Dartist's Reviews > Every Earthly Blessing

Every Earthly Blessing by Esther de Waal
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's review
Dec 22, 2008

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bookshelves: seminary-texts
Read in October, 2008

Several ancient Celtic Christians launched out on a peregrinatio, "a wandering form of exile or pilgrimage." (39) They left to find God, to wherever He might take them. Esther De Waal introduces her book, "Every Earthly Blessing: Rediscovering the Celtic Tradition," stating her intent "that it will encourage others to discover for themselves some of the riches that [she herself] found in the Celtic tradition." (ix) With this aim as her target, the book is successful. I, however, somehow skimmed over that thought, and instead came to it with "spirituality," the rather vague, publisher-stamped genre categorization on the back cover in mind. I expected a suggested contemporary application of the Christian tradition once lived out by the ancient Celts of Ireland and the British Isles. Instead, I found only a general history of their spiritual practices (supplied mostly by her excellent primary sources of translated prayers, incantations, and legends of Celtic saints), and aside from her repeated vague calls for a return to a Celtic spiritual worldview, was left with very little direction as to how we could do so.

De Waal does offer a good introduction to Celtic Christianity: its abbots and hermits; its tribal and yet somewhat egalitarian organization; anamchairdeas--"soul friends"; exilic pilgrimages, prayers and stories of their saints, highlighting their emphasis on nature and the Trinity; private penance, martyrdom categories, and "high crosses." One aspect I was surprised to see missing (especially coming from a female author) was the comparatively important clerical role women played in the Celtic church. As far as adding to the discussion, De Wall offers some excellent insight into the interactions of Irish monks with the Coptic church in Egypt, and presents a good argument that the Celtic Christian tradition was a sort of hybrid between Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and pagan Celtic beliefs and practices. For my taste as a fairly conservative Evangelical, I felt a little awkward around her comfort level with the magical elements of pre-Christian Celtic religion and its carry-overs by Christian converts, but I admire her (and their) emphasis on the imminence of God, His "common revelation" through creation, and the importance of not only "seeing" but inviting the Trinity's presence and help, even in common tasks.

Again, De Waal's primary source material is wonderful and this would be a great book for anyone wanting a good introduction to Celtic Christian prayers and worldview, but do be aware that despite her frequent criticism of the practice of "sentimentalization," and contrary to good historiography, De Waal frequently interjects motives and emotions in her subjects, people who lived over a millennium ago in a culture very different than our own. "For the men and women who recited them, prayer was not a formal exercise; it was a state of mind." (3) Keeping these tendencies in mind, if you are looking for a short book to launch you into a deeper discovery of the Celtic Christian world and worldview, "Every Earthly Blessing" is not a bad place to start.

(reprinted from my Amazon.com review)

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