Today I will fix my traditional St. Patrick’s Day dinner of corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, and carrots.
I’ve always loved the story of Patrick, an English youth enslaved by the Irish, who, after escaping, became a priest and returned to evangelize his former oppressors. And, in How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill asserts Patrick was “the first human being in the history of the world to speak out unequivocally against slavery.”
Yet even more I love the stories of how Christianity blended with the earlier Celtic spirituality of the British Isles to offer a spiritual alternative to Rome/Hierarchy/Augustine/Original Sin/Organizational Man/ Peter.
Celtic Christianity, whose model was the beloved disciple whose head rested on Jesus’ breast during the Last Supper “listening for the heartbeat of God,” offered more equality between male and female leadership and less differentiation between clergy and laity, permitted married and unmarried clergy, innovated the use of soul friends/guides, believed redemption was possible through either sacraments or nature, recognized and valued the theophanies of the natural world, and recognized that everyone was a child of God, created in God’s image.
If only that characterized the global church today!
I fancy that I may be related spiritually and politically to Ireland, not just biologically. My Irish ancestral name is Plunkett. In the 17th century, Archbishop Oliver Plunkett, Primate of All Ireland, became its last Roman Catholic martyr. Canonized in 1975, he is regarded as Ireland’s patron saint for peace and reconciliation.
In the 20th century, young poet and journalist Joseph Plunkett was one of the instigators (all ultimately executed by firing squad) of the Easter Rising of 1916, whose centennial I was reminded of by reading Timothy Egan’s column, “Irish Spring.”
Egan reminds readers, not only of the Irish struggle for independence, but of its seven-century history of having its culture disrespected and the resulting poverty, starvation, and injustice it endured. The “troubles” of Northern Ireland, he writes, were finally (mostly) resolved by the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
As a progressive Christian, I appreciate the spiritual and political woven together in me/us like the intertwining strands depicted on Celtic symbols, from the Celtic knot to the Celtic cross. I like to think that Oliver’s spiritual fealty and Joseph’s political passion might be “genetic,” and that I may have inherited my spiritual/political bent.
What strikes me is that the Easter Rising, which occurred during Easter Week (which is not Holy Week but the week following Easter) may have had spiritual inspiration in the story of Resurrection. And that the Good Friday Agreement may have had spiritual impetus in the story of Atonement.
I wrote in my second book that the nexus of politics and faith is the cross. Every time we enter a church and see a cross or crucifix, we are confronted with a political reality, because the cross was a political solution of empire. So the political is at the heart of our spirituality. We cannot ignore it, nor can we segregate these two realms.
Jesus was a political victim, not a theological one. It doesn’t mean his sacrifice is any less noble or godly or transforming.
As I wrote in Coming Out as Sacrament, the crucifixion was our idea, not God’s. God’s will is made known in resurrection—always resurrection, however we understand it.
offered this post on March 16, 2016. It has been amended to reflect being
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