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 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 people on their way and people who have lost their way.