I want to reclaim a word today, but before I get to that.
As I’ve mentioned recently, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about Celtic Spirituality. They were the outcasts of the Roman Empire who fled to the farthest corners of the England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. There they worked out their spirituality far from the controlling arm of the Roman Catholic Church, and so it developed with it’s own unique flavour.
They valued incarnational evangelism over indoctrination…
…the natural world over constructed empire…
…simplicity over bureaucracy…
…mysticism over rigid orthodoxy.
One symbol which was used again and again in their worship was, what’s become known as, the ‘Celtic knot’. Even their crosses featured interwoven strands crossing over each other many times. The reason they used this symbol is because their spirituality was rooted in an understand that all things are linked: that there is an inherent ‘interconnectedness to all things’. They believed man was linked to God, the natural to the spiritual, the physical world was interwoven with the ethereal. They lived out in the open spaces, reveling in the natural world and seeing God in everything from the passage of the sun and stars over head, to the drama of the daily struggle for life among His creatures.
This effected the way they saw their role in spreading the message about who God is and what He’s up to. They didn’t spend their time, like their counter parts did, trying to convince people of the separateness of God (how aloof and untouchable He is), they used their time showing people how God could be found in all things, as they moved about in their day to day: that He really was woven into the fabric of life in all it’s forms.
They accentuated God’s presence; His immanence.
More than this though, they saw their role as imbuing those connections with life. They wanted to create good connections between people and God, between people and their neighbours, and between people and the natural world.
Now with that Celtic Knot firmly in mind, let me just switch track for a moment.
One of the favourite evangelical slogans around is, ‘we’re not religious, we’re about relationship’. I have to say this trendy little cliche annoys me now, because whilst those who use it think they are rescuing ‘following God’ from empty ritual and making it about dynamic relationship, what they have actually done is narrowed it down from living with the Divine in all the connectedness of life to a small, often selfish relationship with a God who gives them nice verses in their quiet times and answers their prayers.
It’s a smaller definition, not a bigger one.
The truth is ‘Religion’ is a great word, it’s just that most don’t really know what it means. ‘Religion’ may conjure up images of stern-faced robed priests carrying out somber rituals, but the word was never meant to denote that.
The etymology of ‘Religious’ is actually quite beautiful, and probably needs to be reclaimed to counteract our very anemic mainstream spiritualities. ‘Religion’ comes from the Latin words ‘Re’, which means to repeat or return something to an original state, and ‘Ligio’, which is where we get our word ‘Ligament’, and denotes binding things together.
I love this idea, because it seems to be what we are meant to be about. We are “re-connectors”.
We want to re-connect people with God.
We want to re-connect people with themselves.
We want to re-connect people with each other.
And we want to re-connect people with the world, and even the created order beyond.
As people who say we follow God we should be all about Re-Connection.
We should be, in the very truest sense of the word, religious.
This kind of thinking will combat the very selfish and small Christianity many of us tout around as well. If we get this bigger picture into our heads we will hopefully realise the ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ version of things is anemic and we need to use our connection with God not as an excuse to hide away with our new BFF because ‘it’s all about relationship’, but to get out there. If we have a mind to be re-connectors in all things we would always be on the look out for ways in which we can bring things back together.
The poor with their dignity.
The rich with their responsibility.
The lost with their purpose.
The despondent with their hope.
The lonely with community.
The rejected with love.
So next time you catch yourself out there proudly shouting about how you aren’t religious, maybe stop and think for a moment. Perhaps you could answer better and reclaim a good word. Perhaps you could say; “Actually I am very religious, but let me tell you what it actually means…”
All humanity with God.
All humanity with each other.
And all humanity with this amazing planet we call home.