The Essence of Our Being


What is it we have forgotten about ourselves and one another? In the Celtic tradition, the Garden of Eden is not a place in space and time from which we are separated. It is the deepest dimension of our being from which we live in a type of exile. It is our place of origin or genesis in God. Eden is home, but we live far removed from it. And yet in the Genesis account, the Garden is not destroyed. Rather Adam and Eve become fugitives from the place of their deepest identity. It is a picture of humanity living in exile.

At the beginning of the Hebrew scriptures, the Book of Genesis describes humanity as made in the “image” and “likeness” of God (Genesis 1:26). This is a fundamental truth in our biblical inheritance. Everything else that is said about us in the scriptures needs to be read in the light of this starting point. The image of God is at the core of our being. And like the Garden, it has not been destroyed. It may have become covered over or lost sight of, but it is at the beginning of who we are.

A nineteenth-century teacher in the Celtic world, Alexander Scott, used the analogy of royal garments. Apparently in his day, royal garments were woven through with a costly thread, a thread of gold. And if somehow the golden thread were taken out of the garment, the whole garment would unravel. So it is, he said, with the image of God woven into the fabric of our being. If it were taken out of us, we would unravel. We would cease to be. So the image of God is not simply a characteristic of who we are, which may or may not be there, depending on whether or not we have been baptized. The image of God is the essence of our being. It is the core of the human soul. We are sacred not because we have been baptized or because we belong to one faith tradition over another.

We are sacred because we have been born.

But what does it mean to be made in the image of God? What does it mean to say that the Garden is our place of deepest identity? In part, it is to say that wisdom is deep within us, deeper than the ignorance of what we have done or become. It is to say that the passion of God for what is just and right is deep within, deeper than any apathy or participation in wrong that has crippled us. To be made in the image of God is to say that creativity is at the core of our being, deeper than any barrenness that has dominated our lives and relationships. And above all else, it is to say that love and the desire to give ourselves away to one another in love is at the heart of who we are, deeper than any fear or hatred that holds us hostage. Deep within us is a longing for union, for our genesis is in the One from whom all things have come. Our home is the garden, and deep within us is the yearning to hear its song again.

Newell, John Philip. Christ of the Celts: The Healing of Creation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008. | Photo by Emiel Molenaar on Unsplash

2018 Northwest Coastal Pilgrimage

September 13 – 17, 2018 | Northern Oregon Coast, USA


Application Deadline: July 22, 2018
Notification of application status: August 6, 2018

Application Fee: $10
Registration Fee: $475
Scholarship Award: $425
(Scholarship recipients will be require to pay a $50 registration fee)


The Northwest Coastal Pilgrimage: Recovering the Sacred is a spiritual and intercultural learning experience drawing from Celtic Christian and Native American Wisdom. Through the ancient spiritual practice of pilgrimage, we seek to recover our inherent and sacred connection to all living things.  Our walk together will be an act of resistance. We will explore our unique, generative, and creative response to the dominant and violent forces of our time that perpetuate our disconnection. Guided spiritual practices will invite each pilgrim towards restoration of harmony and right relation with self, Creator, neighbor, and the planet.

This pilgrimage route meanders along the Pacific Coast Trail in Northern Oregon, USA, and traverses approximately 35 miles of seaside foothills, sand dunes, coastal rainforest and expansive breathtaking beaches. Beginning with the rising of the sun in the morning, our group will walk 10-15 miles each day by way of trail, beach, and brief roadside walking.

Indian Beach

Indian Beach

Pedagogy and Program 

Pilgrims will practice together what it means to be a beloved community, making specific agreements about our group norms and way of being together. Differences among group members, whether in ideology, religion, ethnicity, or race will be honored and seen as opportunities for growing in awareness and understanding. Together we will journey towards healing, connection, wonder and a clear sense of calling.

Periods of walking in silence, facilitated conversations, reflection, observance of nature, and prayer will support the embodiment of the experience. Participants will be required to read Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality by John Philip Newell and Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachers of Plants by Robin Wall Kimerrer as a primer for our learning. Creative morning prayer and intentions will start each day before settling into rhythms of silence, sharing our stories, breaking bread, holding space for authentic connection, and group dialogue.Our intention is to learn from each other, the surrounding natural landscape, and the required readings. This will be our basis for exploring our unique and communal call to participate in meaningful action towards healing and transformation in the world.

Required Reading

Participants will be required to read the following as a primer for our learning.

  • Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality by John Philip Newell
  • Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimerrer

Trip Leaders

The NW Coastal Pilgrimage is led by Ben Lindwall and Stephanie Escher.

Ben is the Executive Director of HEARTBEAT, based in Portland, OR and has been leading spiritually oriented trips for over a decade. He is a certified Spiritual Director and is also certified in First Aid. Ben made the pilgrimage to the Isle of Iona in Scotland in 2011 and has since been mentored by John Philip and Ali Newell.




Stephanie,  Turtle Mountain Ojibwe, is a hospice Chaplain and engages in faith-based ministry on a volunteer basis at Hennepin Ave UMC in Minneapolis, MN. Stephanie is a Native American and a former pilgrim from Heartbeat’s 2015 Camino Peace Pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago in Spain.


Trail over Tillamook Head

Trail over Tillamook Head

Physical Expectations, Training and Terrain

Pilgrims are required to train with a loaded pack and must be prepared to walk up to 20 miles on any given day. The first day (15 miles) involves walking on firm, flat sand during low tide. The second day (12 miles) includes a major 1000 ft climb up and over Tillamook Head on forested state park trails (pilgrims must be able to walk on uneven, rocky and sometimes muddy ground) with a steep ascent and descent. The third and final full day (8 miles) of walking returns to the beach below picturesque seaside bluffs during low tide. The route consists of approximately 60% beach walking, 35% forested trails, and 5% roadside walking.

The trip leaders will work to find a pace that works for everyone, usually a fairly brisk walk. The element of a physical challenge and willingness to push through discomfort is an intentional aspect of the pilgrimage and we believe this can be an important tool in the transformation process. Sharing such an experience with others and offering or receiving support along the way can augment the positive outcomes. If pain or discomforts arise, each pilgrim will be personally responsible for expressing their needs and judging their ability to continue.

While usually sunny this time of year, the possibility always exists for high winds, cool air, and rain. Our group will be expected to walk rain or shine unless dangerous conditions are present. Trekking poles are highly recommended and appropriate heavy-duty waterproof rain gear should be packed.

A few other details to keep in mind:

  • At certain times restrooms will not be available and there may be minimal coverage for privacy.
  • A couple stream crossings will be necessary.
  • Group time will be spent sitting in a circle, sometimes on the ground for up to one hour.
  • Each participant should also be prepared to carry up to 2 lbs of food and/or other gear needed for the whole group.
  • To maximize the ideal time of beach walking on firm sand during low tide, some days may start as early as 5:00am.

Cost and Application Process

There is a $10 application fee, and you must be at least 18 years of age for the entirety of the event to be considered.. Those who wish to apply must complete the online application and have a mentor, teacher, or spiritual leader complete an online reference form by July 22, 2018. 


Please have medical history information available for filling out the application to help us ensure that selected participants are physically and mentally able to complete this pilgrimage. Please be aware that the co-leaders of this trip practice spiritual accompaniment, have experience leading wilderness trips, and are certified in First Aid but are not medical or mental health professionals. A brief phone interview is also required once the application is submitted. There is space for 12 participants and applicants will be notified of their status by August 6. All selected participants will be required to provide proof of insurance and emergency contact information and sign Heartbeat’s Release and Indemnification Waiver and purchase travel insurance (if not included in current policy).

The cost of this pilgrimage is $475 and scholarship funds are available for those with limited income. The registration fee covers meals, lodging, transportation from Portland to the coast and back, guided walking, and program.

Scholarships are available and successful scholarship applicants will receive a $425 scholarship towards the overall costs and are required to pay a $50 registration fee.


Additional costs:

Cannon Beach

Cannon Beach

Meals and Lodging

All meals will be planned by trip staff and prepared by group members. We are happy to accommodate conventional, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan diet. Every effort will be made to use locally sourced and organic ingredients.

The first and last night of the trip will be spent in state park yurts. These are semi-rustic accommodations with bunk bed mattresses, electricity, and heat. The second night will be spent at a hostel in Seaside, OR where bunkrooms with bedding are available (we have blocked out rooms for our group only). The third night will be spent at a church in Cannon Beach. Showers, bathrooms and a kitchen are available at all locations.


Accepted applicants will meet at the Leaven Community Center in Portland, OR on Thursday, September 13th at 11am. After lunch (provided), introductions, and orientation the group will be transported by passenger van to Ft. Stevens State Park on the coast, making some food and supply drops along our route on the way. Our walk will conclude near Arch Cape, OR, and we will shuttle back to Ft. Steven’s State Park for our final overnight and group gathering. The group will return to Portland by 12pm on Monday, September 17th.

DAY 1          Meet in Portland, van shuttle to the coast, make food drops along route, overnight at Ft Steven’s State Park

DAY 2          Walk to Seaside, overnight at Seaside International Hostel - MILES: 15

DAY 3          Walk to Cannon Beach, overnight at Community Church - MILES: 12

DAY 4          Walk to Arch Cape, shuttle back to Ft. Stevens State Park - MILES: 8

DAY 5          Return to Portland, OR

Tentative Daily Schedule:

6:00   Prayer/meditation
6:30   Breakfast
7:15    Depart for morning walk
9:30   Morning break: snack, prayer, and story sharing
10:15  Walk
12:30  Lunch break
1:00    Walk
3:00   Afternoon break: snack, prayer, and story sharing
3:45    Walk
5:00    Arrive at lodging/free time
6:30    Dinner
7:15     Group time
9:30    Light out

View from Hug Point

View from Hug Point


Packing list

*Please be mindful that the packing list includes what you will be wearing (for instance, you will wear one pair of socks and pack two— three total)

Depending on weather forecast, you may plan to leave some luggage locked up in the shuttle trailer to avoid excess carrying on the trail.

  • Socks (3) light wool for hiking
  • Sock liner (3) prevents blisters (optional)
  • Underwear (2) lightweight, quick dry (mostly poly/nylon fabric)
  • Comfortable sports bra (2)
  • Shorts (1) lightweight, quick dry (mostly poly/nylon fabric)
  • Pants (1) lightweight, quick dry (mostly poly/nylon fabric)
  • Shirts (2) lightweight, quick dry (mostly poly/nylon fabric)
  • Long sleeve shirt (1) lightweight, quick dry (mostly poly/nylon fabric)
  • Lightweight hiking shoes
  • Light sandal
  • Rain jacket
  • Hat
  • Moleskin (or other blister treatment)
  • earplugs
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Toothbrush
  • Laundry detergent
  • Toothpaste (small tube)
  • Soap (small all purpose bar for body and hair, if possible)
  • Water bottle (at least 900ml/32oz)
  • 5 clothespins
  • Plastic plate, fork, and spoon
  • Hiking towel (small quick dry)
  • Toiletries
  • Medication
  • Backpack
  • Pillow
  • Journal
  • Pen or pencil
  • Camera phone and waterproof container
  • Sleeping bag and mat (note: these items will be dropped at a specific site and will note be carried in backpack)
  • Small pocket knife (see TSA regulations if transporting knife in carry-on luggage)
  • Feminine Urinary Device (like this one at REI)

Cancellation policy

Registration fees are nonrefundable unless another participant is able to fill a cancelation.

John Muir and Earth Day


Today, on this Earth Day, we honor John Muir, the greatest modern prophet of environmental consciousness and action. Earth Day – April 22 – is wonderfully twinned with John Muir Day – April 21 – a day designated to recognize this great teacher who comes to us in a stream of  Celtic guides who celebrated the sacredness of the Earth.

John Philip Newell fondly calls John Muir [1838-1914] “an American Celt” for though he spent most of his life in the United States, he was born and spent his boyhood in Scotland. In a recent lecture at the University of Edinburgh, John Philip Newell examined the Celtic roots of John Muir. Click on the link below to hear is an audio clip from that lecture. There is also a transcript below.

Audio Clip from John Philip Newell Lecture “John Muir: Celtic Prophet of Ecological Consciousness”

Prayer for the Life of the World

For everything that emerges from the earth
thanks be to you, O God,
Holy Root of being
Sacred Sap that rises
Full-bodied Fragrance of earth’s unfolding form.
May we know that we are of You
may we know that we are in You
may we know that we are one with You
together one.
Guide us as nations to what is deepest
open us as peoples to what is first
lead us as a world to what is dearest
that we may know the holiness of wholeness
that we may learn the strength of humility
that together we may live close to the earth
and grow in grounded glory.

John Philip Newell | Praying with the Earth | Photo by Jad Limcaco on Unsplash



Something of the ancient Celtic strand comes to Muir through his grandfather, David Gilrye, who lived across the street from him in Dunbar, and who encouraged in the boy an open-eyed wonder at nature and his expeditions along the coastline.

“When I was a boy in Scotland,” wrote Muir, “I was fond of everything that was wild and all my life, I’ve been growing fonder and fonder of wild places and wild creatures. And best of all as a boy in Dunbar I loved to watch the waves in awful storms thundering on the black headlands and craggy ruins of Dunbar castle when the sea and the sky, the waves and the clouds, were mingled together as one.”

In Muir’s later unfolding, he says, “All terrestrial things are essentially celestial.” All terrestrial things are essentially celestial. That is, everything on earth is essentially of heaven. At the heart of all matter is spirit.

“The earth,” he said, “is a divine incarnation.” He uses this word ‘incarnation’ which in religion has tended only to be referred to Jesus in the context of… For Muir it is not just Jesus. It is not just humanity or the creatures. It is even the geological foundations of the earth that he sees as sacred. Playfully he calls them the ‘in-stone-ations’ of God.

Everything is essentially spirit, he says, clothed upon with flesh, with leaves, with water, or that harder substance called rock. All these buried forms of matter are simply portions of God. They are all of the God essence.

Light Within All Light


Light within all light

Soul behind all souls

at the breaking of dawn

at the coming of day

we wait and watch.

Your Light within the morning light

Your Soul within the human soul

Your Presence beckoning to us from the heart of life.

In the dawning of this day

let us know fresh shinning in our soul.

In the growing colors of new beginnings all around us

let us know the first lights of our heart.

Great Star of the morning

Inner Flame of the universe

let us be a cooler in this new dawning.

John Philip Newell, Praying with the Earth |Photo by Artem Sapegin on Unsplash

Scholarships Available for Iona and the Canada and New England School of Celtic Consciousness

Apply for a scholarship now to attend a pilgrimage on the Isle of Iona or the New England or Canada location of the School of Celtic Consciousness. You don’t want to pass up this opportunity!

Please note that we only consider applicants with significant financial need for scholarship awards.

Iona             Canada School of Celtic Consciousness             New England School of Celtic Consciousness



Iona Pilgrimage

15 -22 September 2018 | St. Columba Hotel | Iona, Scotland, UK
Award: $1,240 | Application Deadline: 1 May 2018 

Iona Abbey at Sunset

Iona Abbey at Sunset

Each day on Iona will begin and end with the rhythm of prayer and meditation together, either at the Abbey or elsewhere on the island. John Philip will teach on themes related to the oneness of the human soul and the healing of creation, asking what sacrifices we are to make in our lives as individuals, as nations, and as a species, if we and the world are to be well. Click here for more event information.

This scholarship includes lodging, breakfast, dinner, and program fees. Because of limited availability, applicants must be willing to share a room (if applying with a friend or family member, please indicate in the appropriate field on the application).

Additional cost to recipients: travel expenses to get to Iona and lunch each day.

 Instructions: fill out the online application form by clicking here and have a mentor, teacher, or advisor complete our online reference form – found by clicking here - by May 1, 2018. A Heartbeat Selection Committee will review all applications and notify successful candidates by May 18, 2018. The funds will then be transferred directly to the St. Columba Hotel in the recipients’ name.

If you require further financial assistance in traveling to Iona, you may apply for an additional $500 travel stipend. To apply for a travel stipend, please click here.

Please note there is an application fee: $10. An invoice will be sent via PayPal once your application is submitted.


Canada School of Celtic Consciousness

3 – 5 July 2018 | Five Oaks Retreat Centre | Paris, Ontario, Canada
Award: $420 | Application Deadline: 1 May 2018

This is the first annual gathering (and the only Canadian location) of the Canada School of Celtic Consciousness, a place to nurture a community of shared vision and spiritual practice for transformation in our lives and world. This retreat is open to all. The teachings will focus on the central themes of Celtic Spirituality including the sacredness of the earth and the human soul. Contemplative practices will concentrate on sustainable disciplines for individual well-being and collective healing. Click here for more event information.

This scholarship includes food, lodging, and program fees. Scholarship recipients are responsible for their own transportation to/from the event. Recipients will be asked to share a room.

Instructions: fill out the online application by clicking here and have a teacher, mentor, advisor, or religious/spiritual leader fill out our online reference form - found by clicking here - by May 1, 2018. Heartbeat’s Selection Committee will review all applications and notify successful candidates by May 18, 2018.

Please note there is an application fee of $10. An invoice will be sent via PayPal once your application is submitted.


New England School of Celtic Consciousness

10 – 12 July 2018 | Mercy by the Sea | Madison, Connecticut, USA
 Award: $350 | Application Deadline: 1 May 2018

This is the second annual gathering of the New England School of Celtic Consciousness, a place to nurture a community of shared vision and spiritual practice for transformation in our lives and world. This retreat is open to all. The teachings will focus on the central themes of Celtic Spirituality including the sacredness of the earth and the human soul. Contemplative practices will concentrate on sustainable disciplines for individual well-being and collective healing. Click here for more event information.

This scholarship includes food, lodging, and program fees. Scholarship recipients are responsible for their own transportation to/from the event. Recipients will be asked to share a room.

Instructions: fill out the online application by clicking here and have a teacher, mentor, advisor, or religious/spiritual leader fill out our online reference form – found by clicking here -  by May 1, 2018. Heartbeat’s Selection Committee will review all applications and notify successful candidates by May 18, 2018.

Please note there is an application fee of $10. An invoice will be sent via PayPal once your application is submitted.


Love Needs Reality

mink-mingle-39939When I was a student of theology in Scotland, Jack, one of my best boyhood friends from Canada, went through a sexual orientation crisis. He experienced a nervous breakdown. Nearly everything in his culture, his religious upbringing, and his immediate family context opposed the realization that was stirring in him—that he was gay. I was not there to be supportive at the time. But he came through the crisis, clear and strong in his identity. When Ali and I moved back to Canada in the early 1980s, Jack came to see us and to share his story.

I was eager to show him my support, even though part of me felt uncomfortable about his sexuality. In my theological training in Edinburgh, I had intellectually worked through the idea of homosexuality, but that was simply working through an idea. Here, on the other hand, was one of my best boyhood friends, and he was gay, and I was experiencing another response in my gut. But Ali and I were clear in our intention. We wanted to extend a hand of love to him. So we invited Jack and his partner for a meal.

A few days before the dinner, Jack called to say that he and Peter were vegetarian. Now this was the early 1980s and vegetarianism was as strange to me then as homosexuality. But we dutifully prepared the meal. When they arrived, we were all very polite, everyone trying to get it just right. Then, as Ali brought in the main course, placing it on the dining room table, she said, “It’s been a long time since I’ve made a homosexual meal.” There was stunned silence and then we all collapsed into laughter together, tears streaming down our faces. From then on, I was just fine. No more gut reactions. Ali’s slip had expressed the unspoken discomfort all of us were feeling, and that was all we needed. We were free now to remember the essence of Jack and Peter and to forget the label of their sexual orientation.

When we say yes to the true heart of one another, we move back into relationship. This is what the Dalai Lama calls the kinship of all being and what Weil refers to as the new saintliness. It is not like the old notion of saintliness that has so dominated much of our religious inheritance, in which we have been given the impression that holiness is about looking away from this world to a spiritual home that is above or beyond us. For Weil the universe, here and now, is our true home. We have no other country, she says. This is where the Sacred is to be found, in the body of the earth, in our human bodies, and in the body of our communities and nations.

This is not to romanticize the universe and the many bodies of which it consists, our beautiful and broken bodies, the glorious and infected bodies of earth’s creatures, and the mysterious and challenging interrelationship of all things. Everything, says Weil, can offer “resistance to love.” What we know in our families and in the most intimate relationships of our lives is that we have the capacity to choose not to love. This capacity, with its wide range of expressions, can be found in all things. There is a preference for oneness in the universe, from the atomic level upward, but it is not predetermined or fixed. Everything can, at some level, choose to violate the harmony. Everything has the capacity to resist oneness.

This is our home—the universe—where our love, our capacity to say yes, is to be focused. It is too easy, says Weil, to love an imaginary home, a spiritual country, or an unseen dimension somewhere beyond us or other than us, because we can turn it into anything we wish. “Love needs reality,” she says. Or, as we have already heard St. John say, “You cannot hate your brother or sister and love God” (1 John 4:20; adapted). You cannot do it because they are one. Similarly, you cannot turn your gaze from the universe and claim to be looking for God. For God is here and now, inseparably woven into the fabric of our being and into the very matter of the universe.

Newell, John Philip. The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings. Vermont: Skylight Paths Publishing, 2014. | Photo by Mink Mingle on Unsplash

May Our Enemy Become Our Friend


May our enemy become our friend, O God,

that we may share earth’s goodness.

May our enemy become our friend, O God,

that our children may meet and marry.

May our enemy become our friend, O God,

that we may remember our shared birth in you.

May we grow in grace

may we grow in gratitude

may we grow in wisdom

that our enemy may become our friend.

From Praying with the Earth by John Philip Newell | Photo by Levi Guzman on Unsplash

St. Brigid

February 2nd is St. Brigid’s Day, one of the few Christian holidays in which a female is remembered, recognized, and honored.

The Abbey on Iona at Twilight | Photographer Brad Ruggles

The Abbey on Iona at Twilight | Photographer Brad Ruggles

On Iona there is a wellspring on the northern side of Dun I. It is called the Well of Eternal Youth. It has pre-Christian significance and is associated with St. Brigid of Kildare, the fifth-century Irish saint who is much celebrated in the Western isles of Scotland – or the Hebrides as they are also known, meaning the islands of Bride or Brigid. Legend has it that her mother was a Christian and her stepfather a Druid priest. She combines within herself the stream of Christian devotion in confluence with the wisdom of pre-Christian religious insight. So she is often associated with sites in the Celtic world, like the Well of Eternal Youth on Iona, that were considered sacred long before the advent of Christianity.

Brigid of Kildare is the saint who straddles the Christian and the pre-Christian. Even the name of her monastic community in Ireland, Kildare, simply means the Church of the Oaks. It was a holy oak grove from Druidic times that was baptized by Brigid into Celtic Christian practice. She embodied a devotion to Christ and an honoring of pre-Christian wisdom, especially its reverencing of nature and the healing properties of the earth.

According to legend, Brigid was the midwife and wet nurse of the Christ Child. She is described as the barmaid at the inn in Bethlehem where Mary and Joseph seek shelter. There is no room at the inn but Brigid provides them with space in the stable. At the moment of the birth, Brigid midwives the Christ Child and then suckles him at her breast. It is a story that points to the way in which the Christian Gospel in the Celtic world was nurtured on the nature mysticism that preceded Christianity. The myths and legends of that world were incorporated into its celebration of Christ. They were like an old testament to the new revelation. There was no concern about historical discontinuity. The anachronism of a fifth-century Irish saint being present at a first-century Middle Eastern birth did not worry the Celts. This was a story that allowed two worlds to become one.

On the island of Iona it was said that Brigid would appear at the Well of Eternal Youth on the summer solstice when, in the Western isles of Scotland, darkness does not fully come until after midnight. So, even well into the nineteenth century, people would gather in the late twilight of midsummer’s night to seek Brigid’s blessing. Not surprisingly, Brigid’s blessing was sought in the twilight, for she belongs to the liminal realm between worlds that is represented by the fading of light and the approaching darkness.

It is the time ruled neither by the sun nor by the moon but by the meeting of the two. It is the time of the two lights, twilight.

Into this liminal realm, between the known and the unknown, we are invited to enter if we are to learn more of the way forward in our lives as individuals and as communities and nations. This is why, in so much of Celtic storytelling and legend, lovers meet and worlds conjoin in the twilight. It is the coming together of the masculine and the feminine. It is the convergence of the unseen world of those who have gone before us and this present dimension of space and time in which the seen and the physical dominate. It may be a time of encountering messengers for the invisible realms of the universe that are linked inextricably to our realm, but at the same time transcend us in our struggle with unknown forces of darkness within and without. This is also why, in so much Eastern spiritual practice, the early hours of dawn are viewed as the time of meditation, when night and day are commingling in ways that more readily allow us to move from the known to the unknown and from the nameable to the ineffable. This is why I sought the predawn hours of early morning in which to begin the writing or this book each day. This is the time that is closer to dream life and the half-wakeful state of knowing in which both light and shadow come forth and all things appear as one.


Newell, John Philip. The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings. Vermont: Skylight Paths Publishing, 2014. | Photography by Brad Ruggles

The Heartbeat of God

In honor of the start of the 2018 School of Celtic Consciousness this week with its location in California, the following excerpt will be from the SCC’s required reading: Listening for the Heartbeat of God.


One of the primary marks of Celtic spirituality, its belief in the essential goodness of creation, is prominent in the works of Scott and MacDonald. They believed that the natural world is infinitely deep. Everything in creation has issued forth from the invisible and contains something of the unseen life of God. Otherwise it would cease to exist. Because God’s life is like the heartbeat at the centre of life, pulsating within, sustaining all that is, MacDonald’s princess[1] is aware of and alert to the Soul of creation.  She has a sense of relationship with it, for all created things are an expression of God for our souls to see and feel. God is forever communicating his life and love in and through the outward forms of creation. The young princess is portrayed as greeting the flowering fields in the morning and seeing the connection between the light and the mystery of the night skies and the beauty and love of the grandmother. The one is an expression of the other.

Just as an infant comes to know his mother through form and colour, scent and sound, so we come to a knowledge of God through the universe. ‘Those who have a child’s heart,’ said Scott, ‘will own and welcome this.’[2] Again, the emphasis is on becoming like a child, recovering the inner faculties we were born with and using them to glimpse the presence of the spirit in created matter. Scott underlined the need to regain our innate childlike way of seeing that becomes increasingly obscured by neglect throughout our lives. The gift of the imagination, which in a child is still uninhibited, allows creation to be a lens through which we may fleetingly bring into focus aspects of the eternal. The young princess in MacDonald’s story is surrounded by people whose inner senses and imagination have been so dulled by lack of use that they believe there is nothing to see in the matter of creation. Their blindness is an omen of the materialism that was increasingly to grip the Western world as the nineteenth century progressed.

John Philip Newell, Listening for the Heartbeat of God, Paulist Press, 1997, pp.64-5.

Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash


[1] Refers to one of MacDonald’s best-known novels, The Princess and the Goblin (1872). It tells the story of a young princess living in a great country house. She discovers that in the house, in one of its remote attic rooms, is a beautiful woman, in whom the freshness of youth is combined with the wisdom of the ages. Although she has always been present, like a grandmother watching over the princess and her family, and has been known to the king and others before, the princess meets her for the first time early in the story. She sits spinning a thread of light that is woven through all things, and which she instructs the young princess to hold wherever she is in order to feel her presence and be led to her. Others in the house see neither the beautiful woman nor her thread of light, and her room, which is to the young princess the most wonderful of places, filled with the scent of wild roses and the sound of the world’s flowing waters, is to others merely an empty attic, dusty and forsaken.     The eternal mother is present to nurture and to guide, but present too are terrible forces of darkness plotting destruction. Within the mountain on which the house is built, living in subterranean caves, are goblins that tunnel their way into the foundations of the house, threaten its safety and intend to take the princess captive. The goblins are neither human nor animal, but a distorted and evil combination of the two. In the end their evil is self-destructive. The flood they had planned for the destruction of the house is turned on them and on their caves. The princess, having followed the beautiful woman’s thread, escapes safely and, although the foundations of her house have been shaken by evil, they are not destroyed.

[2] Alexander J. Scott, ‘Introductory Discourse on Revelation’, Lectures on the Epistle to the Romans, Darling, 1838, p. 4.


Deep Peace


This day and this night,

may I know O God

The deep peace

of the running wave

The deep peace

of the flowing air

The deep peace

of the quiet earth

The deep peace

of the shining stars

The deep peace

of the Son of Peace.

From Celtic Prayers from Iona by John Philip Newell | Photo courtesy of Karin Baard