Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Listerning to the Heartbeat of God

J. Philip Newell is a popular writer on Celtic spirituality. Of Newell's many books, one of his best is Listening to the Heartbeat of God (1997). It's a wonderful introduction to the magic and depth of Celtic Christianity, and dicsusses some of the major themes in the history of the Celtic Church.

The book explores how one of the major tragedies of the Synod of Whitby was that one "brand" of spirituality was dsiplaced by another (Celtic vs. Roman) where both could have existed together. The Celtic mission was inspired by the apostle John, who embodied the practice of listening. The Roman mission took Peter as a symbol for faithful action. This became a contrast between listening to the heartbeat of God in the heart of life vs. the teaching and life of the Church.

The first chapter discusses the importance of listening for goodness, and is represented by Pelagius, the first great Celtic theologian. Pelagius was involved in several theological controversies. One centered around the practice of teaching women to read, and that the image of God could be seen in the face of a newborn child. Pelagius's teachings on the goodness of human nature contrasted sharped with the negativity and pessimism of St. Augustine.

Chapter two focuses on listening to Creation. John Scotus Eriugena may have been the greatest teacher the Celtic Church ever produced. A central part of Eriugena's teachings was that Christ is revealed in two major books or forms: Creation and in Holy Scripture. Key elements to Eriquena's theology are the mysticism of the Apostle John, who he described as "the observer of inmost truth". For Eriugena, God is in all things, and at the very core of life. Such a view has been termed "panentheism", or "God in all things".

The third theme, listening for God in all things, revolves around the Carmina Gadelica, a collection of oral prayers by Alexander Carmichael. These prayers are noted for their ordinary contexts, and prayers in every imaginal situation. The collection means "songs of the Gales" and celebrates God as the "King of the Elements". Carmichael actually went to different parts of Scotland and recorded many prayers and songs which had never been written down.

Newell's book is one which every person interested in Celtic Christianity should buy and read. It's a short book, easy to read, and one worth reading over and over again. It presents some of the major themes and personalities who helped shape Celtic or insular Christianity. I cited the book perviously as one of my top ten books on Celtic Christianity. For more on J. P. Newell visit his website linked  here.

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