy of equal rights. It could not be more timely, as we as a country face waves of pre-election islamophbia and hysteria. Lincoln rightly connected the debates of his time on whether blacks were fully human with the questions of the equality of ALL people and right to live here in freedom.

This is not, of course an attack on the Republican, or any single party (the Democrats of the time were for slavery!), but a gentle reminder that liberty is something we must always defend with vigilance- no matter our politics. None of these debates are new.

* Including many other parallel's to today- Lincoln, for example was not even a professed Christian OR church-goer but, like Obama faced religious attacks- in his case of atheism. He defended himself quite admirably, while being honest on his non-affiliation. He was, never the less quite the theologian, particularly when it came to making sense of the inscrutability of God's will in the midst of Civil War where both sides claimed to be Christian.

I was amazed, in fact of how passionately Lincoln openly invoked God in politics, while also refusing to be pinned down on his religious beliefs. He was quite possibly the greatest debater in our history-- yet his religious arguments did not seem disingenuous. One feels he truly believed them, but also valued his freedom of thought and belief. A guide at his tour told me, with some wry humor that certain Christian groups are trying to claim a last minute death-bed confession of faith to be able to "claim" this all too complex national hero.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Landed safely in Nebraska, welcomed here by a beautiful church and park next door, which I can visit any time. The church is a beautiful living story of integration between the black and white communities here, and the park has some lovely old trees. Thanks to the Creator for taking good care of me, and prayers for the work ahead.

Missouri River near my neighborhood
(picture from KETV)

For those who don't know, I'm with the Episcopal Service Corps for a year and living in intentional community... hopefully to do some work with both church and indigenous communities in the area. Will post more after my retreat next week when we get our assignments. Tonight we had a house blessing complete with Bishop, exorcism and lots of holy water... and cake! :P

This is being back-posted, as I had some computer issues the night I wrote it on my other sites.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Celtic Retreat on the Festival of Lughnasa

I've been graciously invited to lead an August 7th Celtic mini-retreat at All Saints Episcopal, Brookline, MA. All Saints has a 5 pm Saturday Celtic Mass adapted from the liturgies of Iona Island and many other sources, and they often sponsor special events at feasts or Saints Days like this.

Facebook event and press release are below. I may also do some live-blogging from Ireland for the next few weeks if the computers like me.

All Saints Parish is sponsoring a retreat on “The Celtic Festival of Lughnasa” on Saturday, August 7, 3:00 - 4:30 pm. The retreat will be led by Harvard Divinity School graduate Kieran Conroy, who will share the history and themes of Lughnasa and its sister-celebrations in Scotland and other places of Celtic influence. His presentation will be illustrated with photographs from his trip to Ireland where he researched Celtic festivals, folklore, shrines, and holy places.

The ancient Irish festival of Lughnasa is one of the important “quarter feasts” celebrated with parallels among many Celtic peoples since ancient times. Like other pre-Christian holidays, the coming of Christianity seems to have transformed rather than destroyed these ancient festivals of the Gaelic people. Lughnasa marks the beginning of the harvest in Ireland, and had many beautiful customs and traditions that continued in interesting forms into our own time.

Kieran Conroy will also describe other important folk-holidays among traditional Celtic communities, particularly where Christianity harmonized with ancient customs and beliefs. He will share photographs and artifacts from his research on important religious sites in Ireland. He will lead participants in exploring how Lughnasa might inform our Christian spirituality today.

All are invited to the retreat at 3:00 pm and to the Celtic Holy Eucharist at 5:00 pm, where the preacher will be Kieran Conroy. There is no fee, but voluntary donations will be accepted. Following the service all are invited to the Celtic potluck appetizer social hour at 6:00 pm. Please bring a dish to share. Kieran Conroy suggests that people bring foods associated with Lughnasa, such as potato, fish, chicken, cabbage, berries and Irish bacon dishes or other family favorites that honor the spirit of generosity and sharing.

All Saints Parish is located at 1773 Beacon Street (corner of Dean Road) in Brookline.

For more information, contact All Saints Parish at 617-738-1810 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 617-738-1810 end_of_the_skype_highlighting or or

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

(a slightly delayed) Beltane Prayer All Families in the Gulf

I started this a few weeks ago, wanted to share but delayed by papers, one of which included it. The paper was meant to demonstrate ways these traditions can inspire worship today... also dealt with some of the imperfections of the Carmina text which I won't get into here. Please enjoy!

May 1st is Celebrated as Beltane, the Celtic holiday others people know as May Day. This day is a traditional “new fire” festival in both Scotland and Ireland, and especially associated with hills such as Tara, or more local bonfires celebrating the new year's fertility and life. Its one of many indigenous traditions from this part of the world that continued with the coming of Christianity, and I was blessed to read some beautiful descriptions from the Carmina Gadelica, a work that tried to preserve many of these traditions from the highlands of Scotland in the 19th Century.* I celebrated it privately at sundown the eve before, the traditional start of a new day by both Celtic and Jewish reckonings.

I chose a secluded rock outcropping in a local forest, overlooking a lovely lake. I had studied the Carmina Gadelica as well as older traditions, and was especially moved by his descriptions of bho baile gu beinn, the day of migrating that appeared on or near Beltane too. On this day, Catholics and Protestants in highland families would move from townland to moorland, leaving homesteads and winter barns to reach the summer pastures with their flocks. I was profoundly moved, as a scholar of indigenous traditions here to see how close their pastoral cycles were to the hunting and gathering of the local Wampanoag peoples, who maintained summer and winter homes in sites suited to their needs—indeed I had just been blessed to help some Native friends at the college erect one of these homes, a "Wetu" in Harvard yard. In these customs I saw a shared closeness to the land and sustenance we are so lacking today.

The migration to the hills was not a chore, but a chance for the entire community celebrate, reunite and lead even their animals in a special procession. They offer prayers, safeguarding their herds and the whole community with caim, or encircling prayers of protection (God before me, God behind me, etc.). These Christian prayers combined with the older Beltane ritual itself, passing one's flocks and, sometimes people between two fires for special protection and purification. As I read one particular Blessing recorded by Carmichael, I was deeply moved by the prayers of loving protection for family, house and animals, in the coming year. I'll quote a little here.

Bless, O Threefold true and bountiful,
Myself, my spouse and my children,
My tender children an their beloved mother at their head.
On the fragrant plain, on the gay mountain sheiling,
On the fragrant plain, on the gay mountain sheiling,

Everything within my dwelling or my possession,
All kine and crops, all flocks and corn,
From Hallow Eve to Beltane Eve,
With goodly progress and gentle blessing,
From sea to sea, and every river mouth,
From wave to wave, and base of waterfall.

Be the Three Persons taking possession of all to me belonging,
Be the sure Trinity protecting me in truth;
Oh! Satisfy my soul in the words of Paul,
And shield my loved ones beneath the wing of Thy glory,
Shield my loved ones beneath the wing of Thy glory.

Bless everything and every one,
Of this little household by my side;
Place the cross of Christ on us with the power of love,
Till we see the land of joy,
Till we see the land of joy.

What time the kine shall forsake the stalls,
What time the sheep shall forsake the folds,
What time the goats shall ascend the the mount of mist,
May the tending of the Triune follow them,
May the tending of the Triune follow them,

Thou Being who didst create me at the beginning,
Listen and attend me as I bend knee to Thee,
Morning and evening as is becoming in me,
In Thine own presence, O God of life,
In thine own presence, O God of life.

I read the prayer twice, once in English and once in a painful Gaelic attempt (I am trying to learn a little Irish!) I asked my ancestors' forgiveness for in advance, while lighting a very tiny, symbolic fire. I used a Pascal candle from an Easter vigil fire service, remembering Patrick's famous fire-challenge to an Irish king-at the time a religious conflict, but in my practice a harmony—I, as a Christian celebrate Easter first as it is my hope in the bursting of God's Life into the world, healing all pain, sorrow and sin in the end. But Easter hope does not conflict with continuing to honor the memories of my ancestors and rhythms of this world, in light of that hope.

I was especially moved by the loving care the farmer spoke for his animals, worrying after them nearly as his own family as mothers and young went off to the high, misty places. This was not some overly romantic, unrealistic love of nature since, of course the farmer would also eat some of these animals in the coming year. But it seemed a genuine, deeper love of the world and relationships with one's ecology, seen also in Native traditions which hunt animals, but also deeply respect them. Celtic peoples do not have a monopoly on this closeness, though we certainly lack it in our cold, industrial society, causing so much pain.

As I closed my little ritual, my heart especially ached for the Gulf Coast, where I had just learned dolphins were calving and sea turtle nests, too lay right in the line of the horrific oil spill our own broken human nature had created. I offered a final prayer, as the sun slipped below the horizon for those families, and all human families too for protection in that “high, misty place” in our time. The last three verses spoke esspecially deeply to me, as I prayed to God for our world in an uncertain future. (I'll add them in Gaelic in a few):


* Alexander Carmichael, a native-born highlander Scot gathered stories, prayers and poems for decades. Many have been used by people interested in Celtic spirituality, including the Iona community, though one has to be careful of the way he was known romanticize or simplify some things. Still, his work saved many beautiful traditions being pushed out by the forces of his time and I'm grateful for them.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Day Book Review: Liz Babbs' "Celtic Treasure"

A very blessed Fhéile Pádraig (Feast of Patrick) to all! Author, performer and retreat-leader Liz Babbs was kind enough to share a copy of her book (Celtic Treasure: Unearthing the Riches of Celtic Spirituality) if I'd write a review of it by Ireland's highest holiday, so here goes!

It so happens I'm studying Celtic Christianity formally this semester, so while much of the background is familiar its been a real delight to have Liz's book brings it to live with breathtaking images of the Irish, Scottish and British landscapes and sacred sites her sources evoke. The book seems crafted to pay tribute to those two ancient Irish specialties, the breathtaking manuscript tradition that preserved so much of Europe's literature, and wild, bold journeys of the spirit into the wildest and windiest places on Earth.

Babbs' little book carefully reads like a pilgrimage in fact, through both time and space as she covers topics such as the great Celtic saints, prayer and solitude, God and Creation, and hospitality. It is full of story, history and ancient verses that have made their way down to us, and combines a simple accessibility with a careful treatment of what scholars know of these times -- making it an enjoyable, but authentic window into Celtic Christian traditions. She intersperses the text with her own poetry, evocative scripture and more recent poets as well, really giving one a sense of being immersed in a full "Communion" of spiritual voices. Its a lovely book for daily devotion, for Celtic worship groups or anyone simply wanting to learn more about this fascinating spiritual tradition.

You can find out more about Liz at her blog, or go to her website for information on her book:

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Avatar For Real? Indigenous People fight to protect their homes- and us.

I posted about this when it started last summer, but Avatar fans should actually look at where its REALLY happening in what scientists have described as the "lungs" of our planet. A few thousand indigenous people decided putting their lives on the line to protect all of us from US-Peruvian free trade agreements devastating what scientists see as one of the most critical buffers against global warming, not to mention the source of our planets oxygen balance.

Unfortunately, their dramatic, temporary victory is facing ongoing threats from a racist president and the US' own trade agreements.

"We will fight together with our parents and children to take care of the forest, to save the life of the equator and the entire world." -Leaders of pan-indigenous uprising last summer*


*Quoted from

Monday, February 15, 2010

Irish Humor and Ancient Steriotypes

Been doing alot of comparative study during my time at Harvard Divinity of Celtic religion and history in relation to Rome and early Christianity in parallel to my studies of Native American missionary experiences/injustices. Its been an interesting/eye-opening experience in many ways, but no means a simple story but one which has shown me some of the underlying tensions of civilized/barbarian and ethnic tensions in Europe well before modern of ideas of racism came about. I'd long known that, in America at least it took a while for the Irish to truly become "white people," * and of longstanding English racism to the Irish, but some of the older stories and accounts show a much longer story.

The Romans and the Greeks enjoyed calling anyone outside of their culture "barbaros," (greek originally coming from the "babbling" speech of foreigners), and by the time of the Roman Empire this idea of superiority had evolved into an ideal of cultural superiority which matched their military superiority in encouraging the conquered peoples to assimilate into Roman culture. Unlike US and Canadian conquests of the their First Nations, the elites of the Gaulish and Briton Celts, and many other peoples were encouraged to keep their gods and even some aspects of their culture -- but still pressed to adapt them into Roman molds.

Early Christianity was an odd paradox, a Jewish Messianic movement seeking to convert the greek, roman celtic and other "barbaric" people's (from their own ethnocentric perspective), and many of these peoples seem to have been interested, as they were already seeking out Jewish "exotic"religion as eagerly as our own culture seems to pursue various eastern or indigenous spiritualties today. By Constantine, however Christianity had split thoroughly from its Jewish roots, and became the new state-sanctioned religion. Christianity was the civilizing religion, the new carrier of Roman civilization and ideas.

What we know of Ireland is messy, carried in folklore and eventually the somewhat biased writings of Irish Christian monks (though folks who preserved a surprising number of "pagan" traditions and stories). St. Patrick, a Celtic Briton was quite Romanized and saw the Irish as barbaros-- but also found a irresistible love for them in his time as a slave and a desire to go back, live and even die among them. The early Irish Church, one of the few Christian missions adopted to a local culture with a great deal of home-control and indigenization long showed distinctly "barbarian" traits, writing in Latin but working within political, cultural and religious frameworks that still carry their uniqueness to this day. We see tensions with Rome at numerous points, and powerful Abbots/Monastery-founding Saints and their followers challenging the Pope's own agendas with a sense of equality that reminds one of the Eastern Patriarchs. Ireland remained a center of learning as Europe fell into the dark ages, and founded schools in Italy itself, an ironic twist as "barbarians" became the sole teachers of the greek and Roman writings in Europe.

One of these teachers, John Scotus Eriugena lived in the 9th Century, and was asked to lead a French university due to his great knowledge of Greek Christian writers. Seems he carried an ongoing interest in Eastern Orthodoxy's critique of Original Sin, even helping the Catholic Church, at its own request to carefully critique a monk who denied human beings free will completely. He, like Origin and other Neo-Platonist figures worked ideas of a radical wideness to God's salvation-- the hope that all might eventually find redemption eventually got criticized for some of his ideas-- though not completely until after his death.**

Scotus is an interesting chap, and one I hope to learn more about, but the point of my thread comes in a snide comment to a French king, according to William of Malmsbury, on a topic are long used to being steriotyped for:

The king asked "What separates a drunkard from an Irishman?"

Scotus was said to wryly reply, "Only a table."

After all my studies, I can't ignore the hints of racism/steriotyping in the king's words, though Scotus decided to have fun with him on it. An amusing anecdote, and one I'm sure would humor leading Emerging-Church troublemaker and philosopher Peter Rollins when he's in town this April 7th for a national Pub-Tour.

If anyone's around Boston, drop me a line as our Emergent Cohort is helping to organize it. Peter's a great speaker, and actually leads a church that meets IN a pub in Belfast. Should be a fun time--- and I'm pretty sure we'll have at least one table. :P

*Ironic, since we're about the whitest people out there, next to some Scandinavians, and cook in approximately 3 minutes in the sun. :P

**He's an interesting bridge between some of the earlier Palegian-Agustine battles over original sin/free will, and later fierce Reformation arguments about predestination vs. grace/free will. Hoping to do a little digging on him to add to an interesting conversation hosted by a constructive, thoughtful critic of the Emerging Christian movement: