Circling Prayer

Celtic Christianity is, as Ian Bradley notes in his book Following the Celtic Way, difficult to define. ‘Celtic’, as a term is one ‘imposed from the outside’, so we don’t find in the historical record anyone identifying as a ‘Celtic Christian’. And the term ‘Celtic’ is a bit of a quagmire itself. J. R. R. Tolkien said, “The term ‘Celtic’ is a magic bag into which anything may be put, and out of which most anything may come….Anything is possible in the fabulous Celtic twilight of the gods of reason”. Ultimately, Bradley settles on the somewhat clunky definition of Celtic Christianity as, “the Christianity practiced by those in the Celtic speaking regions of the British Isles over a particular timescale”.

That being said, there are interesting practices and prayers that come to us via some form of ‘Celtic Christianity’. One such practice is caim (kai-m) or circling prayer. In circling prayer, one might stand and slowly trace a circle around themselves while repeating a prayer similar to this:

Circle me, Lord.

Keep peace within, keep harm without.

Circle me, Lord.

Keep love within, keep hate without.

A more modern version of this can look like:

  • Draw a circle on a piece of paper.
  • Write the name of a person or situation you want to pray over in the center of the circle.
  • Inside the circle write the things you want for the person or situation at the heart of your prayer.
  • Outside the circle, write the things you would like the Divine to keep away from the person or situation in the heart of your prayer.
  • Once that is done, pray something like this:

Circle [the person or situation], Lord

Keep [something from inside the circle] within, keep [something from outside the circle] without.

Repeating that cycle until you have prayed all of the things you’ve listed. This can be returned to regularly, and can help structure one’s time in intercession prayer.

I will confess, this is a more dualistic form of prayer than I typically use. Perhaps the thing I’d like the Divine to keep out of the circle is exactly the thing that’s needed. But that is a more theological question. There are times where this spiritual practice can is useful and helpful despite that reservation. The Ground of All Being loves us and wants good for us, and taking the time to pray and meditate on that is never time wasted. The Holy Spirit, if we listen, will guide us in what should be within and without.

May love be kept within, and hate kept without for each of you.

Grace and Peace to you all.

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