Creating a Celtic Prayer Table to Celebrate the Seasons
A wonderfully visual and interactive way to celebrate the Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter seasons or Earth Day with prayer is to create an interactive Celtic-inspired prayer table focal point rich with symbolism and meaning.
How to do this prayer practice:
I have been decorating my home for the seasons for years and as a church prayer leader I decided to incorporate my ideas to create a meaningful prayer atmosphere at a special service at my church. I took the elements of the Christian calendar and wove in the Celtic influence from my Irish roots. It was so well received that I recently reproduced the Celtic aspects of honoring the seasons to a group of doctoral students at McAfee School of Theology so they could use the idea with those they serve. One of the students is a youth minister and he told me that many youth would have great interest in a prayer service that respects the earth. Earth Day , which is usually in March or April each year, is another excellent time to use this prayer idea since the earth is of God and we are called as children of God to be caretakers and respecters of the it.
Here are the some ideas to use and adapt for your own prayer table:
1. Tune into the seasonal changes in nature as a way of seeing God’s creative hand at work in the world.
As a child, I was drawn to beautiful fall days, the changing colors of leaves, the smell of cinnamon on baked apples and carving pumpkins. In the winter were snow angels, millions of stars in an Alaskan night sky, and waiting for Christmas. Spring time in the South was alive with azaleas, lilies, and Easter egg dying. The planting season began on my grandparent’s farm. Summer was white sand beaches, flying kites, fishing, and returning to the farm at summers end. There was canning to do, bees with honey to take, and homemade ice cream to churn. The roots of my Scottish-Irish ancestry spoke deep in my bones. There is a rich well of gratitude for the land, seasons, and provisions offered from the land at various times of the year. These nostalgic childhood memories were merely the beginning of a deeper awareness.
As I learned about my Celtic roots I discovered that when St. Patrick introduced Christianity to Ireland in the 5th Century the Celtic people had a strongly established tradition honoring the connection between humans, nature and the divine. As St. Patrick and the Monastic Rule of St. David helped Christianize and educate the Celts about God, they joyfully embraced faith with an emphasis on the natural world in poetry and prose. The doctrine of the Trinity began to emerge in the Celtic poetry, the cross became central.
This quote from the Iona Community Worship Book (Wild Goose Publications, Glasgow, 1991) explains how we can draw on this rich heritage in our celebrations:
“The past is all around us. We are the inheritors of the Celtic tradition, with its deep sense of Jesus as the head of all, and of God’s glory in all of creation. So we use prayers from the Celtic Church for welcome, for work, and in expressing the needs of the world. We are the inheritors of the Benedictine tradition, with its conviction that ‘to work is to pray’, its commitment to hospitality, and its sense of order, all reflected in our services and our lifestyle.”
2. Tap into your connection with Celtic Christianity and its joy of God’s creation.
There is something of a mystical seduction to the rhythm of the seasons. If God goes with us and is for us; then these natural provisions and beauty of the seasons are from this Creator God. Ps. 139 has been one of my favorite Psalms passages. “You are uniquely and wonderfully made.” Ps. 8 reminds me that God is mindful of us humans and we are but a bit lower than God. In this same passage we are charged to be co-creators with God and caretakers of this earthly domain of creation. These passages in scripture speak loudly off the page for me! The same God who made a picturesque Grand Canyon orders the stars to shine by the millions in an Alaskan night sky. This same Creator God made me. And I found myself very early on in this walk with God to be closer with Him when I watched a sunset over the Gulf of Mexico, sitting on white sand beaches. I answered the call to ministry walking those long stretches of Gulf Coast beaches.
This innate responsiveness to nature goes along perfectly with the main features of Celtic Christianity:
A passion for God creation that embraces a sense of closeness between the natural and supernatural.
A deep respect for art and poetry that illuminates the Gospels, and other works.
There is an emphasis on the Trinity, Mary the Mother of Christ, and the Incarnation.
There are sacred locations, an emphasis on missions, pilgrimage and solitude.
A heavy kinship for family.
Equality of women.
Hospitality is a part of everyday life.
Influenced into the mainline calendar St. Patrick’s Day, All Hallows Eve/All Saints Day.
3. Create a Celtic prayer table for the seasons using seasonal symbols.
I enjoy decorating my home with the symbolism of the Christian calendar. My ancestral root beckons me to add the Celtic influence of bringing nature indoors. It is not a surprise to my husband to see Indian corn in bowls with tea light candles lit for morning prayers; a seashell bowl holds a golf ball of a friend with cancer, an article about our soldiers that have not returned. That list is pages of names.
In the foyer, is a table that changes with the seasons and a candle is always placed for lighting with a prayer. My grandson Caleb has his own candle and special candle holder on a table top in the media room. And at Christmas I put up several small Christmas trees instead of one large one now. Each tree is a theme to respect the worship of life in the seasons. There is a beach tree, a nativity tree, a family picture tree, a travel memory tree, a woodland tree, a golf tree, a nutcracker tree, and crystal ornament trees. As I walk through the house each tree offers a reminder of thanksgiving to God. And God was there with us on that trip to the woods, the beach, the church, the golf course, the family not with us anymore, and the ones who are family.
Setting a prayer table to honor the four seasons is a large part of the Celtic influence into the Christian calendar. Symbolism of the earth in each season is very important. The symbolism of color is important. And the symbolism of co-creating with God through our giftedness in growing seeds, harvesting, crafts, sewing, pottery, flower arranging, linen and needlepoint, and fellowship around a meal are vital to the Celtic tradition in the calendar year.
Prayers are offered to God as Creator of this Earth and we are grateful to be partakers and protectors of this earth. There is a partnership in celebrating back to God what it means to live in the cycle of life.
4. Use a meaningful prayer.
It is my value and belief standard that life itself is a living prayer. None of us birthed ourselves, created ourselves, and raised ourselves. Our very breath is a miracle of God’s own creator work. Jesus modeled a life of prayer. In the daily he ate, fellowshipped and traveled with others, picked figs from a tree, sat on the side of a mountain to teach the beatitudes, and suffered ridicule for his radical teachings. Then it cost him his life on our behalf. What we do with our lives is our gift back to God. My Christian and Celtic influences call me to be a person of prayer that will live boldly daily and die with few regrets because I pray with a God who is with me, for me, and guides me in every season.
Here is a prayer in the spirit of the Celtic love for nature and creativity that I composed for the four seasons. Use this prayer or create your own.
God in all Seasons
God of the harvest and golden sun we come.
We come with thankfulness for provision into the unseen winter.
We come with baked bread and wine of summers toil and callous hands.
We come with gratitude for the one with nail scared hands and grace to break death.
Let us in this in this season count our blessings,
offer our gifts,
remember our dead,
and live lively and bold in Wisdom’s ways.
God of the Advent, fallen snow, and Father to the Peace Child we come.
We come with gift of time offering our service to another.
We come with food, clothing, and support to those who have little or less or nothing.
We come with music, bells, singing, and caroling to fill the air with joy of Christmas.
Let us in this season count our blessings,
Offer our gifts,
Remember the birth of Christ
And live well in the knowledge of Wisdoms unfolding.
God of renewal and sustainer of springtime’s eternal return we come.
We come with the reflection of Lent.
We come with contemplation of the Cross and Passion of Christ.
We come with request for forgiveness, renewal, and respite.
Let us in this season count our blessings,
The splendor of green grass, fragrant flower, and shade of tree.
The hope of freedom, the help of sovereign Spirit, and grace to plant.
And live peacefully within ourselves and with others in Wisdom’s hospitality.
God of ordinary days and summers routine we come.
We come playing, plowing, traveling, and tending for the harvest to come.
We come staring at night skies, dreaming, and wondering of our place in this world.
We come celebrating, creating, and cherishing the ease of time on porch.
Let us in this season count our blessings,
The sound of water playing, fresh grass mowed, and children laughing in a park.
The taste of summer fruit, grilled dinners, and family reunions.
And live respectfully in Wisdom’s revelations to harmony and grace.
As the seasons come and go and come back again I pray this prayer. May it mean more, reveal more, and offer more as the seasons whisper from Your Wisdom: Harvest, Give, Grow, and Restore. Amen.
5. Make it interactive.
In each seasonal prayer table setting I like to include interactive elements that everyone at the table can do together in community. Here are some pictures of my Celtic prayer tables and some of the meanings and activities associated with them.
The harvest table was about the Lord’s Supper, giving thanks, and remembering the ones who had gone before us.
The advent table was about lighting candles and naming people in mission fields, in need of healing, and in need of Christ. The white box is a Jesus Box tradition in my personal home. We would take a Christmas card that someone sent us and on the back each of us wrote our gift to Jesus for the upcoming year. It was my way to capturing my own children’s handwriting, words of faith, and remembering the season is not about us getting gifts as much as it is us giving back to Jesus and to others.
The spring table is also a candle lighting in honor of the Passion. I had each person around the table name a national event or country across the globe that was in need of remembering in prayer.
The summer table used river rocks in water. Each person picked up a rock or two or three and named a person they were close to and wanted prayer for them. The person would hold the rock and say the person’s name and drop into the crystal bowl of water.
6. Tie in with the Christian calendar colors, symbols and traditions.
The Christian year has been divided into seasons that you can use to correspond to the natural seasons as you create your Celtic prayer table focal point. Here are some of the seasons of the Church and their meanings, symbols and the traditional colors associated with them.
Palm Sunday- Mark 11 recounts. The beginning of Holy Week. Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The crowd was in jubilant welcome of delight. “Hosanna, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” Leafy branches were symbolic of victorious celebrations. Thanksgiving for victory over Israel’s enemies. Hosanna- meaning ‘save us’.
Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday- Maundy is a Latin word meaning “command.” It stems from Christ’s words out of John 13:34, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This Last Supper is the introduction of the Eucharist. Many traditions used this day for foot washing rites. This taught humility and servitude to others. Later Maundy Coins were introduced for the giving to the aged and poor.
From Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday the symbolic color is purple.
Good Friday- The Passion of Christ. Jesus had said, “This commandment I give you….love.” Jesus on the cross was- suffering love. He pointed people in his mission and ministry of words, and healings to God’s love for all humanity. This death had a meaning and a purpose.
It is here the color symbols are black and then purple.
Easter- “ Christ is Risen, He is Risen indeed.” This is when we celebrate a risen a Christ who awaits becoming a personal living Savior.
Eastertide – also known as Paschal time. This is the 50 days from Easter leading up to Pentecost. This is also a time for reflection. We recall our own Baptismal vows to follow Christ, study what it means to be a disciple, and do the missions work of Christ.
Easter, Ascension and Eastertide are noted symbolically in the colors white and gold.
Pentecost – Acts 2:1-13. The presence of God’s Holy Spirit comes. The Advocate Christ spoke of in John 16. It is this Spirit that enables us to be who we were meant to be. This Spirit of Mystery inspires us to unity, missions, ministry, love, character of Christ, and divine guidance for a relationship with God. God is for us. God is with us. The color of Pentecost is symbolically Red.
Ordinary Time- Early June- Oct.31. – This is the time of the year that outside of the liturgical calendar. Known by the symbolic color of green. This season is 33-34 weeks.
All Hallows Eve/Halloween, Reformation Day – Oct. 31 – The roots of All Hallows Eve is from Irish and Scots traditions. There are two aspects to consider.
1. The summer is ending, harvest time is done. There is a celebration to prepare for long winters indoors. The festivals of bobbing for apples, feasting, and there were in early days of Irish/Scots influence to attend church services, pray, and fast for All Saints Day on Nov. 1st.
2. Dressing up in costumes to fool the dead thought to come out on this night.
Reformation Day- Augustinian monk Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to the cathedral in Wittenberg, Germany. He was refuting the sale of indulgences from the church was exploitation.
All Saints Day- Nov.1st The day to pray for all the saints and pay respect to relatives gone during the year. The color is symbolic red.
Advent- four Sundays before Christmas. This is the season of hope. The words of ‘hope” and ‘despair’ comes from the etymology of the word advent. Thus, can mean the best comes from the worst. A Messiah was born in the worst oppressive rule of Caesar. Advent is the yearly reminder that we are anticipating the Christ Child- the peace child- the Messiah that brought hope to a dark world. The colors are purple, pink, and white symbolically. A candle is lit each week to mark the nearing of the arrival of the Christ Child.
Christmas- Dec 25 – Jan5. Christmas is about God’s Mystery breaking into the world. It is surprise, joy, gifts of magi, music, celebration of faith, and reality. Reality that God has not forsaken or forgotten humanities need for salvation.
7. Pass it on to your children and teenagers.
As a mother, raising three young children, I was intentional that they too respect the order of the seasons. Our living room window painted with a fall scene of pumpkins, and corn stalks. The calendar year celebrated with appreciation for Christ child coming at Advent and Suffering Savior dying with Passion. The ordinary season of summer was a return to my grandmother’s farm. Three young children learned where recycling concepts began and canning peaches is sweet, hot work.
The three children are grown now. The four seasons are more than a rhythm of time. There is a mantle to pass to another generation. A mantle is a sacred passing of a duty to serve another. They have their childhood memories too now. And more than nostalgia, there is a call to respect the order of God’s creation. We too have a season and we too will be gone. What we offer each other while we are here is the task of sacred living.
Biblical Roots of this Idea
Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 “ For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: A time to…….I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with……….I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil. I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.”
Col.2:16-17 “ Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or the Sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”
Copyright Rev. Debra Walters 2012. All rights reserved.