When I registered for this course, I assumed it would be in the usual seminary style with lecture sessions led by a learned professor. I could not have been more wrong.
On our first evening, we were treated to a concert of Celtic-inspired music by local singer/songwriter Anna Raine. Her voice was sweet and clear and the songs she sang offered a glimpse into the sensibility of the early Celtic Christians. Her husband joined her for a song or two, and we were invited to sing along more than once.
The next morning, our group met with local priest and historian Kate Tristram. Having read her book before I arrived, I was quite keen to hear her speak and I wasn’t disappointed. She told story after story that made the lives of the early saints, like Aiden and Cuthbert, come alive. In the afternoon we heard from another local writer and religious leader, Ray Simpson. He unpacked some of the theology and techniques used by those early monks we had heard about in the morning. He asked provocative questions about the contemporary church and what it might learn from them. We wrapped up by walking over to visit the bookstore of the Open Gate, a religious community here on the island.
Then, on the evening of our second day, Andy Raine (Anna’s husband) who is a local artist and founder of a new monastic order, taught us two dances that explored and celebrated the Celtic sensibility. Moving in a circle, holding hands, reaching up and down, all with beautiful music in our ears was not nearly as strange as you might imagine. It was instead quite reverent and beautiful.
Music, dance, and storytelling were not at all what I expected from a seminary course! And yet I am learning at a fantastic rate. What’s more, I am not just thinking about Celtic history and ideas but considering them in light of my own context back in Canada. And all of this in beatiful St. Cuthbert’s Centre, surrounded by local celtic artwork and pastel stained glass. I don’t know what more could possibly be in store tomorrow, but I have a feeling it won’t be boring.