Did the World Save Jesus?

By John Philip Newell

Roofless Church, New Harmony, IN

Roofless Church, New Harmony, IN

In one of my last conversations with Jane Owen before she died in the summer of 2010, she said, “New Harmony saved me.” Some would be excused for thinking that I had misheard her. Was it not Jane Owen who had saved New Harmony? Was it not her conviction that had turned around this forgotten little town, transforming it into a place of new vision for the world? History will record what many people have already said, that Jane Owen saved New Harmony. And they are right. That is part of the truth. But a deeper part of the story is that New Harmony saved her. “New Harmony saved me,” she said, “because it taught me how to love.” She was a rich young woman from Texas, but here she found the objects of her love—the people, the place, the vision of a new harmony. It was here that she learned how to sacrifice. And so it was here that she truly found herself.

Because Jesus found in the world the true object of his love, and in giving himself in love, he found himself forever.

This is the deeper part of the story in all great lives. Many will say that Nelson Mandela saved South Africa. But Nelson Mandela would be the first to say that South Africa saved him. In the people of South Africa he found the object of his love, and in giving himself for them he found his true stature of soul. Many would say that Oscar Romero saved El Salvador. And this is part of the story. But the deeper truth is that his love for the people of El Salvador saved Oscar Romero. And in the Christian household, we hear again and again in word and song that Jesus saved the world. But must we not also say that the hidden part of the story is that the world saved Jesus? Because Jesus found in the world the true object of his love, and in giving himself in love, he found himself forever.

What is it that will save us? Who are the people, the creatures, the lands, the nations that will awaken our compassion, and who in awakening our love will awaken our willingness to make whole again? These are the ones who hold the hidden part of the story in our search for wholeness. These are the ones in whom we will find the key to love.

 A New Harmony (Jossey-Bass: San Francisco) 164-165. 

The Cross and the Kiss of Choice

JPNewellbyAnnFowlerby John Philip Newell

Last year I gave some talks at a church in Minneapolis. Before the opening session, I was seated in a side chapel close to the main auditorium preparing myself in silence. The talks were going to touch on themes of sacrifice, of making whole again. And I was going to raise specific questions in relation to wholeness. Do we want to be part of transformation? And what are the costs of change, both individually and collectively? As I sat pondering these themes, I noticed on the front wall of the chapel a traditional Ethiopian cross with its large diamond shape at the top and narrow shaft connecting to a smaller square shape at the bottom. And I realized it was like a big key hanging on the wall in front of me.

In the Christian tradition, our key is the cross, or what Jung calls “the Christian totality symbol.” It opens for us the way of love, the truth of love, and the life of love.

In the Christian tradition, our key is the cross, or what Jung calls “the Christian totality symbol.” It opens for us the way of love, the truth of love, and the life of love. It connects for us what has been considered opposite—heaven and earth, the divine and the human, the one and the many, God and all things. It is the key of love. It is the key to transformation.

2002-21-1lgThis may begin to make it all sound simple. And I suppose it is simple. But it is not easy. The difficulty comes in using the key. The challenge ensues in taking it off the wall of our religious symbolism and making use of it in the relationships of our lives and the wider world. The test is in whether we choose to use it again and again and again, resisting the delusion that we will be well by looking after ourselves in isolation, by tending our own nation, our own species, our own tradition, to the neglect of the whole. It is what Teilhard de Chardin calls “the primacy of humility,” the greatness of bowing in love to what is deepest in one another.

The way of sacrifice cannot be imposed, for it is the way of love.

The way of sacrifice cannot be imposed, for it is the way of love. By its very nature it must be chosen. Hildegard says that we are “to act through the kiss of choice.” This is what ANC students did in loving their nation and paying the price of exile. This is what Jon Sobrino and his fellow Jesuits did in speaking out against the political abuses of El Salvador. They kissed the key to love. This is what our Mark did in the Glasgow terrorist attack in his willingness to sacrifice.

What is it that we will choose, and how can we strengthen one another to make this “kiss of choice”?

A New Harmony (Jossey-Bass: San Francisco) 165-168.

The Antithesis of Terrorism

DSCF3960by John Philip Newell

In 2007 there was a terrorist attack at Glasgow International Airport in Scotland. Ali and our younger son, Cameron, were traveling that day.They arrived at the airport just minutes before the Jeep that had been packed with explosives drove through the front window of the terminal and burst into flames. If they had arrived a few minutes later, they would have been checking in at exactly that spot in the airport. As it was, they were inside the terminal getting close to the ticket counter. Then suddenly in front of them hundreds of people were running in the opposite direction. Ahead of them they glimpsed the Jeep and one of the terrorists on fire.

 “I was listening for the moment of explosion. I was trying to decide when to throw myself over Cameron.”

People were desperately running to get away. Our son- in-law Mark was with Ali and Cameron. He had taken them to the airport and was helping with their luggage. He said, “Drop your bags. Run.” As the three of them ran, Mark, in later recounting what was going on in his mind, said, “I was listening for the moment of explosion. I was trying to decide when to throw myself over Cameron.”

This was not Mark boasting. This was a candid, straightforward expression of his heart. He would not put it this way because he does not claim to be religious. But for me this was an expression of the heart of God. It was an expression of the true depths of the human soul. Deep within us is the desire to love.

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click to order

In the end, the explosives did not detonate. Scotland was spared the sort of carnage that many places in our world are subjected to on a regular basis. How can we be part of transformation in our world so that such acts of terror do not pull us further apart? For us as a family, we will always remember Mark’s willingness to risk himself for Cameron. It was the antithesis of the fear and hatred that motivated the bomb plot. How can we nurture the willingness to sacrifice? In other words, how can we nourish the desire to love, a desire that is within us all, although often confined to the smallest circles of relationship and family, yet a desire that can be equally although more challengingly applied to broader spheres of relationship in our world? There are many stages to transformation, including the detailed deci- sions of how to reenvision and restructure the relationships of life, whether between nations and species or between individuals and communities. But unless there is a willingness to be compassionate and to bear the cost of love, we will move nowhere except into further separation and division.

 A New Harmony (Jossey-Bass: San Francisco) 164-165. 

Can God Be Reborn?

By Rev. Dr. Duncan Newcomer

The key was in the title and I was looking in the smaller print.

Why was the Downeast Spiritual Life Conference, in Castine, Maine, in mid-July, important and what was it about John Philip’s message that was crucial?

“Spirit,” ”Earth,” and “Human Soul” were all in the subtitle of the conference brochure. These are words that flag our present state of awareness: Spirit we know is somehow the answer to what’s the matter with us; Earth has moved to the top of our list of ultimate concerns, and to address our Human Soul does feel like the way back to life in the Spirit and for the Earth.

The key that John Philip brought was: the divine that is being reborn is in us; the God that is delivering us anew is the Mother God.

But the conference title’s main three words were: “Rebirthing the Divine.”  I was wondering if God could be reborn. So much for a churchman’s theological question.

The key that John Philip brought was: the divine that is being reborn is in us; the God that is delivering us anew is the Mother God.

On the last page of the brochure were prayer words of Jesus from his “Celtic Earth Mass” “Ground of all being,/ Mother of life,/ Your name is sacred.”

Labyrinth photoThe final lecture was centered on the testimony to hope and action of Aung San Suu Kyi, the woman leader in Burma. It is to “Lady Wisdom” John Philip said we need to turn. A key visual image in his talk was the sculpture by Jacques Lipchitz, first called “Our Lady of Delight” and renamed more conventionally, “The Descent of the Spirit.” (See John Phillip’s YouTube Holy Week talk on the piece.)

Where can we see this statue? At the Roofless Church in New Harmony, Indiana, a church conceived of and built fifty years ago by a lady of wisdom and wealth, Jane Owen, who also commissioned the sculpture. Where else can we see it? At Iona. And what did John Philip say was his favorite place to pray at Iona now? The Nunnery, the open air, half-destroyed singularly feminine presence on the island.

Many of the lectures quotes and stories came from the life of Teilhard de Chardin, who while exiled to China learned that it is the “fragrance of The Feminine “that invites us to union with God.

A crucial story John Philip told was of the radical ego-ending epiphany of Bede Griffiths, the British-born Benedictine, at his Ashram in India, where he both had a stroke and came to experience the feminine side of God simultaneously. It was more than his system could take, yet it took him to freedom and peace on the other side of ego. (See Bede Griffiths’s YouTube talk on his encounter with the Feminine Divine.)

Believe, as Martin Buber did, not in Jesus but with Jesus. Have the courage to see with a drafting compass that roots you in the other as in yourself; feel with clarity of heart; and act in order to have full life.

But none of this was some new creed or some correct vocabulary. We were called by prayer supplication words such as “Send out your light. Let it bring me to your dwelling.” “Wait and be of good courage”. Believe, as Martin Buber did, not in Jesus but with Jesus. Have the courage to see with a drafting compass that roots you in the other as in yourself; feel with clarity of heart; and act in order to have full life. Oh, and expect to find Light in the other, chant and breathe, for we are at the time when we can no longer hold on to our religious inheritance but must also open to the religions of the world, for the sake of our Spirit and Mother Earth.

Rev. Dr. Duncan Newcomer, recently moved from New Harmony, Indiana, to Belfast, Maine. He is the author of ”Desperately Seeking Mary” and offers workshops, labyrinth experiences, and Spiritual Formation in coastal Maine. 

*photo above by Collen Meyers during Chris Farrow-Noble’s Class at the Downeast Spiritual Life Conference.

Launching The Rebirthing of God

JPN Ghost Ranch Book Launch1The setting for the official launch of The Rebirthing of God could not have been better. Speaking from the Agape Center which is nestled between Ghost Ranch’s iconic Chimney Rock and Kitchen Mesa, John Philip Newell offered reflections on the process of writing The Rebirthing of God, thanks for the support of family and friends as well as insights into the inspiration for this latest work.

Cameron

Hallie Parkins and Cameron Newell

Marissa

Marissa Danney

The event began with music from his youngest son Cameron playing the fiddle, and Ghost Ranch college staffer, Hallie Parkins on the cello. Marissa Danney, Ghost Ranch Chaplain and former Heartbeat Scholar offered a stirring introduction, fittingly using the metaphor of childbirth as a backdrop to the experience of reading The Rebirthing of God.

Setting the stage for the purpose for writing the book, John Philip spoke of the “seismic collapse” happening within Western Christianity, and offering a bright and hopeful vision for what is at the same time being reborn:

 

Book launch2

Agape Center

 

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click to order

I am writing this book on the isle of Iona. Or, more exactly, in my imagination I am on Iona as I write this book. Legend has it that this little island in the Hebrides was the birthplace of Christianity for Scotland in the sixth century. It was a place of new beginnings for a whole nation and for many people well beyond the bounds of this land. Since then it has been a place of pilgrimage to which tens of thousands come from the four corners of the earth every year seeking new birth. They come longing for healing for themselves and for their families. They come searching for signs of a way forward for their cherished homelands and for the one home to which we all belong, the earth.

So this is a good place to write about rebirthing. It has witnessed the spiritual birth throes of many before us and it will witness them again, if we come seeking. In The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings, I invite us to imagine what new birth would look like in our lives individually and collectively. Specifically, I invite those of us who belong to the Christian household—whether in its well- defined bounds of practice and belief or on its disenchanted edges of inheritance and doubt—to dream together of a reborn Christianity that might again carry great blessing for the world and usher in the emergence of a new well-being for the earth.