Sunday, November 27, 2011
Living in harmony with the world and with each other
A review of John Philip Newell’s A New Harmony: The Spirit, The Earth, and The Human Soul. Jossey-Bass, 2011. Hardback, $19.95
John Philip Newell thinks in terms of the interconnectedness of all things, from the most microscopic to the cosmic. There is nothing and no one that is unimportant. As Scottish poet Kenneth White so beautifully puts it, “My thanks for this handful of April days / for the white wind blowing / for the dark earth and the tangled grass / and the woman beside me walking.”
The feeling is one of utter connection with everything. It is where Newell began his journey many years ago as he began exploring the Celtic Christianity that once bloomed in the British Isles before it was nearly eradicated by the Roman Church with its top-down, otherworldly structure.
For most of us raised, as I was, in Western religious and intellectual traditions, learning to see ourselves as connected with everything else that exists requires a radical shift in understanding and worldview. It means moving radically away from viewing our lives in individualistic/tribalistic terms and learning to see our lives as interconnected. “Our lives are part of the cosmos, and the cosmos is part of us. The life of humanity is not an appendix or an exception to the universe. It is a unique expression of the universe. And each of us carries the essence of the cosmos within it” (pages xi, xii). Quite a leap from the old Gospel song that goes “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through” in which nothing and no one has any significance and “reality” is “somewhere beyond the blue” where our “treasures” are “stored up” for us. I found this not only unsatisfying, I found it deeply depressing; ultimately, I rejected it and with it, spirituality.
The imperative of the gospel, as the Celtic Church saw it, is one of learning to follow the way of love in our relationship with the world, with one another, with all other beings, and with the cosmos. As Pelagius is quoted as saying: “If we look with God's eyes, nothing on earth is ugly." “The danger,” Newell maintains, “has been to take our eyes off the imperative to love” in the most radical of ways in which we recognize and celebrate our interrelatedness with every other human being, every other species, and the world and the cosmos of which we are a part. “To truly love one’s family is to love the essence of every family. To truly love one’s nation is to enter a ‘genuine dialogue’ with the heart of every nation” and “to truly love God is to look for the sacred in everything that has being” (page 123).
This is a book that you’ll read more than once.
A clear 5 star read.