Lord Teach Us to Pray: St Columba’s Vigil by Greg Valerio

by Christine Sine

The post for today is part of the Lord Teach Us to Pray series.  Today’s contribution is made by Greg Valerio.  Greg is a follower of Jesus and explorer of Columban Spirituality. He is a co-founder of the Contemplative Network and is currently studying an MA in Celtic Christianity at Trinity St Davids University of Wales. His day job is as a Jeweller and Activist and one of the principle architects of Fairtrade Gold. He is the Founder of CRED Jewellery and co-founder of Fair Jewellery Action and advocates for human rights and environmental justice.

‘Let your vigils be constant from eve to eve, under the direction of another person’

The Rule of Columba

This year I have begun exploring the practice of vigils. For clarity’s sake my efforts have been a toe in the water, yet as I have continued to explore Columban spirituality and the broader Celtic spirituality in which St. Columba was a leading figure, I have not been able to ignore his expectation that those who seek the heart and mystery of God will take part in vigils.

A vigil is a conscious journey towards GOD set within a specific time frame. It usually takes place at night when people would normally be sleeping. Just as fasting is a deliberate deprivation of food in order to suppress the natural appetite and focus on one’s dependency upon God for sustenance. So a vigil is a deliberate denial of sleep in order to be nourished by God through prayer and mediation.


Photo by Greg Valerio

On 9 June three of us gathered at my tipi retreat space on the South Downs to explore a half night vigil and to explore two practices that were used as disciplines by the early British and Irish church.

  1. A search for and/or discovery of our mystical name in God
  2. A search for and/or discovery of our internal prayer

Our setting was outside, within the cradle of creation. John Scottus Eriugena contends ‘Creation is the theophany of God’. Here, exposed to the elements of our landscape, where we can hear the evening birdsong, feel the breath of the wind, the dance of the trees, the warmth of fire, we are drawn into the natural rhythm of creations conversation with the Creator. And to this we can add our voice, our name and our prayerful imagination.

What is your mystical name?

Your name in God is both hidden and revealed. For Columba he had a name Colum cille that means ‘The Dove of the Church’. Yet his name hidden in the spirit was ‘Cul ri Erin’, meaning ‘back turned to Ireland’ as recorded in the poem Columcille fecit. For Columba, a spiritual exile for Christ from his homeland of Ireland, this was his daily reality as a peregrinus.   Equally Elijah, which means ‘Yahweh is my God’ was also known as ‘the troubler of Israel’ (1 Kings 18 v18) a mandate he carried exceptional well.

Your mystical name is the name you hold that describes your identity in God. It is the name that best describes you in the intersection between heaven and earth. A name that you carry in your hidden prayers and draws you closest to your intimate relationship with God. Meditating on this fact allowed us to begin the journey towards understanding our true selves, a journey that takes a lifetime that can for those who stop to listen be caught in name.

Red Darth dance at sunset. Wolstonbury Hill.

Photo by Greg Valerio

The Prophets Bed

The Prophets Bed is a derivative of an ancient practice undertaken by Celtic bards and poets to ‘find their poem or story’. Here we used it to listen for our prayer. Prayer takes shape in words, sound, physical motion, posture and expression that facilitate you to be open and transparent before the Creator. This prayer can linked to your name and takes the shape of a blessings, a Lorica or protection prayer; the most famous being Patrick’s Breastplate, and is rooted in your authentic voice before God. God always hears our authentic voice.

If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish and it will be done for you (John 15 v7).

In the darkness we allowed our minds to focus on God alone. By relaxing in the arms of creation, you are relaxing in the arms of the Father creator. Doing this in the darkness is important as God dwells in original darkness , the uncreated light of God, and from this darkness the great conversation of creation and Word of Light emerged (Gen 1 v1-2). In the stillness we allowed our prayer to emerge in feeling, expectation and the presence of God. It is here we begin to travel along the edges of time. It is here the eternal voice of the Father and our voice find unity in prayer and conversation. As this conversation emerged we wrote it down or acted it out. We did this in isolation, with no pressure to feedback or explain the encounter. These moments are sacred prophetic times and need maturing and distillation, not instant regurgitation.

The Bards and Poets of Ireland would often lie down and fast during this time. To avoid falling asleep they would place a stone under their heads or on their chest. Columba was trained as a bard by the aged Master Bard Gemman from Leinster. Indeed it seems Columba kept this practice up throughout his life as he reputedly slept on a stone pillow throughout his life.

I finish with a quote from one of us,

“The isolated location was great and certainly helped. In addition I was surprised at how helpful the darkness and isolation was to the second meditation, connecting with the environment and Gods essence within. I did have to fight falling asleep, but that I guess is part of the process”.

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jilleyoung July 4, 2012 - 4:26 am

Thank you so much for this post! I wasn’t aware of this Celtic understanding of vigil that is centered in intimacy with God and connection with our true selves in Christ!

Christine Sine July 4, 2012 - 7:30 am

It really is a beautiful perspective isn’t it

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