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Water from an Ancient Well: Celtic Spirituality for Modern Life by Kenneth McIntosh

A book review

Water from an Ancient Well by Kenneth McIntosh is a basic introduction to some of the major themes in the history of the Celtic Christianity. It is packed with inspiring stories of the Celts and illustrations and wisdom from elsewhere that unpacks and applies these themes.

It explains the Celtic view of the cross, the Holy Spirit and spiritual disciplines, their love for the Bible, their experiences of the world of nature and of the supernatural world of miracles.

Water from an Ancient Well tells stories of the saints and monastic communities. It may be overstating the point that the Celts were story tellers and not theologians, certainly some massive tomes of theology arrived way before the Enlightenment. Nevertheless the Celts did love story telling and Kenneth McIntosh delights in imitating the Celts by telling stories himself by paraphrasing and elaborating them as he goes.

Water from an Ancient Well is quite a light read with short chapters that makes it ideal for bedtime. Each chapter has recommendations on how we might apply the wisdom of the Celtic Christians such as experiencing God in nature, building rhythms of solitude and service into your life. These left me feeling encouraged and provoked to see these characters as positive role models despite some of their failings and over zealousness for asceticism.

One of the most interesting ideas is how the Celtic Christians redeemed elements of their culture such as communing with nature, deep spiritual friendships or even the sacred places.

I also like the way Kenneth McIntosh highlights a number of aspects of Celtic culture that look similar to our contemporary world. For example, how the Celts replanted forests after Roman over-farming, leaned towards gender equality and had quite a progressive view of Bible interpretation. It would be interesting to investigate some of these observations more to see how much McIntosh is reading these into Celtic Christianity.

If you want an in depth history lesson you will need to follow the references and do some digging. Also there is plenty here that wouldn’t find its way into your average history book: McIntosh’s own illustrations, stories from elsewhere in history such as the Desert Fathers and of course quotes from the Bible. You may on occasions wonder just where this book is going but each time you will find it coming back to Celts soon enough.

Water from an Ancient Well is very readable and it gives some fascinating insights into Celtic Christianity that will please and encourage many casual readers.


Water from an Ancient Well is published by Anamchara Books.

Thanks to Mike Morrell of the SpeakEasy network for sending me this book to review free of charge.

November 29, 2012 at 6:00 pm
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