We will be reading and discussing Philip Newell’s book Listening to the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality at weekly Wednesday lunches during Lent. Participants are invited to bring their own lunch and gather in the church Parlor every Wednesday at 12:00 PM. The discussion will begin promptly at 12:10 PM and the group will wrap up with a brief Celtic prayer service by 1:00 PM.
The book title reflects a core perspective of Celtic spirituality, in which the image of the disciple John leaning against Jesus at the Last Supper suggests a call to practice of listening for the heartbeat of God.
In our lunchtime conversations we will consider three themes that appear and reappear throughout the book. That these themes are associated with a spirituality, suggests that they may have something to say about our relationship with God, in general, and with practices, such as prayer, where we intentionally pay attention to this relationship and the actions this relationship invites us to consider.
One: Every child is conceived and born in the image of God; humans are essentially good. At the heart of humanity is the image and goodness of God, ‘the light that enlightens every person coming into the world’. This goodness can be obscured or covered over by the reality of evil. Redemption can be understood as a liberation from this evil, a setting free of the goodness in us, a releasing of what we essentially are. Grace is not opposed to nature, but cooperates with the light that is within every person, restoring it or releasing its essential nature. Grace is given to open our eyes again to the goodness that is deep within us.
Two: Creation is good and within creation there is something of the presence of the grace and goodness of God. God’s creation comes out of God’s own essence, which is goodness. The world should be regarded as a ‘theophany’, a visible manifestation of God. Goodness is not simply a feature of life, but gives rise to life. The life of God is viewed as being deep within creation, and prayers of reverence before creation celebrate the presence of God in the elements (panentheism) without deifying the elements (pantheism).
Three: Together with a reverence for the presence of God at the heart of creation, of God being the heartbeat of life, there is also in Celtic spirituality a sense of personal intimacy with God and the whole host of heaven, which enfolds the earth and its people with love. There exists in Celtic spirituality and its prayers a readiness to give and receive Christ and his community of saints and angels with warm affection. Indeed, we are part of the community. There is not in the Celtic way of seeing creation and God a great gap between heaven and earth. Instead the two are seen as inseparably intertwined. As Newell states “The Christ who is above them in the brightness of the morning sun is the Christ who is beneath them in the dark fertility of the earth. The Christ who is with his people in the quiet calm of a windless sea is with them too in the midst of the wild wintery storm. The Christ who is within, at the very center of their soul, is the Christ who is to be looked for in friend and stranger, Christ at the heart of all life.”
How would the Church be better prepared to meet the challenges of the modern world…from materialism, to homelessness, to climate refugees, to personal and state sponsored violence…if we learned from Celtic spirituality rather than rejected it? What are the lessons and challenges you think are most important to pay attention to?
About the Facilitator: Jerry McMahon recently retired, after 27 years, from the U.S Geological Survey, where he had served most recently as director of the Southeast Center for Climate Adaptation Science. He is a certified spiritual director, having received his training within the Jesuit spiritual tradition.