Most Important Moments

Photo Courtesy of Margie Nea

Dear Heartbeat Friends,

During my time on Iona last September, we had two back-to-back pilgrimage weeks amidst the glory of Hebridean sunshine, rain and storm.  One of the pilgrims said to me that the time on Iona had been the most important week in his life. He is not alone in this. Pilgrimage week after pilgrimage week, season after season, year after year, I hear pilgrims speak of the life-changing energies of time together on Iona.

As many of you know, Iona was the birthplace of Heartbeat’s vision and formation. Next year our board and leadership will return to the island to celebrate the tenth anniversary of our beginnings, to give thanks for the ways in which people all over the world have been blessed by its birth, and to prayerfully ask what our next ten years might look like. Please hold us in your hearts as we plan this time, praying that we may be visited by angels of Gratitude, Wisdom, Imagination, and Vision.

What has emerged in our first decade of work is a threefold focus for Heartbeat:

  • Pilgrimage
  • The School of Celtic Consciousness
  • Commitment to Prophetic Action

Let me briefly expand on these as a way of pointing to the heart of our vision and the need for your support.

Pilgrimage, especially the Iona experience but others like it, such as the annual Interfaith Peace Pilgrimage on the Camino in Spain, is a signature piece of Heartbeat’s work. It reflects the resurrection of pilgrimage practice that is happening throughout the world today in all great religious traditions. There is a desire to use the body in spiritual practice and a yearning to do so in the context of earth, sea and sky and to walk side by side with those from whom we have often been separated by the boundary lines of religion and race.

Our School of Celtic Consciousness similarly reflects the widespread desire to more intentionally access ancient wisdom, to link it together with spiritual practice, and to translate this study and practice into compassionate action. The four initial locations of the School in the United States and the one in Canada have been so strongly attended and deeply engaged with that we are multiplying the sessions of the School in these original locations to try to address the hunger. Also we are preparing the formation of other teachers so that in time we can add new locations of the School on both sides of the Atlantic.

Commitment to compassionate and prophetic action is the primary reason for our Pilgrimages and School of Celtic Consciousness. The latter serve the former and, without commitment to action, our pilgrimage and study initiatives would be ungrounded. The prophetic tradition in which we stand is twofold, to denounce what is false and to announce what is true, to resist injustice and to assist in the rebuilding of a just world.  Our current initiative of pilgrimage to the American-Mexican border to speak against the unjust separation of families and to support those who are caring for the affected families is an important example of Heartbeat’s commitment to prophetic and compassionate action.

Let me be as clear as I can when I say that none of this work would happen without you. Pilgrimage, the School of Celtic Consciousness, and our Action Initiatives all depend on the administrative support of our staff and financial support for our compassion initiatives. Similarly our Scholarship Programmes that enable participation by men and women who could not otherwise afford to be involved is entirely dependent on your generosity.

We have the opportunity to be part of what will sometimes be ‘most important’ moments in people’s lives. This is sacred work. I urge you to help in whatever way you can.

With blessings to you and gratitude,

 

 

 

John Philip Newell

Evening Prayer

Photo Courtesy of Karin Baard


Bless us this night, O God,
and those whom we know and love.
Bless us this night, O God,
and those with whom we are not at peace.
Bless us this night, O God,
and every human family.
Bless us with deep sleep.
Bless us with dreams that will heal our soul.
Bless us with the night's silent messages of eternity
that we may be set free by love.
Bless us in the night, O God,
that we may be set free to love.


Bendíceme esta noche, oh Dios,
y a las personas que conozco y amo.
Bendíceme esta noche, oh Dios,
y a las personas con las que no estoy en paz.
Bendíceme esta noche, oh Dios,
y a cada familia humana.
Bendícenos con un sueño profundo.
Bendícenos con sueños que sanen nuestras almas.
Bendícenos con los silentes mensajes nocturnos de la eternidad
para que el amor nos libre.
Bendícenos en la noche, oh Dios,
que podamos ser liberados para amar.

From Sounds of the Eternal and Sonidos de lo Eternal by John Philip Newell. Translation by Carlos Eduardo Expósito Irarragorri and María Cristina Borges Álvarez

The Sacred Heartbeat at the Border

The border community of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, México | Photo courtesy of Karin Baard

As I walked up to the United States border from the city of Juárez, Mexico I passed by at least one hundred people sitting against the side of the concrete bridge, which serves as a port of entry. Many of them were waiting to claim asylum and had been denied entry. They looked exhausted. Some had children lying in their laps, trying with little success to avoid the heat of the sun.

I had come to the El Paso and Cuidad Juárez communities as a part of a new Border Pilgrimage project initiated by HEARTBEAT. Ten of us had convened to witness, protest, pray, accompany, learn, and take action through volunteer relief efforts. Our intention was to enter the story of the border region, expand our understanding, and respond to the needs of the people passing through.

As I got closer to the border boundary line I saw a Customs Border Protection Officer (CPB) wearing a black balaclava ski mask and sunglasses while carrying an assault rifle. No part of his face could be seen. I had crossed at this point the day before and only noticed CBP officers with the usual pistol and ball cap – their faces fully visible. The mask and AR-15 weaponry were a clear escalation of intimidation tactics. I looked from the drained and weary people propping themselves on the side of the bridge to the darkly masked and heavily armed CPB officer. The display of brute force amidst such vulnerability and desperation was baffling.

Photo courtesy of Democracy Now!

LET OUR CHILDREN GO!

Our group also attended a protest in Tornillo, TX where 2,349 children are being held in a detention camp. These children are trying to connect with family members in the United States. We learned that the children are brought to the encampment in the dark of night so that they are less likely to escape and to prevent excess media coverage. Inspectors and elected officials are being denied entry. Staff in the camp are not properly screened to work with children. There is no running water – all of it must be trucked in from the outside. Generators provide all of the electricity. The children are not in school.

The least our group felt we could do was to stand outside the fence of the camp to denounce the current Administration’s immigration policy and demand that these children be processed and cared for.We carried signs that said:

‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor’
‘Cage Free Kids’
‘Children should be LOVED up not locked up!’
‘Let Our Children Go!’

Our group helped gain media attention and that night we saw ourselves on the evening news. The next day the protest was on the front page of the El Paso Times. Helping to raise awareness for the detention of children was a small success in the face of a tragic humanitarian crisis.

Our Border Pilgrimage group connected with Heartbeat partner, The Annunciation House. Leading up to our trip our group campaigned to raise $7,000 for this organization, which provides desperately needed supplies for the people making the journey. While at the Annunciation House we cooked meals, cleaned bathrooms, and drove recently arrived immigrants to the airport as they traveled to connect with family or friends who awaited them. We also volunteered at Casa del Migrante in Cuidad Juárez where we met families grappling with knowing how to proceed. They worried about trying to cross the border and whether they would be separated from their children – but they also knew they could not return to the violence and poverty back home in Honduras. The anguish was excruciating.

May the migrant become our friend, that we may remember our shared birth in you.

John Philip often tells the story of the last supper where, in the Celtic memory, the disciple John lays his head on the chest of Jesus. It is said that he then heard the heartbeat of God. John Philip teaches that this heartbeat pulses through all things and is a symbol of our essential sacredness. This feels especially poignant at this time, considering the migrants who are currently lined up along our southern border. These people who are our siblings and neighbors have this sacred heartbeat. Instead of seeing them this way, the current Administration treats them with inhumanity: denies their legal rights, closes the border, fortifies the border wall, and launches tear gas at women and small children. These actions are reprehensible. It should be our privilege to welcome them into our community and find a way forward together.

Mother flees to safety after U.S. Border Patrol fires tear gas near Tijuana, México | Photo credit: Kim Kyung-Hoon

During our Border Pilgrimage, we adapted one of John Philip’s prayers as a mantra for our group:

May [the migrant] become our friend, O God,
that we may share earth’s goodness.
May [the migrant] become our friend, O God,
that our children may meet and marry.
May [the migrant] 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 [the migrant] may become our friend.

Adapted from Praying with the Earth: A Prayerbook for Peace by John Philip Newell

Next year we hope to bring more Heartbeat groups to the border community to learn, raise awareness, protest, pray, volunteer and raise funds for respite care. I hope you will consider joining us.

Ben Lindwall is the Executive Director of HEARTBEAT. He and his family are based in Portland, Oregon. Ben is a certified spiritual director and has been leading spiritually oriented trips for over fifteen years. He made the pilgrimage to the Isle of Iona in Scotland in 2011 and has since been mentored by John Philip and Ali Newell.


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Prayer of Intention

We seek your presence, O God,
not because we have managed to see clearly
or been true in all things this day,
not because we have succeeded in loving
or in reverencing those around us,
but because we want to see with clarity,
because we long to be true,
because we desire to love as we have been loved.
Renew our inner sight,
make fresh our longings to be true
and grant us the grace of loving this night
that we may end this day as we had hoped to live it,
that we may end this day restored
to our deepest yearnings,
that we may end this day as we intend
to live tomorrow,
as we intend to live tomorrow.

From Sounds of the Eternal by John Philip Newell | Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash 

SAVE THE DATE: Selma to Montgomery Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage leader Michel Gribble Dates and friend Thomas Hampton on the Edmund Pettus Bridge while scouting the Selma to Montgomery route. | Photo credit: Katie Archibald-Woodward

March 3, 2019 – March 10, 2019

The Selma to Montgomery Pilgrimage: Walking Towards A Beloved Community is a spiritual and inter-racial learning experience. This walk with history makes space for the meeting of ancestral wisdom and pain on a journey toward equity and healing. Guided spiritual practice will invite pilgrims to challenge and expand their role in a beloved community. Together we will seek a more holistic and sustainable posture for compassion, active resistance, and dismantling white supremacy.

The route from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, USA largely stays true to the original 50 mile path walked by 3200 people comprised of citizens, civil rights leaders, clergy, and historians in 1965 famously led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This march, attempted twice before its successful completion in March 1965, was pivotal in provoking national and international dissent for racial violence which led to the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Throughout the week pilgrims will visit influential and relevant sites, share spiritual practices, meet local community members, create a collaborative art piece, and walk 5-15 miles together each day for five days.

This pilgrimage is organized by HEARTBEAT and for people of any race and heritage.

Stay tuned for more information.

Heartbeat Team Travels to U.S.A./Mexico Border

Frannie Kieschnick on the border in Hildago, TX

Photo credit: David F. Choy

“I’m enraged, and I’m going to do something about it,” were the words of Heartbeat Board Member Frannie Kieschnick after spending a week at the U.S.A./Mexico border last summer. She was seething at the inhumane separation of children from their parents at the border. This was part of the United States’ racist ‘zero tolerance policy’, which was the government’s catastrophic stopgap in response to the flow of people moving through the region last spring. Frannie’s experience and resolve struck a chord with me. When she told me about her trip, I heard five distinct elements that I thought would make an effective and meaningful pilgrimage experience: volunteer action, protest, prayer, witness, and accompaniment. We didn’t waste any time moving forward. Next week a team of 10 people will assemble in El Paso, Texas, for a new Border Pilgrimage with those objectives.

First and foremost, this team is responding to the needs of migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees who are crossing the border. We will raise funds and volunteer at the Annunciation House, a designated respite center that is caring for 400-600 people each week as they make their way through the region. The team will also visit a detention center, meet with local leaders and advocates, and cross the border into Cuidad Juárez, Mexico.

In addition to responding with assistance and accompaniment, we will also embody the posture of a pilgrim – on a journey of deeper understanding and growing in awareness. The team will visit the construction of a new border wall in downtown El Paso, learn from migrant advocates, and study the historical context leading to today’s injustice along our borders. We will pray and reflect, seeking clarity of vision as we discern our ongoing response – both individually and as an organization.

In recent years HEARTBEAT has supported refugee relief efforts across the globe. Founders John Philip and Ali Newell created the ‘William James Newell Refugee Fund’ named for John Philip’s father who did international refugee work, most notably in camps which housed refugees needing to flee Cambodia as a result of the Killing Fields in the 1970s. The Border Pilgrimage is a small but significant expansion of our efforts to offer relief and engage issues facing people who are on the move.

The specially selected team for this trip is made up of a group of talented young leaders who have participated in or led previous Heartbeat pilgrimages. They gather from Maine, Arizona, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Texas, Oregon, California, and Georgia. Vanessa Johnson, former Heartbeat board chairperson and current resident of El Paso, will offer support and guidance during the pilgrimage. Border Hope Institute, a grassroots organization working to deepen solidarity across borders, is providing consultation, logistical support, and cultural training.

Please hold our team in your prayers as we travel to El Paso/Cuidad Juárez. Please also pray for the migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees who are risking everything as they seek safety and a new life in a new land. If you would like to support our efforts, donations designated for HEARTBEAT’s Refugee Fund through October 29th will be directed to our Annunciation House Respite Supply Drive.

Ben Lindwall is the Executive Director of HEARTBEAT. He and his family are based in Portland, Oregon. Ben is a certified spiritual director and has been leading spiritually oriented trips for over fifteen years. He made the pilgrimage to the Isle of Iona in Scotland in 2011 and has since been mentored by John Philip and Ali Newell.

“More love please”

 

 

Strength

The strength of the rising sun,
the strength of the swelling sea,
the strength of the high mountains,
the strength of the fertile plains,
the strength of the everlasting river
flowing in us and through us this day,
the strength of the river of God
flowing in us and through us this day.

From Sounds of the Eternal by John Philip Newell | Photo by Karin Baard

Anima Mundi

Last year, I spent a day hiking through Glen Tromie in the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland. It was midwinter, and the ground was covered by a thick layer of snow. I had walked for hours without meeting anyone. I love the intimacy of this glen. Some of its neighbors, like Glen Feshie and Glen Einich, are wilder and grander, but Glen Tromie is a perfect winter walk with its smaller proportions and shelter of hills on either side. During the hike, I realized just how much I love this land. I also wondered how it is that I hold this love together with my love for other landscapes, other wildernesses. I thought of the vast stretches of sky and sandstone mesas in the high desert of New Mexico or the ancient rock formations and lakes of the Canadian Shield where I spent my summers as a boy. What is it that allows the love of these different places to be one?

At the same time, my thoughts turned to the particularities of our lives and relationships. How do we remain true in our family life, in our devotion to nation, in our loyalty to religious tradition, and at the same time be in faithful relationship with those beyond the boundaries of these defined relationships? Can we live a conciliation between the two? I had been reading Jung’s thoughts about what he calls the “transcendent function.” It is a way of uniting supposed opposites. It is a disciplined practice of placing oneself in between two worlds, or at the midpoint between two extremes that seem irreconcilable, and faithfully waiting until the intersecting of their shared essence occurs. It is a way of seeking oneness between the two ends of a spectrum that otherwise fall into duality.

What are the dualisms of our lives? I love this place and not that place. I love my family, my nation, my religious inheritance, my species but not those people, those traditions, those species, those life-forms. And what about the ultimate dualisms that Jesus addresses in his teachings? I love God but not my brother. Or I love myself but not my neighbor. Jesus transcends these separations by disclosing the oneness of love. The one “who truly loves,” says Eckhart, “can only love one thing.” So radical is this oneness that it means that what we do to ourselves is what we do to God. What we do to our neighbor, what we do to the earth, is what we do to ourselves.

As I walked through Glen Tromie reflecting on my love of one place in relation to my love of other places, I was searching for a “transcendent function,” something that would hold them together. And what emerged in my thoughts was the medieval concept of anima mundi, or “the soul of the earth.” The Scottish landscape in which I was walking can seem so entirely different from the New Mexican landscape. One is eternally moist and verdant. The other is a high desert of sand with occasional outrageous outbursts of color and blossom. And yet in both places I breathe deeply. I inhale the soul of creation in these landscapes and am alive to its oneness. It is what Teilhard de Chardin calls the “fragrance” of the Feminine deep within the body of the earth, that quality within matter that awakens our desire for union. But the modern world, especially since the seventeenth century, has lost its awareness of the anima mundi. Matter is no longer animated by spirit. Instead, says Richard Tarnas, the universe is viewed as a “soulless vacuum.” And humanity is regarded as an exception of the cosmos. Spiritual and psychological qualities are located exclusively in the human psyche rather than in the vastness of the universe and in everything that has being. We have raised humanity into a separate category from the earth instead of seeing that we carry within ourselves the essence of the earth.

Toward the end of day in Glen Tromie, I was reveling in a sense of the anima mundi all around me. The whiteness of the landscape, the soft curves of the mountain peaks, the flow of the river were like a living body infused with soul. By now it was twilight as I headed out of the glen. But suddenly ahead of me on the path was a pack of dogs. They had picked up scent and were rushing at me full speed and angry. No one was with them. They came from the direction of the hunting lodge and kennels nearby. Clearly they had been pent up for too long and were now exploding with aggressive energy.

All my attention was focused on the big hounds at the front of the pack. I thought if I could speak to them, calling out firmly but unthreateningly, I could establish a type of relationship with them and settle them. They stopped about ten feet in front of me, still barking furiously but by now unsure what to do. Although part of me was frightened, I felt a calmness in my voice. Years of experience growing up as a boy with dogs, and the fact that the big hounds had now stopped and were listening to me, made me think I was going to be all right.

Out of the corner of my eye, I was aware of a little dog that I assumed to be a puppy. So he was of no concern to me. My focus remained on the big hounds directly in front of me. But suddenly the little dog bit me from the backside. It was not a puppy after all. It was a small terrier. He dug his teeth into the back of my leg, cutting my skin and drawing blood. It lasted but a split second and then he was gone, rejoining the others. The pack now began to disperse a little, enough at least to let me move forward. But now as I hobbled on, limping slightly at the sharp sting of the bite, I kept my eyes on the terrier as well. And soon I was safely away.

An experience of anima mundi! Never an experience to be romanticized. There are always little terriers in life that will bite our backside if we are not careful. We need to give our attetion to them as well, our concentrated attention. This is not to detract from the reality of my experience of elation in the glen — even though I will never again hike Glen Tromie without a walking stick in hand! I do not doubt that there is an anima or spiritual dimension within everything that has being, and that within each life-form is the Soul from whom we and all things come. I do believe, however, that we have to learn how to be in relationship with all things again, how to approach one another, and how to reassure each other. And we need to know the risks. We need to be aware of how fragmented the unity is and just how deeply our wholeness has been divided by fears and aggressions that have further compounded the brokenness. We need to find ways of giving real attention to one another, of entering into “genuine dialogue” with the earth and its creatures. And in all of this we need to believe again in our “incredible power to love.” It is deep within us. It is deep within everything that has being. And it alone holds the strength to redeem our relationships.

Newell, John Philip. A New Harmony. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011. | Photo by Louis Maniquet on Unsplash

Prayer and Thanksgiving

In the beginning O God
You shaped my soul and set its weave
You formed my body
and gave it breath.
Renew me this day
in the image of your love.
O great God, grant me your light
O great God, grant me your grace
O great God, grant me
your joy this day
And let me be made pure
in the well of your health.

From Celtic Prayers from Iona by John Philip Newell | Photo by Susan Izard

The Descent of the Spirit

The Descent of the Spirit by Jacques Lipchitz in the cloisters of Iona Abbey

In New Harmony, Indiana, there is a modern place of prayer that addresses [the yearning to bring back into relationship again so-called opposites…the masculine and the feminine…the humanity and the life of the earth]. It is called the Roofless Church. It has four defining walls, but there is no roof. Like the Nunnery [on Iona], it sits open to the elements. It was created under the inspiration of Jane Blaffer Owen (1915-2010), one of the most beautiful and wise women I have ever known. Over fifty years ago, well in advance of today’s earth awareness movement, Jane Owen say that our sacred sites must not be characterized by division from the creatures and from earth’s other peoples and religious traditions.

At the heart of the Roofless Church is a sculpture by the Jewish artist Jacques Lipchitz (1891-1973). It is called The Descent of the Spirit. In the form of a dove the Spirit descends onto an abstract divine feminine form that opens to give birth. At one level Lipchitz is pointing to the Jesus story, conceived by the Spirit in the womb of Mary. At another level he is pointing to the universe story. Everything is conceived by the Spirit in the womb of the cosmos. Everything is sacred.

Jane Owen met Lipchitz in New York City at the end of the Second World War through the German-American theologian Paul Tillich (1886-1965). Lipchitz had escaped Nazi-occupied France with the help of a Roman Catholic priest in Plateau d’Assy. Even before his escape, he had conceived the idea of the sculpture. In New York he shared his vision with Jane Owen. She commissioned him to create three casts of the piece. One was to be in the Roofless Church of New Harmony. The second was to be in the parish church of Assy in France. The third was to be in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

The cathedral leaders agreed in principle to feature the sculpture, but when they saw it, they refused to accept it. It was too explicit in representation of the Divine Feminine opening to give birth. So instead, as Jane Owen explained to me when I met her many years later, they commissioned another artist to create a statue of George Washington riding a horse! The young Jane Owen was upset by their refusal. She went to New York to pour our her soul to a religious sister who told her there was someone visiting from Scotland whom she should meet. His name was George MacLeod (1895-1991). He and his young Scottish community were in the midst of rebuilding Iona Abbey.

I would have loved to be there for that first meeting. Jane Owen was as formidable a feminine presence as George MacLeod was a masculine energy. They later became good friends, but on that first occasion they had only a few minutes together. Jane said to George, “The third cast belongs on Iona.” To which George replied, ” We Presbyterians would find it difficult to live with a sculpture of Our Lady, but if she were to arrive with a dowry we would find it easier to live with her.” So she arrived with a dowry, and that dowry paid for the rebuilding of the cloisters of Iona Abbey.

George MacLeod was right, of course. Scottish Presbyterians would not find it easy to live with a sculpture of Our Lady, and especially its explicit feminine birthing form. Nor would they find it easy to live with Lipchitz’s name for the piece, Our Lady of Delight. They might not know what to do with the Divine Feminine, but they also would not know what to do with delight! So MacLeod renamed the sculpture The Descent of the Spirit, and there she sits in the cloisters of Iona Abbey. Every time I see her I feel that her time has come. More and more it can be said that she belongs to this moment in time. She represents the recovery of the feminine that we are in the midst of, and with the feminine a recovery of the awareness that everything that is born is sacred.

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