“The Celtic mission, inspired by John, remembered him as the beloved disciple who leaned against Jesus at the Last Supper. He had become an image of the practice of listening for the heartbeat of God. This spirituality lent itself to listening for God at the heart of life.”
Listening for the Heartbeat of God – A Celtic Spirituality, Page 1, Introduction
by John Philip Newell
Another Lent has come and gone. Another Holy Week. Another Good Friday. Another Holy Saturday. Another Easter Sunday liturgy and lamb dinner. And now I find myself in Easter Week. Even now the lilies and daffodils are showing signs of a slight wilting. Flowers wilt when they are cut from the earth-source and placed in stone churches.
Winters, water and dead trees make soil. Soil is life, is food, is a source of life on this blue and green planet which floats so miraculously among grey orbs of cosmos after cosmos after cosmos of seemingly lifeless swirling round rocks. The miracle is of the earth’s tilt, just so, at an angle, just so, at a distance from a burning star, just so. All so that life sprouts forth in a dance of water, carbon, rock, and soil in light and night rotations. Amazing. Better than any stained glass.
A flower which could live in its nest of roots and earth in a garden flooded with natural sunlight, sourced by rivulets of rain, nourished by rotting this’s and that’s in the earth formed from freeze and thaw, freeze and thaw, freeze and thaw over millions of years as the cycles of winters and Springs break wood apart splinter by splinter as water freezes and thaws, forcing wood bits apart to make the soil from which that daffodil and lily sprout and grow. Amazing. Better than any sermon.
I admit, it is more than awkward to be an “ordained priest” in a church build on St. Peter’s hierarchy, only to have come to the impolite and impolitic conclusion that the church’s creeds and sacraments were partly designed to give clergy influence over frightened people. Such thoughts expressed make one unpopular in the councils of the church.
But our society is changing. Organizations like the Institute for the Future are proving Pelagius right these six centuries later as Generations X and Y join younger Boomers in the rejection of church hierarchy as a model for religious and spiritual life. With the death of the Silent Generation will come the death of pledging and tithing as the church has always known it (and relied on it.) These younger generations are not doing battle with church hierarchy. They are simply, gently, quietly starving it to death.
The church is not changing. The church is not dying. The church is simply molting into a new form. Could it be that Celtic spirituality – “a listening for God in the heart of life” as John Philip defines it, may be there to catch a church beginning its free-fall from power? Could it be that little seeds planted in theological soil and fertilized by the dead leaves of ancient prayers preserved in the Carmina Gadelica and of rotting corpses of generations of faithful people praying at Hebridean hearths for centuries… could it be that the little seeds planted in ancient soils by “heretics” like Pelagius and Alexander Scott, “ecclesial rejects” like Columba and great female ecclesial diplomatic “game-loosers” like Hilda of Whitby – could it be that they are sprouting anew just at the right moment to catch the Church in its free-fall? Not unlike planet at just the right tilt for life to sprout.
I think so. I do. There is grief when anything we love begins to die. We need not choose between listening to the Church Catholic and listening to God-in-creation. There is room for both. But a new day is dawning as new generations of people are finding God in forests glades and friendship circles as much as in chapels and cathedrals.
The questions which all of this implies is this: “To what do I listen when seeking love and what practice sets up my listening?” For me, it is God whispering in a stream, whinnying in a horse, tinkling in a rain-fall, laughing in my Black Lab’s smile when I scratch his rear end above his tail, wood crackling in a hearth, even ice tinkling in my scotch.
Yes. I am jealous of John. I want, more than anything in the whole, wide world, to lay my head on Jesus’ chest, feel moisture and hairs, and hear God’s b-thump, b-thump, b-thump of divine heartbeat. But the skin and ribs and breastbone of Jesus are not available to me. And yet, when I sit, daily, in my prayer time or walk the orchards of this farm biting into her apples or meet with friends around a fire to chat about the Christian way, I sense a kind of listening akin to John’s. And that is the future of faith on planet earth.