I’ve got no objectivity when it comes to Laurence Wareing. I’ll just say that up front. Even though I believe I’d be celebrating the appearance of Celtic Blessings and Celtic Saints into the world without knowing who the author was, I do recognize that knowing the soul behind the books made the reading that much richer. And I see that soul throughout these collections.
In two finely-produced small books chock full of evocative illustrations, Wareing has drawn together stories, poems, and prayers from the Celtic regions of Ireland, Wales, England, and Scotland, where he now makes his home. You’ll find the old familiars of the Celtic Christian period, which reached its heyday in the 5th to 8th centuries CE. Here’s Patrick and Cuthbert, Columba and Brendan. But also Brigid and Ebba, Dympna and Bega—women who suggest a more egalitarian path to leadership than we generally imagine.
The Celtic legacy of Britain is often romanticized and coopted for whatever countercultural cause is current. Wareing admits that “the task of capturing the real human lives…and of corralling them into an orderly gathering, either by date or geography, is always going to be provisional—based, as it has to be, on the creative imagination of oral traditions.” But he does see in these stories and poems evidence of a lingering spiritual tradition that values connection with creation, pilgrimage and journey, and the impulse to solitary retreat.
It’s impossible to travel the Celtic regions of Britain and Ireland without stumbling across a site with a saint’s story. In 2006, I took my son to Scotland and we hiked with Laurence across a swath of the Central Highlands. On one of our days we happened upon the ruins of St. Fillan’s Priory, one of the saints noted in Wareing’s book. Robert the Bruce added his own stamp to the place by stopping here to pray in the 14th century. At other times locals tried their own crude form of mental health treatments by chaining persons to the baptismal font with a church bell on their heads. No word as to whether it was an effective cure.
Outside the walls, a sign urged us to follow the model of St. FIllan and be kind to our environment and one another. Beneath the lesson it read: “All travelers who use this wild and beautiful place will do so in peace if they tread their path lightly.”
The prayers in the companion book of Celtic Blessings have lots of lovely sentiments for travelers. In one, a traveler invokes this blessing:
Life be in my speech,
Sense in what I say,
The bloom of cherries on my lips
Till I come back again.
In another there is a prayer for the land itself:
The path I walk, Christ walks it.
May the land in which I am be without sorrow.
May the Trinity protect me whenever I stray,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Bright Angels walk with me—dear presence—in
In every dealing I pray them that no one’s poison
may reach me.
Laurence Wareing is freelance journalist, writer, and media producer who has put his hand to many a deeply-flowing artistic project through the years. I’m also happy to call him a long-time friend dating back to seminary days in Dallas. I’m a bit biased, but for an invitation to see the land and life through different eyes, you can’t do better than these thin books of grace, gathered by a spacious soul.