Uniting Heaven and Earth

by the Rev. Mary Earle

In 1994, I made my first pilgrimage to Wales. While our group was staying at St. David’s, we visited St. Non’s Well on the starkly beautiful headlands above the sea. I was so moved by that place, I returned by myself several times. I was drawn to that well, with its clear water erupting from rock, and its various votive offerings — flowers, ribbons, photos — left by many who had come to ask for St. Non’s prayers for healing.

The last time I walked to the well it was late in the day, and a man with a Welsh corgi was there also. In a gently gregarious fashion, he struck up a conversation and began to speak of St. Non. “She’s dear to me,” he said. “She’s walked with me through many a tough patch.” I was struck by the ease with which he spoke of this saint, whose name I was just beginning to learn. St. Non was a friend to him, a companion in the way, a living presence in Christ who offers her prayers for him, his family, his life, his creatures. He clearly had a relationship with St. Non — a relationship not unlike those I have with friends with whom I share my prayer life.

Looking through the lens of Celtic Christianity, the communion of saints is downright homey. Following the witness of the early church, the stories and prayers from the churches of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany and Cornwall offer us a sense of the nearness and familiarity of the saints. Many of the saints from the Celtic tradition were revered locally, and never were recognized abroad in the larger church. Yet they are tenderly invoked today, often in ways that are distinctly non-pious, even saccharine. A community both heavenly and earthly is held together by “love as strong as death.” (Song of Solomon 8:6). As members of that vast community, the saints are welcomed in a tenderly familial way.

Following the proclamation of the author of the letter to the Hebrews (“Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” Heb. 12:1) the Welsh poet Waldo Williams observed that we are “keeping house in a cloud of witnesses.” The rounds of daily life are lived out with this company. As we go through our regular chores and work, the saints are with us. These saints, alive in the eternal life of the Risen Christ, are not ghosts. Nor are they merely the product of our imaginations. The communion of saints is the astoundingly diverse and rich family of the Christ “in whom all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17)

The Rev. Mary Earle is a writer, speaker, retreat leader, and assisting priest at St. Mark’s, San Antonio. Reach her at mcearle@satx.rr.com  

This article is excerpted from the article by the same name at http://www.explorefaith.com Read the entire article at that site.

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