Nuggets From John Philip Newell's Call
Posted by Owen O on Jul 17, 2021
John Philip Newell is a modern-day Celtic bard and spiritual teacher in the prophetic tradition who communicates across religion and race, in the footsteps of other “wandering” Celtic teachers over the centuries. He writes and speaks eloquently on behalf of a “New-Ancient” way of seeing with the heart, of a cosmology in harmony – stressing that what we do to a part, we do to the whole, whether in family, state, or natural world. He advocates for a wellness that is founded not in isolation, but in relationship with each other and with the earth. With a growing sense of his own spiritual exile, Newell in 2020 relinquished his ordination as minister of the Church of Scotland, invoking Gandhi's "No" to oppression to express his “No” to the church’s denial of the sacredness of the earth and of all peoples, and his “Yes” to the Unity of life.
Below are some of the nuggets from the call that stood out for me ...
This conversation coincides with the release of John Philip’s latest book, Sacred Earth Sacred Soul.
John Philip was raised in a very evangelical conservative Christian tradition. He has moved beyond that tradition today, but what he learned from that was attentiveness to the heart. This attentiveness to the heart is what he draws from when in dialogue with people from other faith traditions.
Pelagius, a Celtic Christian theologian from the 4th Century, refers to the ‘sacredness of the soul’ - he is perhaps the most misunderstood Christian teacher of all time. He has been the boogieman of Christian theology. He said that what is deepest within us is ‘of’ God, rather than ‘opposed’ to God. Augustine of Hippo was one of the earliest originator of the Doctrine of Original Sin - what is deepest within us is opposed to God.
Pelagius is not speaking of the soul in dualistic terms, such as Soul and Body, typical of much of Western thought and culture, he is speaking of what is essential within us, the spark of the divine deep within us and deep within all things, a subterranean stream that runs through us and through all things, and if that flow were stopped then all things would cease to exist, it is the very essences of things that have being.
The light I’m seeing now in your eyes is a sacred light. When we look into the face of a new born child we are looking into the face of God, freshly born among us.
This had radical implications for Pelagius and The Empire didn’t like that in him. If we are saying that every life from is sacred, then that radically challenge how we view ‘the other’, how we care for the body of the Earth and every lifeform.
At that time, Christianity had got into bed with Empire and was teaching doctrines that were convenient to Empire. His being pushed out was as driven by Empire as it was by Church.
One of the beautiful things of the Celtic Christian stream was that the pre-Christian was honored and Christ was seen as a continuation of that stream rather than cutting it off.
Pelagius was accused of spending too much time with women in Rome, teaching them to read and learn scripture. The Empire at the time found it unacceptable to teach women. The place of women in leadership in the Celtic Christian stream was well honored as was the spirit of the sacred feminine, within the earth around us and within us ourselves. The attraction of the oneness of relationship, rather than seeing us in separateness to the world.
On Saint Brigid
The academic in John Phillip thought that he wasn’t able to access the figure of Brigid, that tradition of Scottish Rationalism that said that there were no writings from her own hand. But we have lots of legends and stories, and he realized that it’s not a matter of who Brigid was, but who has she become. The Celtic world sees the imagination as the faculty of knowing that enables us to do the interweaving that Brigid is so celebrated for as a threshold, liminal figure between energies and forms.
Imagination allows us to see one another and the earth in ways we have never seen it before.
Brigid is vibrantly alive within the imagination of us all. She stands at meeting places between so called opposites.
One of the really important aspect of Brigid one is the place of welcome for those who are seeking refuge and sanctuary. The plight of refugees is one of the critical issues facing us as people. Are we going to recognize the refugee family as sacred?
Brigid emerges from out unconscious during these critical times that require reimagination.
She shows us the importance of disobedience or not waiting for permission. She gave away the butter of her parents to passersby. And gave her father sword to a beggar. Her father complained to the king that she does things without asking permission.
That’s why we need her. It’s so important that we don’t wait for the authorities of culture, religion or our nature to cross these boundaries that have separated us, to give people security and safety.
On the Island of Iona
On the island they say, ‘pray until the tears come’.
Iona has about it something of the freshness of the first day of creation, something very pure in that edge of the Atlantic. Even the name, the etymology, one of the possibilities is that it comes from Í Shona - the island of light. This is a place where we access the almost unbelievable glory of the sun rise and sun set.
Iona is a ‘thin place’ - there’s a transparency there, almost like an icon, to see through to the sacredness that is everywhere. Not a place to cling to, but a place to renew this inner seeing. When we return to our lives we come back with a renewed seeing.
Iona asks us to get in touch with the brokenness of life. Part of that experience is to be closer to tears toward the wrongness that is being done to all life.
It was a sacred island long before the 6th Century. It was sacred to the ancient Druidic cultures.
Hildegaard of Bingen of the 14th Century trained in a Celtic monastic site in Germany. She said we need to learn to fly with two wings of awareness. One is the awareness of life’s beauty and the other of life’s brokenness and pain. If we try to fly with just one of those wings then we will be like an eagle unable to reach the heights of new perspective.
John Philip is a self-proclaimed Siesta Fundamentalist. He takes a little nap every day and awakes refreshed and anew, which he says he learned in India.
In a siesta dream once, a beautiful Indian woman sat over him on the bed, leaned over him and looked in his eyes and she said ‘my mother said that I have always loved you.’ He experienced the channeling of the Divine Feminine through this figure. The fact that she was Indian was no mistake. He learned mediation in India. A trip to India that opened various dimensions with him.
It’s been a great delight as father to see one of my daughters live even more deeply in the confluence between East and West.
The ancient Indo-European migration -We often hear in the Celtic worlds something of the wisdom of ancient India. It’s so meaningful to see my daughter dance that relationship.
In his daughter’s film of dance, she collaborated with Indian and Scottish dancers and musicians and there was great excitement of what is shared in the cultures. So much of the shadow form of masculine power has arrayed itself against the feminine and against the earth.
Think of the enormous swollen ego of the American or British empire, exploiting other nations on behalf of us. Or the human species that we have inflated ourselves that it is alright to exploit the earth and other species for our advancement.
The use of the imagination is a liberation from the ego. Remembering what our deepest root is, to be made of God is to be made of the great Dreamer.
Saint Brendan is emerging again for us, especially in the poetry of Kenneth White carrying this vision of belief. We will be led into re-wording the world. Saint Brendan speaks of the willingness to journey into the unknown, according to legend he was the first to cross the Atlantic, long before Columbus or the Viking legends.
How do we know Truth amidst the fog of disinformation and propaganda?
Pelagius tells us of the importance of the Anam Cara - the soul friend. This can be a friend in person or a community. How do we show ourselves to the lover of our should. A person without a soul friend is like a body without a head. Show everything to your soul friend. Hide nothing.
Lots of gratitude to all the behind-the-scenes volunteers that made this call happen!