REL Making any break in a true life of faith is bad

By the Rev. John Wagner

On our recent trip to the British Isles, we passed a massive Celtic cross standing alone by the side of the road. These ancient stone carvings are found throughout England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. They were erected by a devout people who exercised their piety not only in magnificent cathedrals and monasteries, but out in nature and within daily activities. The circle that surrounds the junction of the cross is said to represent the inter-connectedness of life and faith.

And this Irish folk tale illustrates what happens when the circle is broken:

There was once a man who lived in a house at the foot of the mountain. At night the wind blew cold, and the house was cold as well. The man looked and looked and found a place where the stones in the wall had fallen away and let in a draft. He studied the hole, and noticed it was crescent shaped. He thought about it, and then realized where he could find a stone that would fit that hole exactly.


The next day he went up the mountain to where a cross had been standing since long before anyone could remember. It was a Celtic cross, and he saw that if he chiseled off just one curved section of the circle he would be able to fix the wall in his house. He looked around to see if anyone was watching, but this was a lonely place.

He had doubts about the project. Many people would say this was wrong, and he felt some guilt at the thought of desecrating something holy. He eventually put aside his shame and started to cut away at the stone cross with his hammer and chisel.

Then, off in the distance, he noticed some smoke. It was coming form the direction of his house. He dropped his tools, and ran all the way home. Yet when he got there the house was still standing. There had been no fire. The man took it as a sign. He decided not to go though with his crime.

That night, however, the wind blew even colder, and the man once again resolved to steal the bit of stone he needed. The next day he went up the mountain again. Again he began to pound away at the cross, but again he saw smoke, and this time, flames. He rushed back, and as before there was no fire.

"It must have been my imagination," the man thought.

He got up early the next morning and trudged up the mountain. Doubts and misgivings filled him, but with great effort he pushed them out of his mind. He cut off the crescent, broke the circle and desecrated the cross. He looked around, and there were no flames anywhere, no smoke, all was calm. He rejoiced in his victory over groundless fears and carried his prize back to his home, which was now a heap of smoldering ashes.

This story is powerful for me because I also do things I know are wrong. I deliberately exclude God from my thoughts, deliberately go against the moral code, deliberately resist the voice of my conscience. I pretend that there are exceptions for a good person like myself, and yet deep down I know when I've broken the circle. Sooner or later this immorality will contaminate everything else in my life.

Consider again what have you may have deliberately declared off-limits to God.


Is it your business ethics? Your relationship with your kids? Your sexual activity? Standing up to a tyrant or bully? Heeding the call for social justice? Concern for the environment?

As difficult as maintaining a true life of faith can be, breaking off even just one section can make things far worse.

I adapted the Irish folk tale from "Sacred Spaces: Stations on a Celtic Way," by Margaret Silf.

This recent book is beautifully written and illustrated, and available now through Paraclete Press.

The Rev. John Wagner is a United Methodist minister from Dayton, Ohio.

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