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Our Oldest Unity | John Philip Newell | Isle of Iona | New Harmony

02a-Mby John Philip Newell

Last year I had a dream in which an alchemist-like woman whom I did not know was summoning pieces of fish into a chrysalis-type structure, a place of transformation. The individual segments of fish seemed entirely unrelated to each other until they passed through the large cocoon- shaped chrysalis. But on the other side of the chrysalis, they emerged complete as a bright shining salmon, all of the pieces reconnected into a living whole. In the dream, I thought it was like the reverse of a meat grinder. The separate parts were now reunited and living. Toward the end of the dream, a word appeared visually in front of me, which upon waking I could not remember. But later in the morning it came back to me. The word was quintus.

There are many strands to this dream. One is the unknown woman who draws the parts back into a whole. She represents a feminine dimension within me, within us, which the dream suggests I am not yet fully conscious of. Her gift is to bring back into relationship what has been torn apart. Her charism is relational. And her wisdom is to know that the segments are part of a whole. In the dream, the pieces seem so fragmented, so separate, that it is easy to believe there is no connection. What is this grace of feminine, relational wisdom within us waiting to be reborn in our families and nations and among us as an earth com- munity? And do we know that this gift is within us?

The chrysalis-type structure is another significant part of the dream. The word chrysalis comes from the Greek khrusos, which means “gold.” It is used to refer to the transition state in the metamorphosis of an insect, especially from larva into butterfly. This is a hidden moment, the golden alchemical moment of transformation. And in the develop- ment of an insect, it is a quiescent time. Nothing appears to be happening in the stillness of the chrysalis. How do we enable one another to pay attention to the hidden gold of stillness within us where despite outward observation, the beginnings of transformation can be born? And how in our lives and relationships are we to recover faithful and trusting practices of stillness in order that deep change may emerge from the heart of our being?

The word that appears visually toward the end of the dream, when the bright, beautiful salmon appears, is quintus. It is Latin for “fifth.” The salmon represents something that is quintessential to life, something more than the four elements of which its body is constituted. Known for giving its life in order to spawn new beginnings, the salmon discloses something of life’s quinta essentia. It is like a window into the mystery of relationship at the heart of the universe. Life is not composed simply of its material elements. Its quintessence is the longing for relationship and for new beginnings.

Our oldest unity is our relationship with the earth.

Interestingly it was not a butterfly that emerged from the chrysalis in my dream.The butterfly also is a symbol of resurrection, which in the Christian tradition occurs when grace and nature combine, when grace awakens within our nature something that has been assumed dead and beyond hope. Instead what emerged from the chrysalis was a salmon. In the ancient Celtic world, the salmon was a symbol of wisdom, which in later Christian Celtic symbol- ism became associated with Christ, or more specifically with the wisdom of Christ’s way, which is the way of love, the truth of love, and the life of love. This is the quinta essentia that holds all things together. Without love, the elements of our lives disperse. It is the quintus, the essential fifth, that brings all things into the wholeness of relationship. Love is the gold at the heart of life’s chrysalis. And it is not simply gold at the heart of the human chrysalis. It is the desire for relationship at the heart of the universe.

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Meister Eckhart says that “all creatures . . . seek the One.” This longing is deep within the stuff of our nature. It is deep within the body of the cosmos. We seek the One by seeking oneness with each other, by seeking to be in relationship with the rest of life, by living in relation to everything that has being. The tragedy of our reality is that we have fallen out of touch with this holy natural longing. Divisions that have multiplied divisions, and fears that have fed upon fears drive us further and further apart. Grace, says Teilhard de Chardin, is the “seed of resurrection” sown in our nature. And the greatest of graces, love, is what reawakens the deep longings of our being, the hunger for oneness, the desire for unity. How do we bring this greatest of graces to the relationships of our lives—our relationship with the earth, our relationship as nations, our relationship as wisdom traditions?

Our oldest unity is our relationship with the earth. And yet this is the relationship that we have so deeply neglected. For many of earth’s species, we are now too late to redeem the relationship. They are becoming extinct at an alarming and accelerating pace. We are in danger of a deep impoverishment of life as we have known it. But there is also hope for the community of earth. We are living in the midst of what Berry calls a “moment of grace.” As never before in the history of humanity, we are becoming aware of our interrelatedness. We are beginning to comprehend that what we do to other species is what we do to ourselves. We are beginning to perceive that what we do to other nations and peoples is what we do to our own soul. The question is whether we will choose to translate this emerging con- sciousness into transformative action. And the further question is where we will find strength and vision for this work.

John Philip Newell, A New Harmony (Jossey-Bass: San Francisco) 141-144.

Stories from Iona Abbey | Celtic Spirituality | John Philip Newell

By John Philip Newell

37541083-thomas-mertonThe new harmony that we seek is not the construction of a new unity. It is, as Thomas Merton says, the rediscovery of an “older unity.” It is not the laying of a new foundation for relationship. It is the fresh uncovering of life’s original groundwork. In the final weeks of his life, Thomas Merton, the American Trappist monk and visionary for peace, met in Asia with leaders of other religious traditions. One of the last things he said to them was, “My dear brothers, we are already one. But we imagine that we are not. What we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are.”

Our experiences of communion in life are glimpses into this original unity. They are a rediscovery of what we most truly are—one. Whether it is our experience of gazing into the vast infinity of night skies or looking deep into the eyes of one we love, it is the recognizing of a oneness we did not create but have been gifted with. It is the rediscovery of a harmony that precedes us, the remembering of a unity that is deep in the body of the universe.

church4The best of our rituals and religious disciplines of communion reflect this. They do not create oneness. They help us remember our oneness. They do not make unity. They release our unity. They free us from the forgetfulness of thinking we are essentially separate. They liberate us from the delusions of isolated individuality. In our sacrament of communion in the Christian household, when we share one bread and one cup together, we recite Jesus’ words, “Do this to remember me.” We do this to re-member, to bring back into relationship again what has been forgotten, to reawaken within ourselves the way of oneness, the truth of oneness, the life of oneness.

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One of the great blessings of my four years at the abbey on Iona was gathering together with people from around the world every Friday evening to share bread and wine at the long table. This ancient Scottish practice of communion, in which a table extends the entire length of the chancel, is celebrated weekly at the abbey. Gathered around the table were always many nations and languages, many colors and denominations. It was an experience of the world at table together. And when the world gathers together at table, there is always the sublime as well as the ridiculous.

I shall never forget one Friday evening in particular. Our service had begun at the east end of the cathedral. During the first hymn, I led the procession from the nave into the chancel so that we could be seated around the long table. The first to join me at the head of the table were some lads from Easterhouse, a rough council housing scheme in Glasgow. Perhaps they had never been in a church before.

Sometimes this was the case on Iona, when groups from different traditions and backgrounds gathered together.

The lads were wide-eyed about the proceedings and appeared happy enough to be there. But sitting at table together was probably not what they had expected. The combination of food and drink, together with their being warmly welcomed into the life of the community, made them feel so much at home that they pulled out their cigarettes and lit up at the table. I was hesitant to inhibit their style, but felt they should at least know that this was not our custom at the abbey. So as the rest of the congregation was still singing and making its way from the nave to the table, I had a quiet word with the boys, to which they obligingly responded by putting out their cigarettes. I thought the worst was over. In fact the comedy had just begun. When it came to sharing the bread and the wine, they were the first to receive. And by the time the chalice reached the fourth lad, it had been drained dry. The celebration of an older unity!

As well as absurd occasions at the abbey, there were truly extraordinary moments of oneness. There was the time when Zaki Badawi, a prominent scholar of the Islamic community in Britain, led us in a Muslim call to prayer in the abbey church. This was a sound that had never been heard within the eight-hundred-year-old walls of the abbey. And yet it sounded as if it deeply belonged. It was the sound of a new-ancient harmony that was being born again within us and between us.

And there was the week when Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom, the cofounder of Clergy for Peace in Jerusalem, taught Torah at the abbey. The agreement was that he would teach Scripture in the mornings and for the rest of the day join in as much of the community’s life as he wished. Jeremy fully participated in the pattern of our days. Every morning he would join us for prayer in the abbey church. In the evenings he would sing hymns with us and listen to our Scriptures.

Toward the end of the week, we asked Jeremy if he would preach at the long-table celebration of communion. Being a good rabbi, he said he did not know a precedent of a Jewish rabbi preaching at a communion service. But he knew a precedent of a rabbi singing a table blessing at a Christian communion, so he would sing a table blessing for us. When it came time for the blessing, Jeremy gave it a ten-minute introduction. So we had a sermon after all!

Ali was presiding that evening, so she was seated at the head of the table. And because Jeremy was preaching—or giving the table blessing as he called it—he sat immediately next to her. We assumed he was simply wanting to be present for communion rather than to fully participate in communion. When it came time for the sharing of the bread and wine, however, Ali, intending simply to start the bread around the table, handed it to Jeremy so that he could then pass it on to his neighbor. But Jeremy received the bread and ate before serving his neighbor. And he did the same with the cup.

An older unity was being rediscovered among us, a oneness that precedes our divisions, a unity that underlies our differentiations. In speaking about the communion service later on that night, Rabbi Jeremy explained that it  had not been his intention to receive the bread and wine when he came to the service. But as he sat at table he realized that it was all so deeply familiar, the sharing of bread and wine at table together. He also realized that he had been so welcomed as a Jewish rabbi into the abbey community that he could receive the bread and the wine according to his own tradition. He knew that he was not being untrue to us or to his own inheritance. He was being deeply true. He also knew that he wanted to be true to an older unity, the unity of the human soul, the unity of the earth.

John Philip Newell, A New Harmony (Jossey-Bass: San Francisco) 132-136.

The Heartbeat of God | Celtic Spirituality

By John Philip Newell

photoPerhaps the profoundest words ever uttered were “God is love” (1 John 4:16). They are attributed to John the Beloved, the one who leaned against Jesus at the Last Supper and was said to have heard the heartbeat of God. The profoundest utterances in life are always the simplest of utterances. The problem with truth is not that it is too complicated for expression. The problem with truth is that it is too simple for expression. Three simple words, “God is love,” which is to say that when we love, we are one with God. And when we do not love, we are not one with God.

According to legend, John the Beloved lived to a ripe old age, until over a hundred. He was the cousin of Jesus, son of Mary’s sister, Salome. Youngest among the disciples, he had been especially loved. After the crucifixion, he was silent for years amidst the uncertainties and violence of Jerusalem. With the destruction of the Temple, he fled Palestine for Ephesus with Mary the Mother. There he discovered his voice again and denounced the inhumanities of empire. He was sent into political exile for years on the island of Patmos, and finally as an old man returned to Ephesus. This is the fascinating stuff of legend. How much of it actually occurred we do not know. What is certain, however, is that the Community of John believed in love. “God is love,” they said, “and those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them” (1 John 4:16).

He had witnessed the crucifixion. He had become like a son to Mary. He had dreamed of a new heaven and a new earth. He had threatened the empire with the power of his words and paid the price with years of exile. There was so much he could tell them. But all he would say was “Little children, love one another.”

One of the last stories of St. John’s life relates to his being so weak that he had to be carried to morning and evening prayer in Ephesus. And as he was being carried by members of his community, he would say just one thing to hem: “Little children, love one another.” After a while they became frustrated by this. Here was the great man, John the Beloved. He had grown up with Jesus. He had been part of the inner circle of disciples who entered Jerusalem amidst the song and jubilation of crowds who hoped this would be a new era in the life of their nation. He had witnessed the crucifixion. He had become like a son to Mary. He had dreamed of a new heaven and a new earth. He had threatened the empire with the power of his words and paid the price with years of exile. There was so much he could tell them. But all he would say was “Little children, love one another.” Finally, one day on the way to prayer they asked him, “Teacher, why do you always say this?” To which John replied, “Because it was the Lord’s precept, and if it alone is done, it is enough.”

photoDo we need something more than this wisdom? Or is it just that we pretend we need more and end up doing less? We so much think we need to do more than love our enemy that we end up downplaying our greatest strength, our “incredible power to love.” We so much think we need to focus primarily on our defensive strategies, our accumulation of more and more wealth, our obsession with the human species to the neglect of other species, that we end up ignoring our greatest capacity to redeem the relationships of our lives and world, by loving one another.

You will recall John and Fran, the young couple whom I married on Iona. Because John was Roman Catholic and Fran was Protestant, their families were not supportive of their relationship. The tragic division that had marked Northern Ireland and so many other parts of the Christian household was playing itself out between their families. A number of years after their Iona wedding, they gave birth to their first child, Uist, a beautiful boy. They asked my Ali to baptize him in the River Isla. It was a cold day as we clambered down to the river and found a place midstream that was stable enough for Ali and the little holy family to stand. And gathered together on the riverbank with tears of delight were the two families, one Roman Catholic and one Protestant. Uist’s birth had brought them together.

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Uist’s birth was the symbol of a new beginning. The word symbol comes from the Greek sum, meaning “together,” and bolos, meaning “throw.” A symbol throws together or brings into relationship what has previously been unconnected. The birth was a union of opposites, of male and female but also of Roman Catholic and Protestant. Uist was of John, and he was also of Fran. Yet he was his own person, entirely unique. As Jung says in his work on symbols, the thing that is born of a marriage of opposites is “not a compromise but something new.” Uist was not the dilution of a Roman Catholic family or the diminution of a Protestant family. He was a new creation. And his life was not bound by the limitations of his heritage.

The divine child born as a symbol of unity is an image cherished in many traditions. And it appears at the very heart of our Christian household. The Christ-child is born of heaven and earth, of God and humanity, of time and eternity. He is not simply one or the other. He is both. And he shows us that we are both, that the spiritual and the material are one, that heaven and earth intersect in us. In the ancient prayers of the Hebrides in Scotland, the Christ-child is referred to as “Son of the sun” and “Son of the moon.”

He brings together what has been considered opposite. He is the marriage of spirit and matter, the seen and the unseen, grace and nature. As Teilhard de Chardin says, he is the synthesis of what we “could never have dared join together.” He is the symbol of oneness. He shows us the pearl of great price. It is ours if we will have it. But it will cost us every- thing. Because its cost is love.

John Philip Newell, A New Harmony (Jossey-Bass: San Francisco) 127-131.

Knowing the Celtic Christ | John Philip Newell | Celtic Spirituality | Heartbeat

JPN at Columba's Bay JPEG
One of the greatest teachers in the Celtic world, John Scotus Eriugena in ninth-century Ireland, taught that Christ is our memory. We suffer from the “soul’s forgetfulness,” he says. Christ comes to reawaken us to our true nature. He is our epiphany. He comes to show us the face of God. He comes to show us also our face, the true face of the human soul. This leads the Celtic tradition to celebrate the relationship between nature and grace. Instead of grace being viewed as opposed to our essential nature or as somehow saving us from ourselves, nature and grace are viewed as flowing together from God. They are both sacred gifts. The gift of nature, says Eriugena, is the gift of “being”; the gift of grace, on the other hand, is the gift of “well-being.” Grace is given to reconnect us to our true nature. At the heart of our being is the image of God, and thus the wisdom of God, the creativity of God, the passions of God, the longings of God. Grace is opposed not to what is deepest in us but to what is false in us. It is given to restore us to the core of our being and to free us from the unnaturalness of what we are doing to one another and to the earth.

Christ is often referred to in the Celtic tradition as the truly natural one.

Christ is often referred to in the Celtic tradition as the truly natural one. He comes not to make us more than natural or somehow other than natural but to make us truly natural. He comes to restore us to the original root of our being. As the twentieth-century French mystic-scientist Teilhard de Chardin says much later in the Celtic world, grace is “the seed of resurrection” sown in our nature. It is given not to make us something other than ourselves but to make us radically ourselves. Grace is given not to implant in us a foreign wisdom but to make us alive to the wisdom that was born with us in our mother’s womb. Grace is given not to lead us into another identity but to reconnect us to the beauty of our deepest identity. And grace is given not that we might find some exterior source of strength but that we might be established again in the deep inner security of our being and in learning to lose ourselves in love for one another to truly find ourselves.

photoThis is not to pretend that there are not infections deep within us and deep within the interrelationships of life. Eriugena refers to sin as an infection, “leprosy of the soul.” And just as leprosy distorts the human face and makes it appear grotesque and ugly, so sin distorts the countenance of the soul and makes it appear mon- strous, so much so that we come to believe that that is the face of the human soul. And just as leprosy is a dis- ease of insensitivity, of loss of feeling, so sin leads us into an insensitivity to what is deepest within us, and more and more we treat one another as if we were not made in the image of God. Eriugena makes the point that in the gospel story when Jesus heals the lepers, he does not give them new faces. Rather he restores them to their true faces and to the freshness of their original countenances. Grace reconnects us to what is first and deepest in us. It restores us to the root of our well-being, which is deeper than the infections that threaten our minds and souls and relationships.

We have tended to define ourselves and one another in terms of the blight, in terms of sin or evil, in terms of the failings or illnesses of our lives, instead of seeing what is deeper still, the beauty of the image of God at the core of our being.

Alexander Scott, the nineteenth-century Celtic teacher, uses the analogy of a plant suffering from blight. If such a plant were shown to botanists, even if the botanists had never seen that type of plant before, they would define it in terms of its essential life features. They would identify the plant with reference to its healthy properties of height and color and scent. They would not define it in terms of its blight. Rather they would say that the blight is foreign to the plant, that it is attacking the essence of the plant. Now this may seem a very obvious point botanically. But maybe it is so obvious that we have missed the point when it comes to defining human nature. We have tended to define ourselves and one another in terms of the blight, in terms of sin or evil, in terms of the failings or illnesses of our lives, instead of seeing what is deeper still, the beauty of the image of God at the core of our being.

Given what we now know of the interrelatedness of life and how even the unborn child is infected by the psychological scars of its family or by the pollution of its wider environment, we may wish to say that sin is lurking inside the door of the womb. The shadow comes very close to the beginning of our lives, but deeper still is the Light from which we come. The conception of all life in the universe is sacred.

When Eriugena and other Celtic teachers speak of Christ as our memory, as the one who leads us to our deepest identity, as the one who remembers the song of our beginnings, they are not ignoring the depth of sin’s infection. They are not suggesting that our true self is just under the surface of a film of falseness, easily recovered, or that the harmony deep within all things can be recaptured with just a bit of fine tuning. The infections within the human soul are chronic. There are diseases of greed and limited self-interest among us as individuals and as nations that are ageless, so much so that we can hardly imagine what the true harmony of the earth sounds like. These are not just superficial infections. They are tangled in the very roots of our being. They are cancerous. And some of them need to be surgically removed.

Eriugena uses the analogy of sin pouncing on everything that is born. In commenting on the words from Genesis 4, “Sin is lurking at the door, its desire is for you,” Eriugena says that sin is hovering at the door of the womb, ready to infect everything that comes into being.

To say that the root of every person and creature is in God, rather than opposed to God, has enormous implications for how we view ourselves, including our deepest physical, sexual, and emotional energies.

To say that the root of every person and creature is in God, rather than opposed to God, has enormous implications for how we view ourselves, including our deepest physical, sexual, and emotional energies. It also profoundly affects the way we view one another, even in the midst of terrible failings and falseness in our lives and world. Satan is sometimes referred to by Eriugena and other Celtic teachers as Angel of Light. This is a way of pointing to the deepest identity of everything that has being, whether creaturely or angelic. The extent to which our energies, and the energies of any created thing, are evil and destructive is the extent to which we are not being truly ourselves.

IMG_5202Eriugena may well have believed literally in a personal presence and source of evil, named Satan, as most of the medieval world, whether Celtic or imperial, did. More significantly, however, he is inviting us to be aware of our own capacity for falseness and the potential for distortion in everything that has been created. But most important of all, he is recalling us to our deepest identity as born of Light. We become sinful to the extent that we are not being truly ourselves. We become false to the extent that we are not living from the true root of our being. And Eriugena is pointing also to the path of healing and transformation. We find new beginnings not by looking away from the conflicting energies that stir within us but by looking within them for the sacred Origin of life and desire. In the midst of confusions and struggle in our lives, we are being invited to search deeper than the shadows for the Light of our beginnings. It is also the Light of our true end.

We can be part of a new birthing within us and between us today. And the new birthing relates to the ancient song that we are invited to hear again. It may seem such a distant song that we hear it only as in a dream. But the more we become reacquainted with its music, the more we will come to know that the deepest notes within us and between us in our world are not discord. They form an ancient harmony.

John Philip Newell, Christ of the Celts: the Healing of Creation, 2008 (Jossey-Bass: San Francisco) 9-15. 

The Rebirthing of God

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For many years now the Celtic poet, peacemaker and scholar John Philip Newell has been writing about the sacredness of being, the of-Godness that is at the heart of our lives and all life. In this new work he asks what the world in general—and Christianity in particular—would look like if the true depths of our sacredness were to come forth in radically new ways.

JPN_(Iona_MN)

John Philip Newell

Drawing on modern prophets from East and West, and using the holy island of Iona as an icon of new beginnings, this book speaks directly to the heart of Christians—those within the well-defined bounds of Christian practice and those on the disenchanted edges—as well as to the faithful and seekers of other traditions. It offers the hope of a fresh stirring of the Spirit among us and the invitation to be part of laboring in a new holy birth of sacred living.

Publisher: Skylight Paths

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A Great Pearl

By John Philip Newell

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During our years at the abbey on Iona, I received many requests from couples around the world wanting to be married on the holy island. My standard response was to invite them to come and speak with me about it. This was a tall order. Iona is a long way even from the Scottish mainland, so not many couples followed up their initial request. But John and Fran did. And when they met with me, they explained that their families were not supportive of their relationship. John was Roman Catholic and Fran was Protestant. The tragic division that has marked Northern Ireland and so many other parts of the Christian household was playing itself out between their families. John and Fran sensed that at the abbey they would find a place of welcome. I agreed to marry them in three month’s time. The plan was that they would return to the abbey as guests for a week, and at the end of the week, in the midst of the Friday evening communion service, we would celebrate their marriage. And the abbey community would be their family of support.

By the end of that week three months later, John and Fran had been taken into the hearts of staff and guests alike. Older women poured affection and advice on Fran. Younger men were queuing up to be John’s best man. The abbey kitchen baked a cake. And bottles of wine were appearing from every nook and cranny. Hundreds of us entered the abbey church that evening. The long table, an ancient Scottish practice, had been prepared. It stretched with candlelight the entire length of the chancel. The bread and wine were ready. We sat in concentric rows around the table with John and Fran at the center. It was like the great wedding feast imagined by St. John the Divine in his Book of Revelation, in which the union of heaven and earth is celebrated.

The word communion means “one with.” It is of Latin origin, a combination of the word cum, meaning “with,” and unus, meaning “one.” But for a Latin speaker there would have been a rich image associated with it. Unus means “one” but unio means “a great pearl.” The value of a great pearl is its oneness. A single unio is of much greater value than a collection of margaritae (“smaller pearls”). When we enter communion with another, we enter a precious unity. It is like the “pearl of great price” that Jesus uses to speak of the treasure of God (Matthew 13:46).

In the abbey that night, we witnessed a pearl of great price being formed. In giving themselves to each other in love, John and Fran were making a unio. And their oneness did not represent a loss of individuality. Quite the opposite. John and Fran were entering a union that was based on a deep cherishing of their distinctness as individuals. John at the table that night, with a beaming smile that even his heavy mustache did not hide, looked more himself than ever. Fran, with her shining eyes of certainty, looked more beautifully like Fran than she had ever done. And the rest of us too were caught up in transformation. We too were celebrating oneness. This, says Teilhard de Chardin, is the great gift of Christianity, “to be united while remaining oneself.” Communion is not about absorption or loss of self. It is about finding ourselves in one another.

John Philip Newell, A New Harmony (Jossey-Bass: San Francisco) 113-115.

Seeking a New Harmony

IMG_5249.JPGBy John Philip Newell

A few summers ago at our little retreat center in New Mexico, we were exploring themes of wholeness. We were asking how the broken harmony of our lives and world can be transformed. What does the transformation from woundedness to wholeness look like, whether individually or among us as nations and species? Among the participants at our retreat was a couple from Colorado, Larry and Diane. A number of months earlier, they had lost their son, Zach, in an airplane crash. They opened their hearts to us as a group and allowed us to share in their grieving. When it came time in our reflections to ask what it means to seek transformation, and how we are to move from brokenness toward wholeness, Larry said simply and unforgettably, “If by wholeness you mean some sort of smoothing over of the gaping wound that will always be in me because of my son’s death, I don’t want that sort of wholeness.”

“If by wholeness you mean some sort of smoothing over of the gaping wound that will always be in me because of my son’s death, I don’t want that sort of wholeness.”

Larry was not meaning that he wanted forever to be paralyzed by his son’s death. He was not meaning that he did not wish to move toward transformation. He was meaning, however, that he wished never to forget the preciousness of his son’s life and his agony as a father in losing Zach. And he was meaning that any true journey of transformation would not skirt around that wound but would incorporate it deeply into whatever the new beginning was to be. When he finished speaking, he reminded us of the resurrection story in St. John’s Gospel. The risen Jesus, he said, shows the disciples the marks of crucifixion in his hands and side. The resurrection story is not about the wounds being undone. It is not about the suffering being smoothed over. The wounds are deeply visible. They are part of the new beginning. They are an inseparable part of the new beginning.

Jung says that wholeness is about “integration . . . but not perfection.”

557-MJung says that wholeness is about “integration . . . but not perfection.” It is about bringing into relationship again the many parts of our lives, including our brokenness, in order to experience transformation. It is not about forgetting the wound or pretending that it did not happen. It is about seeking a new beginning that grows inseparably out of the suffering. It is not about returning to Eden, an unblemished state of innocence within us or between us. It is about bringing our origin in Eden, the root that connects us still to the sacredness of our beginnings, into the depths of our exile from Eden, including all of the woundedness that false decisions and wrong turns have created within us and between us in our lives.

As the Scottish poet Kenneth White writes, this is not “any kind of easy harmonization.” It is not about returning to a simple unspoiled melody. It is about seeking a new harmony that fully recognizes the experience and the depth of our brokenness. Or as Edwin Muir, another Scottish poet, put it in his poem “One Foot in Eden,” it is about seeking a blossom that was “never known” in Eden. “What,” he asks, “had Eden ever to say of hope and faith and pity and love”? These, he says, are “strange blessings” to Eden. They come not simply out of the garden of our beginnings. They are born out of the “grief” and “darkened fields” of our lives.

John Philip Newell, A New Harmony (Jossey-Bass: San Francisco) 98-99.

The Deep Pathos of the Earth Situation

by John Philip Newell

JPNewellbyAnnFowlerCarl Jung says that “the whole world is God’s suffer­ing.” The woundedness is everywhere. We know it both individually and collectively. It is in the cells of our souls and the atoms of the universe. It is in our genetic code and the inherited memory of our families. It is deep in the life of the earth and the history of every nation. It is a wound­edness that is both intensely personal and unlimitedly vast. The one does not occur without the other. They are insepa­rably related. And their healing also is indissolubly one.

Jung noticed in his psychoanalytical work with patients, and observed also in the journey of his own soul, that a collective human problem will often manifest itself power­ fully as a personal problem. He concluded that our focus must be twofold: to compassionately treat the individuality of our wounds and at the same time tend the collective brokenness of our world. In the midst of treating the fears that haunt our minds individually, and the mental illness and collapse of relationship that characterize our family lives, we are to passionately address the brokenness of our nations and the woundedness of the earth. Our personal problems will not be sorted by neglecting our collec­ tive problems. And the reverse also is true. We will not heal the earth’s brokenness by ignoring our individual brokenness.

He felt compelled to know the relationship between the one and the many, the personal and the collective, the depths of what we experience individu­ally and the river that runs deep in the human soul.

Carl Jung

Carl Jung

In 1913 Jung noted a growing darkness and depression in his own psyche. By October of that year, he even saw within himself images ofa terrible flood. It was like an ominous catastrophe waiting to happen. In his psyche he saw “the floating rubble of civilization,” “drowned bodies,” and a “whole sea turned to blood.” A number of months later, the First World War broke out. Jung now understood what his life task was to be. “I had to try to understand . . . to what extent my own experience coincided with that of mankind in general.” He felt compelled to know the relationship between the one and the many, the personal and the collective, the depths of what we experience individu­ally and the river that runs deep in the human soul.

When I stand in Carol’s Garden in New Harmony, dedi­cated to the memory of Jane Owen’s daughter Carol, I think of the wound of Jane Owen’s sorrow as a mother. I also think of my own family’s wounds and the sorrow of families throughout the world today. I think of the brokenness of whole nations and species. Thomas Berry calls it “the deep pathos of the Earth situation,” the pain that is not limited to one person or one nation or one species. Carol’s Garden, which is circular, has at its heart a font of perpetual light and an unending flow of water.The Bradford pears that have been planted in concentric circles all lean toward the center of the garden. They have been trained with taut wires to incline inward toward the font.

Jung, quoting from an ancient hermetic source, says, “God is a circle whose center is everywhere and the circum­ference is nowhere.”

Jung, quoting from an ancient hermetic source, says, “God is a circle whose center is everywhere and the circum­ ference is nowhere.” Wherever we look, into whoever’s eyes we gaze, into whichever life­form we peer, into what­ ever family or nation we move, there is the heart of God. And there also is the suffering of God. Our traditions have often tried to place fixed­circumference walls around the sacred—whether that be the sacredness of our religion, the sacredness of our nation, or the sacredness of our species. But the sacredness is everywhere. As is the wound­ edness of God. New science has given us the ability to conceive that we live in an omnicentric universe. There is no such thing as one central point to the cosmos. Every point is the center, for the universe expands infinitely in all directions. When I stand in Carol’s Garden, I am aware of the font at the heart of life. It is at the heart of every moment and every place. And I am aware also of the wound that is everywhere to be found. How are we to seek wholeness?

John Philip Newell A New Harmony (Jossey-Bass: San Francisco) 95-98.

 

To Reclaim Peace in Us

JPN at Columba's Bay JPEGBy John Philip Newell

No one in the Westerbork transit camp had heard about the gas chambers of Auschwitz, but Etty Hillesum and others knew in their hearts that there would be no return from the train journey to Poland. “When the first transport passed through our hands,” wrote Etty after the departure of the earliest consignment of Jews from Westerbork to Auschwitz, “there was a moment when I thought I would never again laugh. . . . But on walking through the crowded camp, I realized again that where there are people, there is life.”

Etti Hillesum

Etti Hillesum

In the camp hospital where she cared for the sick, many of whom would soon find their names on the transportation list, and in her barracks at night where she would hear the sobbing of women in the dark and the tormented cries of others in their sleep, Etty looked into the agony of soul that she was in the midst of. She knew fear in her own heart and witnessed it taking hold of others and driving them to hatred. “I know that those who hate have good reason to do so,” she wrote. “But why should we always have to choose the cheapest and easiest way?”

This is not to say that wrestling with revulsion at her captors was foreign to Etty. She describes looking at the faces of the armed guards who were loading her fellow Jews onto the next train for Auschwitz. “I looked at them, each in turn, from behind the safety of a window, and I have never been so frightened of anything in my life. I sank to my knees with the words that preside over human life: ‘And God made man after His likeness.’ That passage spent a dif­ ficult morning with me.”

Etty believed that each of us needs to destroy within ourselves all that we think we ought to destroy in others.

Etty believed that each of us needs to destroy within ourselves all that we think we ought to destroy in others. First and foremost is the conflict with hatred in our own hearts. We need “to reclaim large areas of peace in our­ selves,” she wrote. “And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.” In the autumn of 1942, having witnessed thousands upon thousands being herded into the weekly freight cars bound for Poland, and having endured months of the degradation imposed on her people, she wrote, “We should be willing to act as a balm for all wounds.” This is what she was doing physically in her work in the camp hospital. It was also at the heart of her relationship with those around her in Westerbork and in her continued correspondence with friends in Amsterdam, who felt powerless to arrest the nightmare of their nation. “We should be willing to act as a balm for all wounds.”

John Philip Newell A New Harmony (Jossey-Bass: San Francisco) 94-96.