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.

Pray for Peace Today

photoPeace where there is war

healing where there is hurt

memory where we have forgotten the other.

Vision where there is violence

light where there is madness

sight where we have blinded each other.

Comfort where there is sorrow

tears where there is hardness

laughter where we have missed life’s joy

laughter when we remember the joy.

John Philip Newell, Praying With the Earth (Eerdmans: Michigan) 29.


The Mother Heart of God | John Philip Newell | Celtic Spirituality | Isle of Iona

by John Philip Newell

St. Martin's Cross outside the Abbey of Iona. Photo by Caleb Dodson.

St. Martin’s Cross outside the Abbey of Iona. Photo by Caleb Dodson.

On Iona, one of the high-standing crosses in front of the abbey is St. Martin’s Cross, with its distinctive Celtic feature of cross form and circle form combined as a way of pointing to the oneness of Christ and creation. At the heart of St. Martin’s Cross, where the vertical line and the horizontal line intersect, is an image of the Mother and Child. She holds the child against her breast. She has paid the price of labor and now holds the newborn close to her. She has born the pain of giving birth. And now she will sustain the child with her own being, with the milk of her love. In the Celtic world it is said that there is a mother’s heart at the heart of God. At the heart of a mother’s heart is the willingness to make sacrifice for her child. It is a revelation of the very heart of God’s being. And it is a revelation also of the human heart made in the image of God’s heart.

photoIn Christ of the Celts I tell the story of being brushed by an eagle. I had been hiking up an arroyo in New Mexico, and as I bent to pass under a fallen pine tree, I was met by an eagle swooping in the opposite direction with a rabbit in her talons. Either she had not noticed me or was so intent on the catch that she was not bothered by my presence. So we met under the tree’s fallen trunk, and her strong wing touched my left arm. It was an exhilarating experience, to have physical contact with this untamed icon of heaven. I was aware also that it was a spiritual experience, for in Christian symbolism the eagle is associated with John the Beloved, who sees with a height of unitary vision the oneness of all things. But the most important part of the story I did not tell in Christ of the Celts, for it had not yet happened.

After my eagle experience, there was someone in particular with whom I wanted to share the story. It was Ronald Royball, a native musician and storyteller from Santa Fe. We had met years earlier, and he had told me about a life- changing dream in which a great eagle had swept down from the sky to touch his hand with its wing tip. When Ronald woke, he realized he was to be a musician, playing the native flute and sharing the wisdom of his people through music and story.

So it was Ronald whom I especially wanted to tell. He joined me for lunch close to the arroyo where I had hiked the previous year. And with some pride I told him in great detail about everything that had happened, and showed him exactly where on my arm the eagle had brushed against me. When finally I finished, Ronald said, “John Philip, I want you to think about the rabbit.The rabbit is Christ.The rabbit connected you and the eagle. The rabbit made heaven and earth one for you. And he lost his life doing so. I want you to think about the rabbit.The rabbit is Christ.” He spoke not one word to me about the eagle!

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When I heard Ronald’s words, I knew he was right. I had missed the main point of the story. Yes, of course, I shall always be thrilled to know that I was brushed by an eagle. But I would not have met the eagle without the sacrifice of the rabbit. This is not to say that every part of the story can be directly applied spiritually.The rabbit did not choose to offer itself, although Native American wisdom would probably perceive an element of choice in all of nature’s sacrifices. But Ronald’s words prompted me to ask more deeply what this experience was about. His words prompted me to ask what the costly connections are that I am to make in my life. What are the costly connections we are to make? The encounter with the eagle was a meeting also with the rabbit.

John Philip Newell, A New Harmony (Jossey-Bass: San Francisco) 162-164.

DEBUT: Ground of All Being

The music debut of the new version of Ground of All Being at Ghost Ranch on July 25, 2014. Lyrics by John Philip Newell and music arrangement from Davide E. Poole.

Prayer of Hope | John Philip Newell | Celtic Spirituality | Isle of Iona |

IMG_7940O God of life,

who chooses creation over chaos

and new beginnings over emptiness,

we bring to you the disorder of our nations and world

and the emptiness of our lives and relationships.

Bless us and the nations with the grace of creativity.

Bless us and all people with the hope of new beginnings.

John Philip Newell, Celtic Treasure: Daily Scripture and Prayer2005 (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids) 10.

Camino Reflections from Ali Newell

The Camino pilgrimage for peace was an experience that involved body soul and mind. It was about transcending difference and yet celebrating our uniqueness. Our pilgrims were 6 from Edinburgh University and 6 the US. We were from 7 different nationalities and 6 different faiths.


gathering to share stories

Our plan was to walk 120 miles of the ancient Camino pilgrimage route along the coast of Spain, the Camino del  Norte. We each carried only what we needed in small backpacks. This journey was about simplicity, getting down to the essentials, finding out what really mattered for us, walking for peace.

overlooking the sea

overlooking the sea

We began our week with a meal where we shared our intentions and ended our week with a meal where we spoke of the blessings and insights we had received   and wanted to carry away with us to share

 Some of the intentions expressed at the beginning were: ‘to be wholehearted’  ‘to listen and develop dialogue’  ‘to grow in a knowledge of oneness’ ‘to surrender to whatever happens’ ‘to become more patient’ ‘to let go and trust’ ‘to experience diversity and shared goals’ ‘to seek stillness and be still’ ‘to “take the next step” – whatever that step might be, and to be a pilgrim’ ‘to create a living art experience which holds everyone’s intention’ ‘deep trust’

There was something about walking together that invited conversation in an easy way,  that allowed for space leading to unhurried explorations of our differences, shared visions and views of what makes for peace. The simplicity of our days meant that often it was the mundane things that connected us to each other and deepened the sense of our shared humanity as much as the inspirations:  the sharing of a good blister bandage or a helpful ointment for sore feet, the finding of a good fruit shop, the noticing of the Camino scallop shell that kept us on the right path.

pausing for lunch

pausing for lunch

It was the lunches that became a symbol to me of the way hearts opened to one another as the week progressed. We started with individuals buying bread and cheese to have with their water. By the end of the week it was a shared feast, each person offering something to the common cloth spread out on the grass – olives, cheeses, tomatoes, fish, breads, peaches, strawberries, chocolate. And we became experts in discovering local fresh Spanish foods of the area.

The weaving of our lives was through often through story telling. Each participant was given a morning or afternoon opportunity to speak from their tradition or to share their scripture, songs, prayers or story. We would find a suitable spot on the way: a cliff top, in a wood, in a churchyard, up a hill, by a spring and then gather in a circle. I found myself full of anticipation to listen and learn and always we would leave room for dialogue at the end. Refreshed and inspired we would then head off on the next part of the route

We had agreed at the beginning that pre breakfast early morning yoga, tai chi or meditation would be a good way to begin our day. On the first day the only place available was a patch of grass overlooking motorways. We learned that we could manage to make do with what was possible. I remember thinking in the midst of rumbling traffic that the daisies looked amazingly bright at my feet sparkling in the freshness of the new day.

morning yoga

morning yoga

Singing to sustain us as we walked became a wonderful way of imbibing another’s spiritual tradition. We sang, feeling the harmonies echo within us, feeling the sound of the different languages, Hebrew, Hindi, Arabic, Gaelic English, Spanish.  And if singing brought us closer together so did silence. We would have a time every day to walk in stillness, attentive to the land and to what it had to teach us about the preciousness of our planet, present and mindful of   the cowbells or the waves and the rhythmic trudging of our feet.

joining Adam and Fayaz in Salat

joining Adam and Fayaz in Salat

Early in the week we joined Adam and Fayaz in Salat. We were by a well and the ablutions in the heat of the day felt refreshing as we prepared for prayer. I found touching my head to the earth and smelling the goodness of life to be a wonderful way of expressing my surrender to the Creator of all.

For many in the group it was a breaking through into different experiences of spiritual practice and this happened as we chanted Om with Piyush, shared  Jewish Shabbat on the Friday evening with Saul, shared Zikr from the Islamic faith  moving in a circle on a cliff top on the Saturday with Adam and Fayaz or yoga with Maggie, Michelle and Laura.

Being open to other pilgrims not in our group was also important. We had always thought that if other pilgrims wanted to join us for our gathered times they would be welcome. Once a young woman walked with us and sat with us during a Torah study. Her face was a picture of curiosity and pleasure. Another time an older German pilgrim sang with us and then shared a song before she walked on ahead. Another time a pilgrim called Paloma (meaning peace!) spoke to one of us of how  she and her friends had  seen us at two albergues and watched us over a couple of nights observing our circles of reflection and meditation. The atmosphere around us had touched her, she said.

evening conversation at Paula and Rueben's albuerga

evening conversation at Paula and Rueben’s albuerga

It was half way through the week at Paula’s albergue that our discussion around the table reached a new depth. It was over difference and how we made room for each other without excluding one another. There was real honesty, tears shed, laughter and a sense of caring and compassion and everyone contributed as the different reflections speaking of the dinner  below show

……. ‘I had never before had the privilege to be a part of such an honest, challenging, and yet deeply respectful conversation. I find it’s so easy to get defensive, or offensive, and to shut yourself off to what someone else might have to say. But to sit around a table with other people who were so ready and willing to really listen and be open to what everyone had to say was an amazing honor.’

……… ‘ at dinner when members share their inner words. Almost everybody cried. I was shocked and deeply touched by the honesty  and sincerity and how powerful they are :breaking the ice. We should be very honest with ourselves and others.’

…….. ‘an incredibly organic, honest, and beautiful sharing occurred from every member of the group…. genuine community ..…It was something I knew to be possible, had sought for years, and finally felt that evening.’

…… ‘I don’t think I had ever been involved in such an honest, mind opening, heart-opening discussion with a large group of people. Each person spoke straight from their heart and it was so inspiring. On that evening I understood really and truly on a deep level how God is in everyone and that it doesn’t matter what path each person is on. I realised at the level of my heart that every human being is different, each of us is at a different stage in our spiritual growth and so no spiritual path is higher or lower than any other. They are just different paths to the same destination.’

……. ‘The conversation started due to trying to respect differences religion-to-religion while at the same time trying to respect differences within each religion… while at the same time trying to respect an individual’s life choices. It really resulted in an exposure of some of each person’s deepest feelings and troubles, and (re-)established an extremely deep trust between the pilgrims. It was hard and it was emotional, but it was certainly the most memorable moment, and the best part of the week’s experience for me as well. While it was difficult, it also made me fall in love with my fellow pilgrims.’

…….. ‘Our conversation was marked for me by deep listening and thoughtful words, by a safety for vulnerability, an awareness of our oneness as a group, and by peace.’

We had chosen not to arrive at the medieval pilgrimage destination, but to walk part of the way of the 6 week Camino together. We understood that we were not arriving anywhere but discovering together along the way,  and our way was filled sometimes with beauty and hope (Michelle was a constant reminder of that as she carried the 16th baby pilgrim within her with such joy,) and sometimes the dirt and dust of industrial surroundings  reminded us  of  struggle,  hard work,  and the environmental issues of our time.

The surprises and the spontaneous moments were part of the joy

learning new songs and chants

learning new songs and chants

A wonderful moment came after asking the pilgrims to teach each other their sacred songs or chants. Saul, a Jew from the University of Edinburgh had just taught us a song in Hebrew and we walked down a rolling hill through pastures and into a little green valley, singing and singing. At the bottom of the hill, the two Muslims in our group, Fayaz and Adam came running up from behind, their eyes bright with something to share. It turned out that they recognized the tune! In fact, the exact tune of Saul’s Hebrew chant was one that they knew very well, but with different words and in Arabic. We sensed this deep sense of connection between these three as they discovered this common thread. And as if the story was made for a movie, Piyush, who is Hindu and originally from India, also recognized the tune as it was made popular by a famous musician who spans that part of the world. All of this spoke to the Oneness for which we were walking. The power of building relationships,  the practice of walking, prayer and singing. Even something as seemingly insignificant as the melody of a song pointed us to the reality that we all come from the One.

After a few weeks the pilgrims sent in their learnings from the Peace pilgrimage:

‘….One part of the profound impact the pilgrimage had on me was realizing that I can fall deeply in love with a range of faith traditions without compromising my Christian faith. Prior to the pilgrimage I questioned whether it was possible to go beyond coexisting with multiple traditions, to a place of experiencing and loving other traditions, without watering them all down.  My answer came our first day on the Camino as our entire group engaged in salat.  Throughout the week the answer came again and again with a resounding YES!’

‘….. One of my biggest take aways, however, is my restored belief in the possibility of change. The other group members, who in their own ways are all thoughtful, compassionate, caring people dedicated to working for peace, reminded me that when we come together and actually listen to one other, great things are possible.’

the way

the way

‘….I had this notion that Christianity (or at least the versions of Presbyterianism with which I have been associated) was missing vital practices confirmed, as I looked at those around me engaged in deep personal and corporate practices.  I am encouraged to try and cultivate this within folks of my tradition.’

‘….what I wasn’t prepared for was the depth of those emotions and the reality of those experiences. That they had the power to transform oneself.’

‘….I realised that I am a very reserved person, and this has had a large impact on me. I would like to be much more open. This is something that I pledged to do at the Newell’s flat on the last day: to be more truthful with others in my life. I am going to try to speak my mind much more often, and tell people who I love that I love them! Also, I definitely rediscovered my singing voice!’

‘….I came on one of Europe’s oldest Christian Pilgrimage routes as a Hindu. I experienced the truth that I am a Hindu because I was born as one. But I could also have been born a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim, a Jain, a Buddhist, a Sikh… and yet be No More or No Less Spiritual…& No Less Blessed a Human who completely surrenders to the Will of the Divine! It was a truly life changing experience and a heart warming journey of peace and unity in our troubled,   skeptic times…’

‘….Respecting and appreciating diversities and keeping the mind open. Gaining inspirations through dialogues and listening, Keep on exploring how religion and spirituality can have a positive impact on people, life, society and the world. I may seek a chance to do  PHD studies focusing on spiritual education and see in the future whether I can introduce such kind of program into China’                

‘….There are many ways to God as there are souls on this Earth’

‘…..That I can be true to my religious heritage and still open myself to all the others. My tradition is not dulled by an experience with another tradition; rather it is made more vibrant’

‘…..that the experience of sharing traditions, practices, hopes and dreams leads us not to a shallower, but a deeper truth.’

….. ‘One thing I am taking away are the reflections which began and ended our time together: our intentions and the ways in which we each want to be a blessing in the world. I am grateful for this way of framing our time because it acknowledges that while there is a common thread that brought us and keeps us together, we were all there for different reasons,.The pilgrimage has left me with a re-focused intention to live as truthfully as I can, to live with the bold honesty which I, and I believe our world, are craving.’

‘……I could not have imagined getting the chance to share so deeply with a group of such wonderful people. I have never before felt so at ease with people, knowing that each individual was totally accepted for who they are by every other member of the group. Everyone was different and had their own inspiring story to share and yet the bond that was formed between us was so strong. I am truly grateful for having had the opportunity to walk alongside each one of the other pilgrims. Thank you!’

…….’It was enriching, it was life-transforming’

‘He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.’  Isaiah 2:4



Morning Prayer for Light | Camino de Santiago | John Philip Newell

John Philip Newell shares a morning Prayer for Light during the 2014 Camino Peace Pilgrimage.

For Waking Again | John Philip Newell | Celtic Spirituality | Praying With the Earth | Ghost Ranch

IMG_5285.JPGFor the gift of this new day

for waking again from the dreams of the night

for our bodies strengthened and our minds renewed

thanks be to you, O God.

You are the stillness of the night

You are the genesis of the morning

You are the moistness of new conception.

Let there be peace in the human soul

let there be wakings to new consciousness

let there be tears of love.

In the life of the world this day

and in our own hearts

let there be fresh tears of love.

John Philip Newell, Praying With the Earth (Eerdmans: Michigan)

O God of New Beginnings | John Philip Newell | Isle of Iona | Celtic Spirituality

_MG_5379.JPGO God of new beginnings,

who brings light out of night’s darkness

and fresh green out of the hard winter earth,

there is barren land between us as people and as nations this day,

there are empty stretches of soul within us.

Give us eyes to see new dawnings of promise.

Give us ears to hear fresh soundings of birth.

John Philip Newell, Celtic Treasure: Daily Scripture and Prayer2005 (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids) 100.

Praise from Marcus Borg | The Rebirthing of God | John Philip Newell | Isle of Iona | Celtic Spirituality

Marcus Borg

Marcus Borg

 “Occasionally I read a book that leads me to think, ‘I wish I had written that.’ This is one of those books.”

—Marcus Borg, author, The Heart of Christianity and Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, among other books
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