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Part of a Celtic triptych that came to mind which includes the two previous icons of Sts. Brendan and Aidan.  As with the other icons, I’ve named the icon in Irish Gaelic (Naomh Colm Cille meaning Holy or Saint Dove of the Church).  Columba (the Latinized form), was born in 521 in the very north east of Ireland.  He was a direct descendant of Niall of the Nine Hostages, an Irish High King, which placed Columba’s family amongst the royal class.  At an early age he went to study at Clonard Abbey under St. Finnian.  There he was contemporary of many of Ireland’s great celtic monastic saints.  While at Clonard, he was ordained a priest at age 25.  Later he was studying in the monastery of St. Finnian of Movilla Abbey.  While there he copied by hand the psalter of Finnian for his own use.  But accordingly to Irish law back then, a manuscript copy belonged to the owner of the original, not the transcriber.  This set a rift between the two which eventually went to the ruling king, Diarmaid (who was in opposition to the O’Niall family).  The king ruled on behalf of Finnian.  

Another story tells of Columba sheltering a man under the rules of sanctuary from a prince who eventually killed the man.  When Columba protested to the king, the king sided with the prince. 

 Whether it was from the former or the latter, in his outrage, Columba rallied his kinsmen of the O’Niall family to fight against the ruling family.  It should be noted that Columba was also noted as a bard, a very significant class in that time.  A king’s power could grow or disappear due to the accomplished tongue of just one bard.  So legend has it that Columba left King Diarmaid’s court singing a song of the atrocities of Diarmaid which fired up the O’Nialls.  Columba said he would take full responsibility for the war and in the end, 3,000 or Diarmaid’s men were slain.  This was the Battle of Cúl Dreimhne in 561. 

When his temper had cooled, Columba realized what he had done.  He was brought before an ecclesiastical court to be tried for the death of the 3,000, many of whom were Christian.  The court was ruling to excommunicate him when his friend St. Brendan (it is difficult to tell from various sources if this was Brendan of Clonfert or of Birr) spoke on his behalf and recommended exile instead.  The court agreed.

After visiting several confessors, Columba was told that in order to be forgiven and redeemed for his war, he must convert as many people as were slain.  So he left Ireland, his beloved home, and set sail to the east with twelve of his fellow monks.  They landed first on a rocky island that could support them, but Columba could still see the coast of Ireland from the top of the island.  They set sail again and eventually landed on another rocky and windswept island.  There they built small cells from the peat (there were no trees on the island), and made this their home.  This was the holy isle of Iona. 

With this island as his standing point, Columba spent the majority of the rest of this life venturing into Scotland and converting the Picts to Christianity.  After his death, the Abbey of Iona became the prism that would direct the Celtic Christian light of Ireland across all of Scotland and most of England.  Iona was the seat of Celtic Christianity for the British Isle and would send out many famous missionary monks who would become abbots, bishops and saints.  Among these was St. Aidan of Lindisfarne. 

Columba’s soul ascended into heaven in the year 597. 

In this icon, Columba is depicted standing on the rocky land, representing the inhospitable Iona.  His under cassock is red as a reminder of the blood that he caused to spill, the very reason for his exile.  His outer cassock is black signifying his contemplative spirituality and humility.  His right hand offers the sign of blessing as he was a priest, and his left hand carries either the Cathach of St. Columba (the psalter he copied) or the Book of Durrow (an illuminated Gospel attributed to him).  His name, in Irish Gaelic is written in a celtic knotwork dove as a reminder of his name and the grace he received from the Holy Spirit. The knotwork was based off of an illumination from the Book of Kells. 

St. Columba, pray for all of us who have caused others harm, and help us to find a way to spread God’s Word throughout the world.  Help us to remember that we are never beyond redemption as long as we are willing to confess our sins and seek absolution.  Amen. 

Acrylic and gold leaf over pine.  7.75” x 2.5”. 

Complete, the full miniature triptych of Celtic Christian saints looks like this:

The second icon for the miniature triptych of Celtic Christianity that I’m working on. Like the St. Brendan icon, this is only 2.5″ x 4″ in size. This is St. Aidan, Bishop of Lindisfarne (d. 651 AD). In 635, King Oswald of Northumbira sent for a missionary monk from Iona to serve as Bishop for his people. The first monk sent was Corman, who failed to endear himself to the people. He claimed that the Anglo-Saxons of the area would never take to the disciplines of Christianity. It was Aidan who spoke up in council and said that he was too hard on them. He suggested that they first offer the sweet milk of Chirst and then lead them gradually into the rigors of discipline. With that suggestion, Aidan was appointed the new missionary and was sent to be Bishop. He chose the rocky island of Lindisfarne, similar to Iona, as the location for his new monastery. Aidan’s approach to conversion was to talk one on one to pepople, whether poor or noble. He was often seen walking around on foot. At one point, King Oswin (Oswlad’s successor) gave Aidan one of the best horses from his stable so he could ride from town to town. While riding along the road, Aidan came across a poor beggar and promptly gave him the horse. When he later confronted the outraged Oswin, Aidan chastized him with a prayer: “Dear Lord, please forgive our king who shows more concern for his animals than he does for his own poor subjects.” Oswin then knelt before the Bishop and sought forgiveness.

In this icon, St. Aidan is show with the purple chausible and crosier symbolizing his office of bishop. The crosier is based on the crosier of Clonmacnoise (a typical Cletic design). The Gospel that he is holding is the actual cover of the Lindisfarne Gospel. Along with the Book of Kells, the Lindisfarne Gospel is one of the greatest example of Celtic calligraphy extant. Following the theme with the icon of St. Brendan, the name plate is a scroll with celtic knotwork. A horse is depicted symbolizing the gift he received and gave away to the poor begar. His name is written in Irish Gaelic as he was an Ionian monk which drew it’s tradition from Ireland.

St. Aidan, pray for us as we seek to spread the news of Christ, offering the sweet milk of Love rather condemnation and judgement, and pray that we recognize the image of Christ in every person we meet. Amen.

Medium: Acrylic and 23K gold leaf over white pine.

God’s Peace and blessings everyone.  For those that don’t know, I’ve spent the last nine months in discernment with our Diocese here in Atlanta.  Within the Episcopal Church, someone who feels called to the priesthood must be recommended by their bishop to attend seminary and be ordained afterwards.  Unlike many other Protestant and congregationalist churches, a person cannot decide on their own to be a priest, but must be supported and approved by their parish and their bishop to do so.  This is to say, we must be called by both God and the community to serve as priests.  While discernment processes vary from bishop to bishop, our’s relies on a lengthy process that involves a lay parish group to start, street immersion with the homeless, and ultimately a series of group discussions that are led by two priests.  In the end, it is the recommendation of these two priests that holds one way or the other. 

Regardless of what your vocation is, though, we all go through periods of discernment.  Regardless of the work you do in your church, it should be a prayerful process of discernment.  And the most important thing to remember is that while discernment, that is honest introspection and inspection, is not always comfortable, it is necessary and should be embraced not avoided. 

This is not my first round through discernment.  I participated in discernment towards the end of college, and while it did not lead to the priesthood at that time, it did lead to the founding of our Order.  I was disappointed at the time because I did not know the promise that God had planned for me afterwards.  But after five years, that yearning I feel inside to stand at the altar has yet to go away.  That’s what led me back to the discernment process this time round. 

On the one hand, it has been a tremendously affirming process that has convinced me of my place in the Church whatever that form may be.  On the other, it’s been purposefully ambiguous through the group discussions as to where my calling to the priesthood stands with the Church’s vision.  Over that portion, I have no control, and that in itself is nerve-wracking.  But the most surprising gift of grace that has come from this is the healing I’ve found from the last process five years ago.  The process then was not entirely healthy, just as there are issues with the process this time, but while the process isn’t perfect it is necessary.  In the beginning, I had blamed the process for not being pastoral or pychologically healthy.  I blamed the process and the Church for a lot of the discomfort I was feeling.  But like all nitty gritty discernment, discomfort is part of the process.  In the end I found relief when I stoped expecting the process to be all inclusive and meet every need I had.  I found support in my parish priest, my spiritual directors, a good therapist, and my friends and siblings in the Order.  This is an important lesson for any discernment: we do not discern alone and even in groups it is not in isolation.  That is what makes the Church whole.  I was blaming the Church for creating such an unhealthy process because I wasn’t recognizing the tools and gifts that the Church already had in place outside of the process.  Christ called us into communion, community, and that is where we must look during the struggles in our life. 

Our final group meeting ended with the celebration of Eucharist.  And it was during that communion that I found the best image for this whole process.  The travel kit that Mother had brought had old red wine stored in the glass vile.  God only knows how long that wine had been there, but when Mother took it out and sniffed it, she looked like she had just gotten a shot of lemon juice in the face.  After the prayers and blessings of the elements, communion was passed around from hand to hand as we reached out to receive the precious body and blood of our Lord.  As the cup was handed to me, I sipped the wine and tasted the bitter sting of vinegar.  Our Holy Communion was sour wine.  Our Blessed Sacrament was bitter to the taste.  What a fitting end to our discenmnet process!  Throughout the nine months we were encourged to be present, see ourselves and be in touch with our brokenness.  What better reminder of Jesus’ promise to be with us in suffering than the taste of vinegar just as Jesus was given when he hung upon the cross.  It was a reminder to me that not all blessings are sweet, but they are all necessary and are ALL gifts from God.  Even the bitter parts of our lives, the bitter struggles, the bitter losses can be blessed even though the blessing doesn’t make it any less bitter in our hearts. 

I write this now, before knowing what my final recommendation will be.  I do that intentionally so that I can look back at the process while still in that place of Unknowing.  In less than two hours, at 3:00 PM, I’ll find out.  What a portentous hour to remind me that I share, even if in a small way, with Christ’s own passion for us.  So it will be.  And I hear our Bless Mother whispering words of Wisdom, “Let it be.”  God’s Peace to you all, and may you all be blessed with discernment throughout your lives.  The moment we stop discerning, stop searching, we loose sight of the God that is ever beckoning us to grow.  And please, keep me in your prayers, for I too am a lost sinner trying to find God.

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