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The portal of thin places, found in ancient Celtic spirituality, still speaks to the experience of prayer.

The Celts settled the British Isles in the early Bronze Age, about 1180 b.c., and brought with them imaginations teeming with myths, poetry, songs, and rituals that maintained communion with the Otherworld. Earth mounds marked entrances to this realm, but only the initiated could enter; others did so, at their peril. Heroes peopled these enclosures and became sources of inspiration, guidance, and courage for the Celts as they vanquished other warlike tribes and expanded their influence.

In the early fifth century a.d., however, the evangelization of Ireland began through the preaching of Bishop Palladius and St. Patrick. Except for the Otherworld, its “pagan” heroes, sacred wells and springs, portals, and landscapes were Christianized. To this day, the Otherworld is still accessed through the portal of thin places, permeable membranes to the Sacred; it alone separates us from the God of compassion.

Our times, like those of the Celts, call for extraordinary measures as planet Earth reels with sickness and enervates spirits. Powerless and humble, we await the interventions of the medical community, follow recommended protocols, and check developments online.

Through thin places, we also access our God who wants the eradication of this deadly virus more than we do, wants restitution of systems, so sorely disrupted.

As prayer-warriors, we can help.

 

For decades outside my study window, the summer’s sun has enlivened the juniper bush in my back yard. Its greenery laced with bluish berries affords sanctuary to sparrows; its shade, to mounds of ivy and Vinca. However alarm seized me noting hundreds of thatch-like cylinders hanging beneath the boughs, gentled by breezes. A closer inspection revealed bag-worms, if not removed, would endanger the shrub by next spring.

Collecting my shears and a plastic bag, I set to work, holding my breath, warily clipping the nasties from their host branches–one, two, three–a tedious process; then another ten. My bag was filling. Yet the pace was too slow. Heartened by the progress I was making, I pocketed the shears and began tearing off handfuls, at the same time taking satisfaction in the clean branches around me. Submerging the bag-worms in a hot soapy solution was the next step.

Later this experience gave me pause. When I am not vigilant, my character defects, like the bag-worms on my juniper, glob onto to my perceptions and judgments and take me far afield. If not corrected, even deeper harm results within me and to those around me. Fortunately, I’ve learned what to do, but it is a never-ending process.

With the Psalmist, I cry out, “Create in me, O God, a clean heart!”

 

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