J Philip Newell invites us all: Open our eyes in prayer


OPEN “eyes of wonder.”

OPEN “our eyes to strengthen our will and our loving.”

“May the sparks of God’s beauty dance in the eyes of those we love.”

Those are just three lines from the new book of prayers that writer and teacher John Philip Newell is carrying on a long, global pilgrimage this year. He’s best known for his years at Iona Abbey and his books celebrating Celtic traditions within Christianity, such as “Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality.” Newell’s family home is in Edinburgh, Scotland, but he is a restless pilgrim, often teaching and leading retreats around the world. That’s John Philip in a 2009 photo above wearing his ever-present scarf, a practice he picked up after illness during his childhood in a rough northern climate. Next to him in the photo above is singer-songwriter Fran McKendree, who also is a restless Christian activist and most recently contributed a kite-flying story to ReadTheSpirit. They are standing in a prayer circle Newell designed in the high desert of Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico.

You will hear more from John Philip in our Wednesday interview this week, but today we’re introducing his Praying for Peace initiative.

John Philip Newell’s Praying for Peace Initiative—in his words:

IN AN INTERVIEW LAST WEEK WITH ReadTheSpirit, JOHN PHILIP SAID—This initiative was born in January in discussion with people who gathered in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I told them that I have become so aware that the shadow side of Christianity, Islam and Judaism is at the heart of some of the most conflicted places of hatred and violence in our world. I’m feeling passionately that without peace in the Abrahamic household, we are undermining any hope to see peace between us as nations. That passion led to the writing of this new book of prayers that we are releasing soon.

As we met in New Mexico, we talked about spreading this word this year, and I came to realized that what we are talking about is larger than just connecting people with one new book of prayers. We must invite people to help us launch an entire movement of praying for peace. Coming out of that consultation in New Mexico, I shifted the focus of much of my travel schedule for 2011—much of which already had been planned before we met in January. I had accepted many invitations to teach in 2011 and, of course, I love doing that. But now, in this Praying for Peace movement, I realize that I am compelled, first and foremost, to pray with people. Yes, to pray within the Christian household, because I am a part of the Christian household. But also, to pray with men and women within the Jewish and the Muslim households across the family of Abraham.

As I travel through the rest of 2011, I am planning to gather with people from the entire household of Abraham and pray for peace together. In addition to the existing events you see listed on my website, I am now planning additional time for visits to places where Christians, Jews and Muslims can gather and pray together. So, keep watching that page for additional news. For example, now I am in conversation with a church in New York City about the possibility of praying for peace as a contribution to all that will unfold in September in New York as we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

How to Begin Your Own Prayer: “Open my eyes to …”

John Philip Newell’s teaching on prayer mirrors the advice of the famed Bible translator Eugene Peterson, who teaches that a pastor’s role is to help people see clearly what is happening around them, and the wisdom of the late Cesar Chavez, whose most famous prayer calls for vision as well.

Please, start writing your own prayer with the words, “Open my eyes to …”
Email [email protected] to share your words with readers. We plan to publish such prayers to help launch this national effort that John Philip Newell is leading.

Keep reading our website throughout this week for more examples of people contributing to this effort!

To inspire you to write—and to email us—here is just one brief example from the many prayers written or adapted by John Philip Newell for his new prayer book, “Praying with the Earth.” This prayer illustrates the crucial role of vision in John Philip’s own approach to prayer:

By John Philip Newell

Whichever way we turn, O God, there is your face
in the light of the moon and patterns of stars
in scarred mountain rifts and ancient groves
in mighty seas and creatures of the deep.
Whichever way we turn, O God, there is your face
in the light of eyes we love
in the salt of tears we have tasted
in weathered countenances east and west
in the soft skin glow of the child everywhere.
Whichever way we turn, O God, there is your face
There is your face
among us.

To keep this collective outreach simple—please, start your own prayer from the words, “Open my eyes to …” and email us what you write here at [email protected]

YOU CAN ORDER JOHN PHILIP NEWELL’S NEW PRAYER BOOK, which contains a full cycle of daily prayers to be used in the Praying for Peace initiative, “Praying with the Earth: A Prayerbook for Peace.” Due to delays at a printing plant, the book is not yet available for delivery, but you can click on the title link and pre-order it from Amazon—so it will arrive as soon the books finally are printed.

In the summer of 2011, Jossey-Bass will publish a more in-depth book about spirituality by John Philip Newell, “A New Harmony: The Spirit, the Earth, and the Human Soul,” which you also can pre-order from Amazon now by clicking on the title. At ReadTheSpirit, we already have previewed a manuscript of this book and can tell you now: It’s great for small group discussion and describes in detail Newell’s vision of where our faith is leading us around the world.

We want our international conversation to continue

Conversation is far better than the dangerous shouting matches we’ve been witnessing in our global culture. So, please, email us at [email protected] and tell us what you think of our stories—and, please tell a friend to start reading along with you!

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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.

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