The Light at the Heart of Life


There is a tendency to romanticize the Celtic tradition’s sense of the presence of God in all that is. We more readily look to the beauty of a Hebridean sunset, for instance, or to the array of dawn colour over vast stretches of sea than to the light of life in the city or in the places and people whom we find it difficult to view as bearers of God’s brilliance. But, as Kenneth White writes:

the loveliness is everywhere
in the ugliest
and most hostile environment
the loveliness is everywhere
as the turning of a corner
in the eyes
and on the lips
of a stranger
in the emptiest areas
where is no place for hope
and only death
invites the heart
the loveliness is there
it emerges
it rises in its own reality
and what we must learn is
how to receive it
into ours

The Celtic tradition invites us to look with the inner eye. In all people, in all places, in every created thing the light of God is shining. It may lie buried and forgotten under layers of darkness and distortion but it is there waiting to be recovered.

As George MacLeod says in one of his prayers, ‘Show to us the glory in the grey’. It is looking for the light of God in the most ordinary, and even dullest, of contexts. In MacLeod’s case it was a search that led him into the worst slums of Glasgow in the ‘Hungry Thirties’, there to affirm the presence of light among some of the most economically destitute and socially neglected men and women of Scotland. Similarly, in ‘Walking the Coast’, Kenneth White writes of the glow that can be found within the apparent dullness of nature:

the pebble of rough
and unprepossessing stone
the harsh dull case
splits open
to reveal
the lovely agate crystal
the boulder
cut asunder
shows a blue-gleaming layer of amethyst –
there is a principle
of beauty and order
at the heart of chaos
within life there is life

What are the ‘greynesses’ and ‘hard dull cases’ of our lives, whether that be in our environments and communities, or in ourselves and relationships, deeper than which we may look to recover a sense of the light and beauty of the first day?

The Celtic tradition often portrays grace as washing away the things that obscure the essential goodness of life. The light that was in the beginning still glows at the heart of life but we do not see its full brilliance. ‘It was to bring human nature back to this vision that the Incarnate Word of God descended,’ writes Eriugena, ‘sweeping away the shadows of false phantasies, opening the eyes of the mind, showing Himself in all things.’ Grace is like a cleansing rain over the landscape of life, followed by a sunlight that restores our vision. As Kenneth White writes,

the sky has broken
and the earth
is all diamond

Newell, John Philip. The Book of Creation: An Introduction to Celtic Spirituality. New York: Paulist Press, 1999. | Photo by reza shayestehpour on Unsplash