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”




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

Prayer of Awareness

All things come from you, O God,
and to you we return.
All things emerge in your great river of life
and into you we vanish again.
At the beginning of this day
we wake
not as separate streams
but as countless currents in a single flow
the flow of this day’s dawning
the flow of this day’s delight
the flow of this day’s sorrows
your flow, O God,
in the twisting and turnings of this new day.

Be still and aware. 

From Praying with the Earth by John Philip Newell | Photo by Karin Baard

The First Breath of Day


It is in the depths of life that we find you
at the heart of this moment
at the centre of our soul
deep in the earth and its eternal stirrings.
You are the Ground of all being
the Well-Spring of time
Womb of the earth
the Seed-Force of stars.
And so at the opening of this day
we wait
not for blessings from afar
but for You
the very Soil of our soul
the early Freshness of morning
the first Breath of day.

Be still and aware

John Philip Newell | Praying with the Earth | Photo by Jonas Weckschmied on Unsplash


John Muir Pilgrimage Reflection from Ali Newell

In May, John Philip and Ali Newell led a group of University of Edinburgh faculty and students on a two-day pilgrimage along the John Muir Way in Scotland. Below is a reflection from Ali about their time together, and after her reflection you’ll also find a short video made by one of the participants, Adam Hussein.
John Muir Way in Scotland | Photo by Ali Newell

John Muir Way in Scotland | Photo by Ali Newell

I would say there is no better way to reconnect to our Mother Earth and to know her as gift than to go for a walk!

John Muir said, ‘Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves’ (John Muir, Our National Parks: 1901).

For two days, eighteen staff and students at Edinburgh University walked thirty two miles of the John Muir Way in Scotland. Our pilgrimage route took us along the coastal route from Aberlady Bay to North Berwick and then inland before finishing at John Muir’s birthplace in Dunbar.

We listened to John Philip expand on John Muir readings along the way reminding us of Muir’s prophetic vision of ecological consciousness arising from Muir’s study and deep appreciation of nature. As we stood amongst blue forget-me-nots surrounded by trees in a magical wood, Muir’s words written about a different forest connected also for us.

John Philip Newell on the John Muir Way in Scotland

John Philip Newell on the John Muir Way in Scotland | Photo by Glen Cousquer

‘Few are altogether deaf to the preaching of pine trees. Their sermons on the mountains go to our hearts; and if people in general could be got into the woods, even for once, to hear the trees speak for themselves, all difficulties in the way of forest preservation would vanish’ (John Muir,  The National Parks and Forest Reservations).

Glen Cousquer, our wilderness guide helped us pause and notice as he introduced us to the birds, animals and plants of the area – the whole hidden world alive around us.

‘How many hearts with warm red blood in them are beating under cover of the woods, and how many teeth and eyes are shining! A multitude of animal people, intimately related to us, but of whose lives we know almost nothing, are as busy about their own affairs as we are about ours’(John Muir, Our National Parks: 1901, Chapter 1).

Glen also brought home how much the ecosystem was affected by the farming and the many golf courses around us and drew our attention to the importance of the Aberlady Bay nature reserve and other Scottish conservation areas.


John Muir Way in Scotland | Photo by Ali Newell

John Muir wrote powerfully about the thoughtless destruction of the natural environment and campaigned tirelessly for wilderness parks.

‘These temple-destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and instead of lifting their eyes to the God of the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar Dam, in the valley HetchHetchy. As well dam for water-tanks the people’s cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man’ (John Muir, The Yosemite: 1912, Chapter 15).

Our contemplative times in silence on the pilgrimage were opportunities to take time to value more deeply the sights and sounds around us and be present to nature’s healing and reenergising power.

‘Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike’
(John Muir, The Yosemite: 1912, Page 256).

At Canty Bay where we stopped overnight, we had an amazing meal of vegetarian haggis and rhubarb crumble prepared by two French students, Tiffany and Pela. The food was locally sourced, fresh and organic and, for us weary pilgrims, it was a taste of heaven. In the evening, Beth led us in a beautiful earth-honoring liturgy round a fire on the beach. In the mist, Adam danced a piece on the sand which he had choreographed for the pilgrimage. We listened to Donald playing fiddle tunes (Muir loved fiddle music and ballads) and then as a full moon rose over the hill, we had nothing to do but gaze and join the moon in its prayer of light.

Donald fiddles for the group on the beach | Photo by Ali Newell

Donald fiddles for the group on the beach | Photo by Ali Newell

‘My fire was in all its glory about midnight, and, having made a bark shed to shelter me from the rain and partially dry my clothing, I had nothing to do but look and listen and join the trees in their hymns and prayers’ 
(John Muir, Travels in Alaska: 1915, Chapter 2).

 On the second day we finished at John Muir’s birthplace to remember his prophetic gift to Scotland and North America and paused at the end to become aware of what environmental actions or campaigning or change in lifestyle we might like to take as a result of spending time on the John Muir way.

Looking back on our time together, one of our reflections afterwards about the second day was that we would have preferred slowing down more as the pace was very challenging. Muir had something interesting to say about just that which relates to pilgrimage and its sense of walking in order to value what is sacred.

‘Albert Palmer tells of a conversation he had with John Muir on the trail. He asked Muir, “Someone told me you did not approve of the word hike. Is that so? Muir’s blue eyes flashed, and with his Scottish accent he replied: “I don’t like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains – not hike! Do you know the origin of that word ‘saunter?’ It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, ‘A la sainte terre,’ ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them’ (John Muir, as quoted by Albert W. Palmer,  The Mountain Trail and its Message).

Ali Newell

Film by Adam Hussein on the John Muir Way in Scotland, May 2018


Rob Bell Interviews John Philip Newell


In February, Rob Bell and John Philip Newell got together again for a riveting night of conversation, contemplation, and, when Rob Bell is involved, of course laughter. Recorded live at Largo – a stalwart and intimate music and comedy club in Los Angeles – their conversation was then converted into an episode of Rob Bell’s podcast, The RobCast. When these two teachers get talking, it’s electric. And it doesn’t hurt that they enjoy being together!

This interview uses John Philip’s book Christ of the Celts as an anchoring point, but covers a wide range of topics – original sin, the true meaning of being “born again”, the diaspora of the Christian household, grace, and more. Trust us – you don’t want to miss this stimulating, thought provoking, and at times delightfully glib and cheerful conversation.

Here’s what Rob Bell has to say about John Philip Newell:

“There are distinct moments in your life when somebody came along and their words were exactly what you needed for that next stage of your path…either they were showing you what’s possible at the exact moment you needed it or they gave language to the thing that you’ve been feeling but didn’t know what to call it…I discovered JPN a couple of years ago and when I started reading him, I was just overwhelmed..He seemed to be naming things that I had been feeling but didn’t have the depth or understanding for.”

And John Philip Newell on Rob Bell:

“I love Rob Bell, his open-eyed wonder at life, his understanding of pain and struggle, and his faith-filled capacity to keep unfolding. And, not least of all, he is more fun than any spiritual teacher I have known.”


  • Listen on Rob Bell’s website here.
  • Listen on your favorite Podcast app by searching for RobCast and looking for Episode 203, released on July 2, 2018, titled “Live from Largo with John Philip Newell”.