In The Rebirthing of God, Celtic peacemaker John Philip Newell prompts readers to think in fresh new ways by inviting us on a long stroll across the island of Iona. Along the way, he views connection as the ground of true relationship, describing eight essential elements: Reconnecting with Earth, Compassion, the Light, the Journey, Spiritual Practice, Nonviolence, the Unconscious, and Love. Newell’s genius is how generously he conveys, almost inhabits, the wisdom of numerous faith traditions through his own relationships with spiritual guides ranging from Julian of Norwich and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin to Thomas Berry, M. K. Gandhi, and Aung San Suu Kyi. With dashing fluency, Newell sees the Light in each, illustrating how “bringing our heart into union with the heart of the other is the basis of true freedom.”
Theological writings can often seem flat, but Newell conveys a rounded unexpectedness. In the introduction, he describes Carl Jung’s dream of “an enormous turd” smashing the cathedral and a seasoned midwife explaining how the turd nearly always comes before the birth. “What is the new thing that is trying to emerge from deep within us and deep within the collective soul of Christianity?” he asks. “What is it that [Christians] need to let go of to prepare the way for new birthing?”
In chapter five, “Reconnecting with Spiritual Practice,” he quotes Thomas Merton, whose mother was a Quaker: “‘God is shining … in people and in things and in nature and in events.’ The problem is, ‘We don’t see it.’ Spiritual practice … is about training our inner vision to remain alert to the glory at the heart of every moment.”
In chapter three, “Reconnecting with the Light,” he cites Mary Oliver as a “great prophet of Light in our modern world.” “A poet who sees ‘the light at the center of every cell.’” Newell writes of “a sibling relationship with everything that exists. The Light we glimpse in the trees, in the creatures, in the eyes of another, is the Light that is also within us.”
In chapter eight, “Reconnecting with Love,” Newell quotes Simone Weil: “Love is a direction … not a state of soul.” Weil followed Love, he writes, “by giving up our imaginary position as the center of the universe and finding that the true center is everywhere. It is about dying to the way in which our ego … tries stubbornly to be in charge.” Newell said she practiced a meditation where she sought “absolutely unmixed attention,” or “an attention so full that the ‘I’ disappears.”
Instead of arguing with Nones who can’t find spiritual center, Newell serenely encircles readers with illustrations of how the Holy Center already surrounds us. How can we support one another in embodying the ever-new life of the Source? “Love is the true sacrament of wellbeing.” “Rebirth,” he concludes, “will mean a resurrection of love.”
Faith-based groups in Pasadena, Calif., are already immersed in studying The Rebirthing of God. The only thing that could increase its pleasure for this reader would be an enclosed CD to hear the author’s lyrical Scot-accented cadence.