Books, Tunes, & Other Media

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Exploring Celtic Spirituality by Ray Simpson

This summer I was fortunate to spend a week in Lindisfarne. It is located on Holy Island in Northumbria, England, just below the Scottish Borderlands. It is here that the roots of Celtic Christianity may be traced back to the 700s and earlier. I spent the week in a contemplative setting, praying the hours in a church that is over 1000 years old.

Ray Simpson, the author of this book and more than 30 others, was near the conclusion of of his many years of living on Lindisfarne as the Guardian of the Community of Aidan and Hilda. He was my Soul Friend, or anam cara as the Celts call them. Each day we would spend time reflecting on a text, a thought, a life transition, or a longing.

Celtic Christianity offers modern people deep roots for a contemplative approach to living the faith. Its tradition is rich with resources for living a faithful life. Its ancient ways offer a fresh view of Christianity. Ray’s book is a wonderful introduction and a very usable text for those who wish to explore the ways of living a Christian life as put forth by saints like Aidan, Cuthbert, Hilda, Patrick and others.

The Social Conquest of the Earth, by E. O. Wilson

It’s usually a treat to learn from someone who is considered the world’s leading authority on a subject. E. O. Wilson, the Harvard biologist, is considered the world’s leading authority on ants. Entomology (the study of insects) fascinates me largely because of my interest in fly-fishing. I’m often trying to figure out just what a rainbow trout would be interested in eating. Wilson’s specialty –the scientific study of ants–is actually called myrmecology. In this book, which is generating controversy as many of his books have done, he claims that evolution favors groups that work well together. He is stronger on altruism than survival of the fittest.

Wilson has previously won two Pulitzer prizes, and his writing is accessible. At least two of his books have been important to me: 1) Consilience, and 2)The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth. The latter is written as an appeal to Southern Baptist pastors to make protection of Creation an important part of their ministry. Like Wilson, I have a hard time understanding why clergy stay away from issues of environmental responsibility.

In Social Conquest, he deals with the three questions raised by the Gauguin painting, a reproduction of which hangs in the Gray-Jones Room of Burwell on the Wofford campus: Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?

The book was, for me, a romp through evolution, and raised provocative questions and gave insightful information. Wilson isn’t kind to religion—especially it’s possibility of contributing to a positive future. As you may imagine, I disagree with his viewpoint on that subject, but my disagreement is nuanced.

Some scientists are taking on his science, too. But like I said at the outset, he is one of the world’s leading authorities and deserves our attention to his arguments. I’ll be listening for conversations around the ideas raised in this book which posits his answers to the afore mentioned three big questions.