God's Presence in Our Every Experience
be to Thee, O God, that I have risen today,
To the rising of this life itself;
May it be to Thine own glory, O God of every gift
And to the glory of my soul likewise.1
exuberant prayer of greeting the new day with joy and dedication
invites us into the immediacy of the Celtic Christian prayer
tradition. Celtic prayer is at the heart of Celtic Spirituality.
To pray these prayers coming from the Celtic lands of Ireland,
Scotland, and Wales one is drawn into the mystery of God’s
presence in all things and the joy of expressing that presence
in a pattern of praise and blessing. The prayers passed
down from before the 12th century and continuing in the
oral tradition today are like faraway songs that continue
to sing in the hearts of all who long for prayer and life
to be woven together.
interest in Celtic prayer came at a critical junction in
my own spiritual journey. I had just begun to discover the
great contemplative writers of the Christian tradition.
I loved the call to “be still and know” and
the experience of God’s presence in silence and solitude.
I looked forward to morning meditations and times of retreats.
All this changed, however, when I found myself the mother
of two young sons and the coordinator of religious education
at our local church.
I’d rise early for prayer, little feet would come
running in for breakfast. When I’d arrive early at
work for a time of reflection, the telephone would start
to ring. Like most
people I tended to separate my prayer life from the other
parts of my life. I was very far from the
wisdom of Thomas Merton who said, "What I do is live.
How I pray is breathe.”
was in this time of struggle and imbalance that a friend
offered me a small book of Celtic prayers and praises. There
was something in the rhythm of these prayers that reminded
me of the rhythm of life. They contain an awareness of God’s
presence from the rising to the setting of the sun. Entwined
with the reality of living, each action of the day becomes
the essence of prayer. The transcendent holy One is a close
companion as one prays:
to enfold me
God to surround me,
God in my speaking,
God in my thinking
God in my sleeping
God in my waking 2
ears hear God’s word spoken through the created world.
The quiet earth expresses God’s peace. The river proclaims
God's goodness. Like the Psalmist, one stands amazed that
“the one who made the moon, made us likewise.”
The sight of the new moon and the song of the morning lark
become occasions of praise for the Lord of each living creature.
Many of the Celtic prayers call us to look outside our window
and discover the delight of an ordinary landscape transformed
with a glimpse of God’s glory. Suddenly the sunset
over the soccer field, the cool breeze on the walk to school
become reminders that:
is no plant in the ground
But is full of God’s virtue.
There is no form in the strand
But it is full of God’s blessing.
There is no life in the sea,
There is not creature in the river,
There is not in the firmament
But proclaims God’s goodness. 3
God’s presence in creation opened my eyes to a new
vision of the holy in the ordinary things of my life.
Many of the Celtic prayers, especially those gathered in
the Highlands and Island of Scotland in the last century,
are offered while people go about the daily tasks of life.
In the morning a mother kindles the fire by praying:
will kindle my fire this morning
In the presence of the holy angels of heaven
Without malice, without jealousy, without envy,
But the Holy Son of God to shield me.
God, kindle Thou in my heart within
A flame of love to my neighbor,
To my foe, to my friend, to my kindred all.
are prayers for the farmer going out to sow the seeds, the
weaver at the loom, the fisherman, and the crofter. Even
the tools of ones work become holy if blessed and dedicated
to God’s purposes. The prayer of the milkmaid is a
call to recognize and claim the sacredness of our work.
O God, my little cow,
Bless, O god, my desire;
Bless thou my partnership
And the handling of my hand.
I began praying these prayers, I became inspired to write
my own blessing prayers for the daily “handling of
my hands.” In the tradition of the Celtic mothers,
I blessed my children when they departed for school; I blessed
my computer before I began a project; I learned to offer
thanksgiving when I heard the first call of the morning
Celtic prayer, I was experiencing
joyful freeing of the spirit when there is trust that everything
is encircled and encompassed with God’s presence.
yearning for God’s encircling presence is expressed
uniquely in the traditional Lorica prayers of protection.
The most famous of these prayers, St. Patrick’s Breastplate,
invokes all of God’s gifts to accompany us on our
beside me, Christ before me
Christ behind me, Christ within me
Christ beneath me, Christ above me
Christ within me. 6
this invocation, we are wrapping ourselves with the garment
of Christ’s presence. This is the mystery of the incarnation
in our own lives.
rhythm of this incarnate life, the ebbs and flows, the twists
and turns, the darkness and the light is the rhythm of Celtic
prayer. It transforms our vision, stirs us to praise, and
sets us out on the journey singing:
Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save but Thou art,
Thou my best thought by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Copyright ©2004 Sylvia Maddox
Alexander Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica, Lindisfarne
Press 1992, p. 188.
2. Carmina Gadelica, p.204
3. Carmina Gadelica, p. 45
4. Carmina Gadelica, p. 93
5. St. Patrick’s Breastplate,
att. Patrick (372- 466) tr, Cecil Frances Alexander (1882-1885)
6. Irish, ca, 700 versified Mary Elizabeth
Byrne (1880-1931), The Church Hymnary, Oxford University
Press, 1927, (The Hymnbook 1982, p 488)
A.M. Allchin, Praise Above All, University of Wales
Press, Cardiff, 1991.
Bradley, Ian, The Celtic Way, Darton, Longman and
Todd, London, 1993.
Mary C. Earle and Sylvia Maddox, Praying with the Celtic
Saints, Saint Mary’s Press, Winona, Minnesota,
Alexander Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica, Lindisfarne
Esther de Waal, The Celtic Way of Prayer, Doubleday,
James P. Mackey, An Introduction to Celtic Christianity,
T and T Clark, Edinburgh, 1995
J. Philip Newell, Listening for the Heartbeat of God,
Paulist Press, 1997.
Noel Dermot O’ Donoghue, The Mountain Behind the
Mountain, T and T Clark, Edinburgh, 1993
John O’Donohue, Anamcara, Harper Collins,
New York, 1997.
Philip Sheldrake, Living Between Worlds, Cowley
Publications, Boston, 1995