Tonight the people of the congregation will gather for our annual volunteer dinner. There will be two central acts. We will cook a great meal at the stove and serve it warm and delicious. And we will bless each other with holy oil ingratitude for our love of each other and our generosity towards each other. They will not be priestly blessings like baptism or absolution. They will be more like what we all do when we say a blessing over a meal – celebrate the holy power of each one us us as humans. Warming food by a fire and blessing fire, food and people is an ancient work of humans long before Anglicanism came along. True, our cathedral fire-hearth is the great stove in the kitchen, but, well, fire is fire. Tonight we will eat hot foot, dance and bless each other – a perfect way to celebrate our kindnesses to each other. And as we bless in our celtic Christian tradition, we will be with our friends traveling in celtic England tonight.
It is no wonder that the census of the middle ages was not counting people but hearths. And it is no wonder that the great Celtic prayers of mystic-mothers so often referenced building the morning fire. She bent over the hearth with the heavy moss covering the hot coals of yesterday – God help her if they have gone out! She prays for the kindling long before her prayers for food and family. She links the prayers for kindling with the prayers for the presence of angels – the terms “fire” and brightness” in the old Celtic languages are so similar. Prayer for the “angelic presences” (Aingle naofa neiv) invite angels to fill the cottage of the crofter with the “Holy Son of God” at their center (naov mach De) at which point prayers turn to call for the “heat within me” (mo chree steach) “God kindle thou in my heart within, a fire to love my neighbor.”
But here is where our Christian Celtic foremothers could see the truth of God in their hearth: the “Aingeal ghra” or Angel of brightness/fire kindled love for neighbor not as the person nearby or the person next door. In the Celtic tradition (which my beloved friend – the peacemaker John Philip Newell, once taught me in my cottage on Jefferson’s beloved Monticello’s estate, with its massive stone hearth) – in that tradition “neighbor” is not a person, it is a cosmos. The kindling of love for our neighbor is the kindling of love for friends and enemies, for chipmunks and snakes, for holy priests and other holy men and holy women of all kinds, for people on their way and people who have lost their way.
That hot fire, dancing in the reduction-phase of deprived oxygen like a belly-dancer showing off her orange-jeweled belly-button, is an icon to the kind of love to which we are all called: bright, hot love of all matter in all circumstances and at all times.
I notice that hearth and heart come from similar ancient Gaelic roots: “ker” or heart-fire. The curmudgeon (translated from the same Gaelic root word as “evil-heart”) is simply not how I want to live. We get up. We fall down. We get up. We fall down. And our blessing prayer is “Mo chree steach.” (Warm my heart)