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Friday, June 12, 2009

Original Good – CREDO LXXII

The Western Christian world has been dominated by the concept of “Original Sin” based on the second creation story in Genesis, the story of Adam and Eve. However, the first Creation story is that God created the world in seven days and saw that it was good.

Many people do not realize that there has always been a Celtic Christianity, brought to Iona by St. Columba from Ireland, the history of which is too long and complicated to go into here. The characteristics of Celtic Christianity were based on a deep love of nature and an incorporation of spiritual presence in every aspect of human life. To the Celts, we are originally good but can fall from grace.

A terrible confrontation took place at the Synod of Whitby in Northumberland in 664 between the Roman Catholic and the Celtic Churches having to do with discrepancies in calendars and moving on to deeper spiritual matters. I went to Whitby and tried climbing the wall at St. Hilda’s but did not succeed! It was winter and everything was closed. The upshot of the Synod was that the Roman church won the vote and Ireland was changed from its nature loving ways to a strict and basically anti-feminine brand of Christianity.

St. Columba, in the previous century, was a bridge between the pagan Druidic religion because his parents became converts to Christianity but Columba was also raised in the ancient Druidic lore and so knew both. The result was a lovely combination of both and a devout inclusion of Spirit in even such things as lighting a fire or shearing a lamb

Go shorn and come woolly
Bear the Beltane female lamb
Be the lovely Brid thee endowing
And the fair Mary thee sustaining
The fair Mary sustaining thee

All nature was suffused with Spirit and deemed essentially a blessing, with the exception of leftover attacks by some dark forces of fairyland.

J. Philip Newell, a dear friend and previous Director of the Iona Community, has written an outstanding recent book called Christ of the Celts, and I can’t recommend it too highly! He is a scholar and a poet and a beautiful soul. In it, he stresses the notion of Original Good. He defended my book THE DOVE IN THE STONE: On Finding the Sacred in the Commonplace when it was rejected by the previous fundamentalist director! The only rejection I ever suffered! It had been appreciated by George Macleod himself, the founder of the Community. Thanks to Philip, that book and its sequel THE WEB IN THE SEA: Jung, Sophia, and the Geometry of Soul have been sold on Iona at the Abbey bookstore ever since and have had a part in bringing many readers to visit Iona! Both books are conversations with my darling husband as we wandered from site to site on that tiny precious island which I have visited twenty-three times.

Curiously enough, another book of mine entitled How like an Angel Came I Down, which was an edited version of Bronson A. Alcott’s Record of a School: Conversations with Children on the Gospels – a marvelous book lost to the world for 170 years – had the children in his school in Boston, seven to twelve years old (and recorded verbatim), insisting that they were born good! There was much debate among them as to how they had fallen from grace!

Alcott was the father of Louisa May, author of Little Women. He was a Transcendentalist and friend of Emerson, Thoreau, and others in Concord, Massachusetts. He was a wild-eyed idealist where children were concerned and fought the prevailing Puritanical approach in early education that children were “limbs of Satan” to be controlled by the strictest methods. He totally transformed my own way of teaching! His idea of teaching the Gospels comes out in the first lesson: the class will read and then instead of his telling them what it means, the children are to tell him! He replaced the straight backless wooden benches by inventing the backrest holding the desk of the child behind it, brought flowers into class, and did everything to make the children love coming to school. The worst punishment was to be kept out of class, and instead of paddling, a boy was to hit Alcott hard on his hand, which never happened! Elizabeth Peabody, who later brought kindergarten to America, was the young assistant who transcribed the conversations. The children recorded their thoughts in “Commonplace Books” and some can be seen at the Fruitlands Museum to this day. I treasure the outburst of seven-year-old Josiah Quincy who exclaimed, “Oh, Mr Alcott, I never knew I had a mind until I came here!” and the letter an eight-year-old sent him saying,

Dear Sir: I received your letter with great satisfaction; the good advice you gave me I will try to remember and profit by. That inward ray of immortal life which you have so minutely described, I understand to mean conscience, though I do not always obey its influence. The comparisons in your letter, I think were very good – the one that struck me most forcibly and which I have before mentioned in my journal, was the Looking Glass of Circumstance, which I think meets the subject. In this letter you have finally convinced me, that we should not too often commit the dreadful sin of seeking all good without, and not beholding it within our imagination.


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