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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

January 6, 2004
Vol. 1, No. 177




global perspective More thoughts at the dawn of a new year

by Arthur Jones, NCR editor at large

To continue on with finding fresh energies and insights in ourselves in the New Year, I've always been touched by Alexander Carmichael's closing lines at the end of his life's work. This Scotsman had devoted every hour and week and day he could, away from his family and hearth, to capture while he could the prayers and invocations of the elderly Catholics of the islands and highlands of Scotland.

Other Today's Takes by Arthur Jones
Jan. 5, 04 The Gospel according to Fred Astaire
Nov. 6, 03 Don't expect anything
Nov. 4, 03 Church ain't wot it used to be
Nov. 3, 03 6.30 a.m. Mass
Aug. 21, 03 The fire in her belly isnít curry, itís Christ
Aug. 20, 03 Books, I love
Post-Reformation Catholicism was being driven into the ground by Knoxism. And the work was almost complete. The only ones who knew the old ways and the old prayers and the old faith were women and men in their 80s, 90s and over 100.

Carmichael's life work -- the Carmina Gadelica, is seen in abridged form in Celtic Invocations (Vineyard Books, 1972), now out-of-print but still obtainable at sites like and He tellingly wrote the following about his life's work, tellingly for it has applications beyond him:

"Three sacrifices have been made -- the sacrifice of time, the sacrifice of toil, and the sacrifice of means. These I do not regret."

And would be to God we'll be able to say the same to God as our life's work ends.

Carmichael then says, "I have three regrets. That I had not been earlier collecting. That I have not been more diligent in collecting. And that I am not better qualified to treat what I have collected."

And how quickly we can paraphrase that, in our conversations with God, to say the same: "that I have not been more a Christian earlier. More diligent. And better qualified."

With his responses, Carmichael offers us hope and reassurance, and a particular line of pursuit. We read what Carmichael says about his three sacrifices, and understand that as a married person with a family and a job, he genuinely had only so much free time remaining.

Further, in his closing comments, he provides an essential jab in the ribs, reminding us that, however late, we still have time to do more. To make up a little for the lack of diligence.

How might we do that is the content of the book itself.

Much has been made of the phrase, "Celtic Christianity," with its awareness that these rural peoples had a deep sense of wholeness -- meaning there was no separation between God and family and natural world: seasons, tides, mountains, moon, lambing, lighting the fire, marking the Christian feasts, sitting with the dead, praying for a kindled: "flame of love for my neighbor, my foe, my friend, my kindred all; the brave, the knave, the thrall."

We still pray for the thrall (the enslaved), the knave, the brave, kindred, friend, foe and neighbor. What we have lost -- to our increasing cost -- is the connection with the natural world.

And these images and encouragements can be taken to heart as long as we don't overlook the fact that most rural peoples had more than a share of brutal reality in a world of agricultural toil, disease and shortage.

Using their Christian sentiments, the islanders' and highlanders' natural world is where and how we can most closely touch base with our own younger world.

Learning with the young, teaching them, encouraging them to see all this as part of God's Creation. Teaching that the physical world is inseparable from who we are, and what we ought to be. Teaching them to acknowledge and protect land, sea, air, water -- and the heavens themselves -- in God's name.

Arthur's Daily Ditty
In six long days God made the world
The seventh day he rested
He looked around was mighty pleased
You might say he fiesta'd
However -- many years ahead --
He checked how well 'twas kept
He saw the mess, and in His stress
Poor God just sat and wept.

Arthur Jones' e-mail address is

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