Interview with Brent Bill, Beth Booram on ‘Awaken …’

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0125_ALONG_THE_SHORE_RODNEY_CURTIS.jpgAlong the Shore … Photograph by Rodney Curtis.This week, we are introducing an innovative book by veteran retreat leaders and spiritual guides J. Brent Bill and Beth Booram called, Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God.
IN PART 1 of our coverage
, we gave readers an overview of this book for individuals, small groups and congregational leaders—plus, we published an excerpt by authors Brent Bill and Beth Booram.
TODAY, IN PART 2
, you’ll meet Brent and Beth in our weekly author interview and learn how best to use this buffet of spiritual ideas they have published, designed to light up sight, sound, touch, smell and taste.
AND: Enjoying the beautiful photos by Rodney Curtis? Read about his recent photo safari.

FEBRUARY 2012 UPDATE: THE CONTEST! Brent and Beth are launching a 5-week contest to get in touch with your senses in a spiritual way. They’ve got invitations sprinkled across their websites, but the key location is the Facebook page for their new book Awaken Your Senses.

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm talks with Beth and Brent in …

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW WITH J. BRENT BILL & BETH BOORAM
ON ‘AWAKEN YOUR SENSES … EXPLORING THE WONDER OF GOD’

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0125_J_Brent_Bill_leads_a_workshop.jpgJ. Brent Bill leads a workshop. Photo courtesy of J. Brent Bill.DAVID: Let’s start with a very practical question. Your new book is designed for individual inspiration and small-group discussion—but some of our readers may be interested in inviting you two to pay a personal visit. How do readers get in touch with you? For example, I know that your own website, Brent, lists a lot of your upcoming events. If people visit your site, they’ll find places you’re planning to visit throughout 2012. Are most of those appearances related to the new book?

BRENT: Yes, my home page lists a lot of appearances. Some are based on this new book. Some are based on past books I’ve written. Some are just me appearing. Some are dual appearances. If readers are interested specifically in what we’re doing with Awaken Your Senses, I suggest they visit two places online. First, go to our Facebook page for Awaken Your Senses. We’ve got a lot of information there about upcoming workshops, retreats and other programs. Then, we’ve also got a new website at awakenyoursenses.us—and make note of that special “dot-us” ending to the URL. That website tells more about the book and about us, as authors. You can contact us both through Facebook and through the new website.

BETH: Like Bill, I have my own personal website, which includes a blog and other things that readers might find interesting.

DAVID: What kinds of programs do you present?

BRENT: We do it all: individual readings, Friday-through-Sunday workshops, Saturday-one-day workshops. One of us can come. Both of us. We can tailor what we present to what an organization needs.

DAVID: Beth, I’d like you to tell us a little more about your work. Longtime ReadTheSpirit readers are likely to know a little bit about Brent’s work. Our interview with Brent about his earlier book, Sacred Compass, is still popular with readers. So, tell us more about your background, Beth. Here’s what I know from promotional materials for your book: You’re described as “a spiritual director, congregational consultant, retreat leader.” And I know that you were on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ for a while.

BETH: It’s not easy to give a simple answer to your question. I was raised Presbyterian and then in college, when I really began my own spiritual journey in earnest, I was exposed to Campus Crusade. My husband and I did serve with Crusade for a number of years. So there was a very evangelical context in which I was raised. Then, for a while, we were at a megachurch on the north side of Indianapolis. Over the years, I spread my wings more and more and became exposed to broader expressions of the Christian faith. Now I attend a small, nondenominational church. We’re less than 150 people. So, I’ve come a long way in my spiritual journey. If you asked me to describe my spiritual life, I would say that most purely I’m a contemplative. Yes, I am evangelical, but that term has so much baggage today that I don’t use it often. It’s confusing because people assume that word refers to one particular set of beliefs and positions. I feel quite comfortable in a wide range of spiritual streams. These days, for example, I find inspiration in a lot of Catholic writers.  And I do a lot of work in mainline churches.

DAVID: Name a few of the authors who inspire you.

BETH: First, I have Parker Palmer’s books and his writing has taken me to some important places. I read Henri Nouwen and Thomas Keating.

DAVID: Of course, Nouwen sadly passed away in the 1990s, but we have featured Father Keating in the pages of ReadTheSpirit. Yes, indeed, your range of religious experiences has expanded. Readers will see that in the pages of your new book. Just to go a little further—I detect some Celtic influence, too.

BETH: Oh, yes. I love the work J. Philip Newell has been doing. In fact, we have a prayer by him, “Prayer for Awakening the Soul,” on the first page of our book.

‘SOME PEOPLE MAY BE JOLTED BY THIS BOOK’

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0125_Beth_Booram_portrait.jpgAuthor and retreat leader Beth Booram. Image courtesy Beth Booram.DAVID: Some readers may be jolted by your book. There still are quite a few Christian preachers who say we shouldn’t trust our bodies. They preach that our five senses are pathways to temptation. Does it surprise you that your book might be provocative?

BETH: There are some churches that are exclusively focused on emphasizing the Bible as the one way God communicates with us. But, I think most people, when they think about it, would agree that God arrests our attention in many ways in our spiritual journey. That’s what we’re really talking about in this book. What Christians often refer to as the Word of God is much bigger than the Bible itself. We say that God spoke and the world was created. God’s Word comes down to us like rain and it waters the earth. I think God is a self-revealing God. We can look around us and see many ways that God is disclosing truth to us. That’s what we’re encouraging people to explore.

BRENT: Some people will find this new book quite novel. The idea of accepting our bodies as carriers of spiritual wisdom runs up against what people often call American Puritanism. That’s not really an accurate way to think about the Puritans, but people understand that term when I use it. I’m talking about Christians who think that distrusting our bodies is an innate part of our faith.

We do have a different perspective on that. I would say, for instance, that the whole point of incarnation in Jesus coming into the world shows that Jesus wanted to experience the life that we experience. Another way to say it is: We are whole people—not just physical people separate from our spiritual lives. We are whole. Think about Adam and Eve in Eden. We are told that they walked in the cool of the evening and spoke with God. I love that imagery: What did they smell? What did they feel under foot? What did they hear?

Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians have maintained much more of this sensory experience of God—the smells, touch, sight and taste of faith—compared with Protestant churches. So, yes, there may be people in some churches who are jolted by this book, who will find these ideas quite new. And, that’s why we think it’s so important to share this message.

IDEAS THAT MAY CONNECT BEYOND CHRISTIANITY

DAVID: Having read your book, it’s clear that your spiritual approach is centered in Christianity. But, I think it’s also true that readers who are not Christian can find some great ideas between these covers. You do provide some examples beyond Christianity in your book. There’s a short section on how the Jewish seder at Passover makes rich use of all the senses to convey the sacred story of Exodus.

BETH: Absolutely, there’s a lot here for any reader. There are lots of people who describe themselves today as spiritual, but not religious. We hear that phrase many places we go. In this book, we’re talking about using everyday human experiences as windows that can open into a deeper spiritual experience.

BRENT: It’s also true that folks who are concerned about Christian orthodoxy will find that our work is rooted in the Bible and in the writings of mothers and fathers of the church. But, Beth is right. It’s not meant to be narrowly sectarian.

BETH: We’re trying to reach readers at many levels. I can see pastors in local churches reading this book for ideas they can use in worship. I could see people discussing these ideas in a small group. People can use this in a retreat. Or, some readers may want to spiritually explore their senses in individual ways.

FEELING THE TEXTURES OF PRAYER

DAVID: Let’s give a specific example from the book: Textures of prayer. You write about literally feeling with your hands the various textures around you as you engage in prayer. Perhaps corduroy fabric, or felt, or wood, or stone or other textures that might suggest themes in your prayers.

BRENT: That’s right. So often, we move through life so quickly that we don’t even notice the textures around us. But, obviously, we do respond to textures. Think about the clothes you like to wear. For example, I prefer to wear shirts that are 100 percent cotton. They feel more comfortable to me than some of the blended fabrics. Most people have textures that they respond to, that they like, that relate to things going on in their lives—if we pause and pay attention. There’s a related exercise in the book in which we suggest that people draw something—and choose their materials from surfaces they find around them in daily life. They might draw on a paper bag—or on a shiny piece of paper. That drawing exercise is another way to think about the textures in our lives.

EYES AND EARS AREN’T ENOUGH IN WORSHIP

DAVID: Well, those are just a couple of examples among dozens in this book. You really do want to expand our awareness of daily life in many ways—and expand our worship experiences, too.

BETH: Yes, that’s the larger question we’re raising. One way to think about this is: We’re showing that aesthetics do matter. In the ways we create environments around us—whether at home or at church—aesthetics augment our ability to more deeply experience our faith.

BRENT: This is important in an era when a lot of churches are increasing the digital technology they use in worship. More and more, worship is all about our eyes and ears. In many places, people don’t even pick up and hold a hymnal or a Bible anymore. Everything is up on a screen. As worship becomes more of a spectator experience, we need to challenge people to reopen all of their senses to God.

REMEMBER: Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God is available from Amazon.
If you missed it, you’ll also enjoy: In Part 1 of this coverage, we gave readers an overview of this book for individuals, small groups and congregational leaders—plus an excerpt by Brent Bill and Beth Booram.

Don’t Miss: Our columnist Rodney Curtis, a.k.a. The Spiritual Wanderer, is writing on this theme, too.

Please help us to reach a wider audience

We welcome your Emails at [email protected]
We’re also reachable on Twitter, Facebook, AmazonHuffington PostYouTube and other social-networking sites. 
You also can Subscribe to our articles via Email or RSS feed.
Plus, there’s a free Monday morning Planner newsletter you may enjoy.

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

At home, with friends, at church: ‘Awaken Your Senses’

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0123_senses_Rodney_Curtis_photo_of_a_forest.jpgWhose Woods These Are … Photograph by Rodney Curtis.Are you awake?

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0123_strawberry_closeup.jpgStrawberry, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.Buddhists famously call it mindfulness. Christians have many names for it. This week, we are introducing two nationally known retreat leaders who are offering readers a bounty of fresh ideas for making 2012 an eye-opening, tastebud-tingling, ear-soothing year of meditation, prayer and worship. The new book (which contains a lively toolbox of ideas between its covers) is called, Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God.

Later this week, you’ll meet J. Brent Bill and Beth Booram in our weekly author interview. Make a note of that, because we also will tell you in that interview how to reach them and how to find their websites, as well. When you get to know more about their work with Awaken Your Senses you may want to make arrangements to bring these two popular retreat leaders to your part of the country for a day or a weekend. (Special note to regular ReadTheSpirit readers: These folks draw their own inspiration from a number of talented people who already are popular with our readers, including Parker Palmer, Carrie Newcomer and J. Philip Newell. So, even if you are encountering Brent and Beth for the first time, this week, you’re meeting a team with ties to other trusted friends you’ve enjoyed in the past.)

TODAY, we want to open your eyes to these ideas! We’re doing that in three ways:
1.) With an excerpt of their new book, below.
2.) A short video of Brent and Beth, below.
3.) AND, our regular columnist Rodney Curtis, a.k.a. The Spiritual Wanderer, is writing on this theme, too.

EXCERPT OF AWAKEN YOUR SENSES
BY J. BRENT BILL
AND BETH BOORAM

Imagine awakening to the sound of the coffeemaker as it strains its final percolations and you smell the earthy aroma of its brew. You see dim light peeking from the edges of the shades at your bedroom windows. The feel of warm, soft blankets makes it hard to get out of bed. Once up, you look out the kitchen window, focusing your eyes on the early morning light, and feel greeted with hope, reminded that God is in new beginnings.

As you drive into work, you hear a siren behind you. The sound causes you to search in your rearview mirror for the lights. The alarm prompts you to pray—to pray for whoever might be hurt and for the safety of those you love. You feel your tightened grip on the steering wheel and think to relax, to concentrate on simply being and on trusting God with your life and your day.

During work, you notice things: the tone of stress in your boss’s response to a question, the sparkle in your coworker’s eyes as she describes her new romance, the firm handshake of a customer, the cool taste of water from a drinking fountain and the scent of a woman’s perfume in the elevator. Life has so much depth and texture. You are alive to yourself and the world—curious and open to God’ subtle invitations to pray, to love, to be. With each sensory prompt, you are learning to respond the way Jesus leads you.

Dinnertime and evening hours brim with sensual greetings. You prepare a meal with your family. The sounds of chopping vegetables and sizzling meat remind you that food is a gift. Everything you see, hear, touch, smell and taste turns your meal into an occasion—not only for your stomach but also for your heart. Scrubbing greasy pots, rinsing soapy dishes and feeling the scald of hot water awaken you to the unending life cycle of soiling and cleansing, mess and order. Your thoughts turn to your own jumbled soul, to Christ, to his restoring work.

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0123_Awaken_Your_Senses_Brent_Bill_Beth_Booram.jpgCLICK THE BOOK COVER to jump to Amazon.As you lie down to sleep, you notice your cold feet under the blankets, the taste of toothpaste in your mouth, the smell of dinner lingering in the air, the quiet of the house and the streak of moonlight beaming through a window. You feel thoughtful, grateful and pensive. Your heart turns to God, and you express your feelings of smallness and inadequacy. “What are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?” You entrust yourself to sleep and to God who does not slumber or sleep. Another day lived, hopefully more fully alive to God and yourself, alive to the beauty and suffering in life, to all its possibilities and cries for healing.

Have you ever longed to live this way—present to life, to God, throughout an entire day? It is possible. We each desire authentic spiritual experiences with God: real, moving, transforming engagements. The trouble is that’s not how we have been taught to live our faith. Most of our teaching comes by way of sermons, books, Bible studies and other spiritual resources that instruct our thinking. Often, though, these resources miss our souls, the prime place of divine encounter. This new book takes a different tack. Its purpose, simply put, is to help more of you experience more of God. How will we accomplish that? We’re going to introduce you to spiritual practices that engage your whole person: both sides of your brain, all five senses and your body. In this way, you’ll learn how to cultivate an experiential faith—one that trains you to be attentive to a self-disclosing God who reveals himself in each daily round of beauty.

WATCH A SHORT VIDEO WITH J. BRENT BILL AND BETH BOORAM

You should see a video screen, below, that you can click to watch a short video with Brent and Beth. If you do not see a video screen here, you also can jump directly to YouTube to watch the clip.

REMEMBER: THERE’S MUCH MORE!

Meet J. Brent Bill and Beth Booram in our weekly author interview, which includes links to their own websites and information on how to reach them if you care to inquire about a visit or a retreat. Of course, their new book stands alone for individual reading or small-group study. AND: You can order Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God from Amazon.

Don’t Miss: Our columnist Rodney Curtis, a.k.a. The Spiritual Wanderer, is writing on this theme, too.

Please help us to reach a wider audience

We welcome your Emails at [email protected]
We’re also reachable on Twitter, Facebook, AmazonHuffington PostYouTube and other social-networking sites. 
You also can Subscribe to our articles via Email or RSS feed.
Plus, there’s a free Monday morning Planner newsletter you may enjoy.

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

Interview with Celtic Christian writer John Philip Newell on New Harmony: The Spirit, Earth and Human Soul

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0824_John_Philip_Newell_praying_for_peace_in_New_Mexico.jpgJOHN PHILIP NEWELL, center, leads prayers for peace in New Mexico.

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0824_John_Philip_Newell_cover_A_New_Harmony.JPG.jpg

A New Harmony
by John Philip Newell
pulls us across boundaries
of race and religion

In Part 1 of our coverage of A New Harmony, by John Philip Newell, we reported on this new book’s visionary call to men and women toward a timeless unity.
We also published a brief excerpt, so you can read some of John Philip’s own words from this important new book.

TODAY, in Part 2, we welcome John Philip Newell for our weekly author interview.

ALSO THIS WEEK: Read about ‘I Hope for a World Where …’ Don’t miss our invitation to join in a united prayer for a better world in keeping with themes John Philip Newell has been teaching in his recent books. It’s a simple yet a powerful effort to join our individual prayers for peace.

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW WITH JOHN PHILIP NEWELL

DAVID: Let’s begin with a question readers have asked me, following earlier stories about you in ReadTheSpirit. It’s a simple question, but also an important one: Who are you? You travel so widely now and you talk about unity across religious boundaries. How do you describe your own life today?

JOHN PHILIP: My wife and I live in Edinburgh. From our flat, we look out over the botanical gardens. That’s very much my home base from which I am traveling these days. We spent July this summer in New Mexico, where we tend to spend summers teaching. As I’m talking to you now, I’m in Canada with family. That’s where my father, William, and my mother, Pearl, live. He was a minister and ended his working career as the Canadian director of World Vision International.

I was baptized John Philip, but for a long time the John was hidden away by a J. at the front of my name. But John Philip is my full name and it’s what my family calls me when they want to express affection. So, a couple of years ago, I realized it was important to reclaim this name of my heart. I’m now going by John Philip, rather than J. Philip.

I’m ordained in the Church of Scotland, part of the Reformed tradition. That’s the church that saw itself as the Catholic Church continuing in Scotland through the process of the Reformation. When people ask for more, I explain that I was reared in the Christian household. I write from the Christian household. I draw heavily on the Celtic Christian stream of spirituality, but that tends to be confusing to people. They get the impression that there is some Celtic Christian church. What I mean by using that phrase is: I draw a lot from that particular ancient stream.

DAVID: You use a lot of water metaphors in your teaching and writing: streams, waters, wells from which we can draw water. This year, one of those shared wells is the special attention you’re paying to gathering people from across the Abrahamic faiths for prayer. How is that going so far in 2011?

JOHN PHILIP: The Praying for Peace initiative is something that is in the forefront of my teaching this year, but my teaching schedule was set well in advance. So, I’ve been inviting prayers for peace and chanting for peace to become the beginning of my teaching work, as I travel to these places that were scheduled quite a while ago. I want people to feel the yearning for relationships within the entire Abrahamic household. When I was teaching in New Mexico, we used words from the Hebrew scriptures, from Jesus and from the Quran as part of our morning and evening practices.

JOHN PHILIP NEWELL: PRAYER AS A DEEP STIRRING

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0824_John_Philip_Newell_on_Iona.jpgJOHN PHILIP NEWELL on Iona.DAVID: You have always written a lot about prayer, sometimes comparing our quest as Listening for the Heartbeat of God, the title of your book back in the 1990s. In this newest book, you write: “In the sixth century on Iona, one of the rules that St. Columba gave to his monastic community was to pray ‘until thy tears come.’ When tears flow, something very deep within us is stirring. Prayer is about getting in touch with the deepest dimension of our being.” What you’re writing about sounds very much like descriptions of prayer we’re hearing from Quaker writer Philip Gulley and from Eugene Peterson, creator of The Message Bible. They both teach that prayer is less about recitation of lines and more about paying attention. Am I reading your own new book correctly in making these connections?

JOHN PHILIP: Absolutely, there’s a connection there. Gandhi referred to prayer as a way of getting in touch with the most intense yearnings of the heart. That’s how I view deep prayer practice. We are paying attention to what our unconscious is throwing up at us and, at the same time, we are getting back in touch with the most holy yearnings of the heart.

DAVID: We’re in a realm here that I think is challenging for a lot of readers. For example, I can’t recall another recent inspirational book by a major Christian writer that includes as many stories drawn from dreams as your new book. Your book is full of your dreams.

JOHN PHILIP: That’s intentional. Writing about my dreams is a part of exposing my heart, sharing my heart with readers. For me, the sharing of dreams is the same as sharing important transitional moments in my life with readers. Dreams come up to us from a very deep place within us. Dreams are characterized by a wonderful uniqueness, of course, but they also come from a common place. Carl Jung called it the collective unconscious. It is possible to share a dream that is both deeply personal and at the same time invites a response from deep within the listener. It is like drawing from a well that is within all of us.

Whether we’re talking about accessing the well of dream life or we’re talking about the discipline of prayer and meditative practice, I believe the deeper I move into the inner well of my being—the closer I’m getting to the inner well of your being—and the inner well of all being. We sometimes mistake prayer as a process of separating ourselves from others. We sometimes can feel we are turning away from the wellsprings of creation. I am saying: Prayer is about accessing that spring of the sacred, the soul force of God. This is the greatest force for transformation in the world.

ETTY HILLESUM: ‘LOOKING SUFFERING STRAIGHT IN THE FACE’

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0824_Interfaith_Heroes_Volume_1_Daniel_Buttry.jpgDAVID: Readers will be interested, I think, to find that you’re not talking about turning away from the world. Much like Dr. Rodney Taylor who talked with us about Confucius recently, you argue that prayer—this mystical form of prayer you write about that is so influenced by Celtic teaching and Carl Jung and other influences—is really about directly confronting the wounds in our world. It’s not about going off somewhere and soothing ourselves individually. One figure you write about, who also appears in our own book Interfaith Heroes Volume 1, is Etty Hillesum, who died in Auschwitz in 1943. You introduce her in a chapter called “Looking Suffering Straight in the Face.”

JOHN PHILIP: I am very drawn to Etty and her stature of soul. I am impressed with her desire to look suffering straight in the face, as I write in the book. I think that is an essential part of the pathway toward new beginnings and healing in our world. We must address, confess and confront just how broken we are individually and in our communities, nations and all around the Earth itself. The way forward is not to somehow turn away and downplay the world’s wounds.

Etty left us these diaries and letters, where often in a single thought she is able to speak about the glory of a blossom she sees outside her window from her apartment in Amsterdam to the horrors of the rounding up of the Jewish community in ghettos. Sometimes, we all feel fear. Sometimes, we all want to look away from the brokenness of the world. We’re afraid that we might be swallowed up by the darkness. Yet, Etty was able to look directly at it in strength and move back and forth between her hope for the world, her hope that she was making an impact.

This is very close to the heart of peacemaking, I think. Etty sees in every moment—in every relationship she encounters—the choice between darkness or toward redemptive, transformative relationships.  What Etty shows us is that this choice between darkness and hatred and brokenness—and redemptive relationships—that choice is in every moment.

DAVID: There are many efforts today by many groups trying to reunite what we call the Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. You’re talking about that, too. On a daily basis, you are encouraging that and practicing that form of prayer. But you’re also talking about something much, much bigger than that. Before your book ends, you’re also reaching even farther East to India and really you are writing about your vision of unity that could circle the entire world.

JOHN PHILIP: I am writing about something new, but I am also writing about something very deep. I am calling us to liberate a new unity and harmony, but this also is very old, very deep.

DAVID: You talk about Thomas Merton, who traveled to Asia to connect his own Catholic practices with Buddhist monks. He died in that journey in 1968 in a tragic mishap with some electrical wiring in his hotel room in Bangkok. But here are Merton’s lines from his now-famous talk that he prepared for monks in Asia: “The deepest level of communication is not communication, but communion. It is wordless. It is beyond words, and it is beyond speech, and it is beyond concept. Not that we discover a new unity. We discover an older unity. My dear brothers, we are already one. But we imagine that we are not. And what we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are.”

JOHN PHILIP: Merton was a great prophet in saying this. For me, that is a very liberating vision, because I think part of the paralysis today comes from people believing the lie that we are essentially separate as people, as nations, as individuals. Too many people believe this lie that we must be in opposition to one another. What Merton was reminding us, just before his death, was that we are one and the One we come from is deeper within us than the many fragmentations around us today. The way forward is about remembering this essential oneness within us and asking people: Are we prepared to take up the cost and the responsibility of truly living as one?

Care to read more about John Philip Newell?

Please connect with us and help us to reach a wider audience

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!

We welcome your Emails! . We’re also reachable on Twitter, Facebook, AmazonHuffington PostYouTube and other social-networking sites. You also can Subscribe to our articles via Email or RSS feed. Plus, there’s a free Monday morning Planner newsletter you may enjoy.

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

Join in a 9/11 Prayer: “I hope for a world where …”

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0822_Hope_for_a_World_Where.jpg

Since our founding in 2007, ReadTheSpirit has encouraged prayer for peace in our world. Our earlier effort, launched after a May 2011 conversation with Celtic-Christian writer John Philip Newell asked readers to begin prayers with the line, “Open my eyes to …”

NOW, in a new interview with John Philip that will be published on Wednesday, we discussed the ever-growing interest in that earlier form of prayer. And, we discussed starting a new kind of prayer in light of the looming 10th anniversary of “9/11.”

The new effort encourages everyone to complete this line: “I hope for a world where …”

Why “hope”? Because we all regard hope as a virtue, whatever our faith may be. For Christians, who comprise the vast majority of the U.S. population, hope is listed among three core virtues. In First Corinthians, chapter 13, Paul writes: “For now we see in a mirror darkly—but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part—then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three—and the greatest of these is love.”

Why refer to the “world”? Because, despite a lot of Christian preaching about evil in the world these days, there is a strong 2,000-year-old tradition in Christianity—and in Judaism even before that—teaching that God’s creation is basically good. Our role is to repair this world—and to become people of compassion.

Why now? Rather than focus solely on the pain of the “9/11” anniversary—and rather than allowing some angry activists to fuel even more anger—this kind of prayer aims our intentions toward a better future.

BEGIN A PRAYER WITH:
“I HOPE FOR A WORLD WHERE …”

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0822_PRAYER_photo.jpgTHIS IS EASY!
Simply complete that 1 line,
then email your response to [email protected]
We plan to assemble these lines into prayers we can publish for readers just as we did in our earlier effort with the phrase “Open my eyes to …”

Some peace activists already are gathering lines for the new prayer. WISDOM, the women’s network behind our Friendship and Faith project, produced a memorable prayer using the earlier “Open my eyes to …” phrase. WISDOM now distributes that prayer they assembled from many lines from many different people. That WISDOM prayer has been used in congregations in Sunday worship and in other settings.

WISDOM already is collecting responses to this new phrase.
Here are a few they have collected so far …

I hope for a world where …
… children grow up feeling safe.
… children are loved by, not only their own family, but by families around the world.

… we celebrate our differences as well as our similarities.
… we put the needs of others before our own.
… we join hands to feed our hungry.

How do YOU finish the line? “I hope for a world where …”
Simply complete that 1 line and email your response to [email protected]

Care to read our new stories with John Philip Newell this week?

Part 1: Overview of “A New Harmony” includes an excerpt of John Philip’s writing.

Please connect with us and help us to reach a wider audience

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

Celtic writer John Philip Newell points to A New Harmony

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0822_John_Philip_Newell_A_New_Harmony_cover.JPG.jpgAs Editor of ReadTheSpirit, my own words appear in the opening pages of John Philip Newell’s new book, A New Harmony: The Spirit, the Earth, and the Human Soul. My own praise for Newell’s book appears along with words by Barbara Brown Taylor, Richard Rohr and Matthew Fox also recommending Newell’s visionary new volume. That term “visionary” isn’t hyperbole. This book is full of the dreams and fresh ideas John Philip Newell is casting our way this year. He’s hoping we will bite, hoping we will contribute to his tantalizing hopes for a future of global unity. As usual in his books, he writes as a passionate Christian pastor and mystic to all of us: Christians, Muslims, Jews and people of other faiths—or no faith at all. In the opening pages, Matthew Fox writes: “With a book like this, religious history looks less bleak and spirituality much closer to home.”

ON WEDNESDAY, you’ll meet John Philip in our author interview.
TODAY, we’re sharing a tasty morsel from his new book.
ALSO TODAY, we’re launching a new 9/11-related prayer effort, which ReadTheSpirit discussed with John Philip in our interview. It’s called, “I Hope for a World Where …” Check out that story, as well, and add to the prayer.

A FEW WORDS FROM JOHN PHILIP NEWELL
IN OPENING HIS BOOK: A NEW HARMONY

The word kosmos in ancient Greek means “a harmony of parts.” In the classical world, everything in the universe was viewed as moving in relation to everything else. This ancient understanding of the cosmos is being born afresh today in radically new ways. We are realizing that the whole of reality is one. In nearly every dimension of life—whether economic or religious, scientific or political—there is a growing awareness of earth’s essential interrelatedness. This new-ancient way of seeing is radically challenging us to see ourselves as connected with everything else that exists. And it means that any true vision of reality must also be a cosmology, a way of relating the parts to the whole, of seeing our distinct journeys in relation to the one journey of the universe.

A few years ago, my wife and I went on pilgrimage to the Sinai. There were four of us—Mousa, our desert guide; Hamda, our Bedouin cook; and Ali and me. We slept under the open skies at night, and every morning before sunrise we could hear the crackling of the breakfast fire prepared by Hamda. Somehow in the barren landscape of the Sinai she would find dead roots of desert bushes for kindling in order to freshly bake us unleavened bread for breakfast. Then the great fire of the rising sun would blaze over the eastern horizon to warm our night-chilled bodies.

On the last day, we made our way to Mount Sinai, climbed half of it on camel back, then hiked the centuries-old carved steps of stone to the peak for sunset. No one else was with us on the summit as the setting sun threw its red radiance across the great range of desert peaks. We visited the three shrines of prayer that honor the disclosure of the Holy Presence in this place—one Jewish, one Christian, one Muslim—and descended the mountain in silence. The moon was fat, and its whiteness shone off the desert sand, throwing moon shadows from the high rocks and the sharp turns of our descent. At the mountain base, we approached the fourth-century St. Catherine’s Monastery where we were to spend the night. In the moonlight it looked as it might have looked at any time in its sixteen centuries. And although it held within its walls a Christian monastic community, a burning bush revered by Jewish pilgrims and a mosque prayed in by Muslims from around the world, under the moon’s light it looked as one.

… A New Harmony: The Spirit, the Earth and the Human Soul is written from within the Christian household. It is an attempt to serve the emerging awareness of life’s essential oneness by drawing in part on the ancient wisdom of Jesus. But it is not a book only for Christians. My desire is to communicate across the boundaries of religion and race that have separated us and to honor our distinct inheritances by serving what is deeper still—the oneness of our origins and the oneness of earth’s dstiny.”

Care to read more about John Philip Newell?

Please connect with us and help us to reach a wider audience

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!

We welcome your Emails! . We’re also reachable on Twitter, Facebook, AmazonHuffington PostYouTube and other social-networking sites. You also can Subscribe to our articles via Email or RSS feed. Plus, there’s a free Monday morning Planner newsletter you may enjoy.

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

Interview with Iona Community writer Jane Bentley

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0722_walking_along_the_Abbey_cloisters_at_Iona.jpgEarlier this week, we reported on the release of a spiritual guidebook to the legendary isle of Iona—destination of countless pilgrims from around the world. In Around a Thin Place, Jane Bentley and popular Iona writer Neil Paynter have produced a spiritual guide to the experience of an Iona pilgrimage. The book is not available via Amazon (although an occasional Amazon re-seller lists it). The best place to get it—and all of Neil’s books—is the Wild Goose Publications site, which is the media-production arm of the Iona Community.

TODAY, please meet Jane Bentley in our weekly author interview …

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH IONA COMMUNITY WRITER
JANE BENTLEY ON NEW GUIDE

DAVID: What brought you into a relationship with Iona—and the community of people who live with Iona at their heart? Tell us how you discovered Iona.

JANE: I was born just west of London in the 1970s and I’m 38 now. This has been a long journey for me. I was raised in the Church of England but I left that all behind when I was about 14 and went to atheism for a while.

It was a trip to Iona that made me take a second look at faith. People think they’re coming to Iona for answers, but that’s not the purpose. Principally, Iona is a place that asks people questions, rather than giving them answers. That’s what it did for me. I came here with a general interest in the history of Christianity.

And, eventually, I found myself led back to Christianity. I saw on Iona people who feel that it’s truly a part of our Christian calling to care about peace and the environment and the needs of other people. I felt myself, over a period of years, moving from my atheism to being an agnostic and eventually back to Christianity. It took a long time but that journey back to faith began on Iona.

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0722_St_Martins_Cross_Isle_of_Iona.jpgST. MARTIN’S CROSS just outside Iona Abbey, where the daylong pilgrimage begins each week.DAVID: You’re a co-writer and editor of this guidebook. But you’re much more than that professionally, right?

JANE: I am a musician. I’ve just graduated with my doctorate in music and education that I completed through the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. For my doctorate, I worked through different schools there and studied the way Iona uses music with people.

DAVID: You’ve worked with music on Iona, and I know that you also work with music extensively in hospitals and other settings. You’re a professional in theater arts and, we might say, a professional in the spiritual and therapeutic use of music. But you didn’t come to Iona as a professional. You came as a lay volunteer. That’s one of the fascinating things about Iona. A lot of the people running the place are ordinary folks who are given these remarkable jobs.

JANE: That’s right. I first came to Iona in 1997 as a volunteer layperson. I ended up doing six weeks on the island at that time. One of the great things people discover about volunteering at Iona is that they show a lot of trust in people. Even if you don’t have a lot of experience in leading worship, at Iona you are trusted to plan worship and lead it. Obviously there are clergy persons leading Eucharist, but everyone on the staff is encouraged to lead worship. That experience taught me a lot.

DAVID: So, here you were as a skeptical artist, experienced in theater and music but certainly not very experienced in matters of traditional religion. And suddenly you were immersed in this community that had you leading worship and leading pilgrims on these daylong walking retreats of the island.

JANE: Yes, Iona grew around me.

DAVID: The pilgrimage around Iona that you and Neal describe in the book is a bit like that, isn’t it? People may think it’s a personal quest to reach a destination, but the pilgrimage really is a living, ever-changing way of reflecting on your own life and the lives of the other pilgrims around you. The pilgrimage is quite dynamic. I’ve completed the long pilgrimage twice and I have to say: It was dramatically different the second time, compared with the first.

JANE: The long pilgrimage is a great way to see the island and see more sights than if you were just day-tripper to Iona. Lots of people are interested in the history of St. Columba, who allegedly landed all those years ago on the south side of the island and then founded the original Christian community there. But most people would never find and reach that point without a pilgrimage group. The tracks that lead down there to the south end of the island are barely discernable. The ground we cross is difficult.

As we walk together on that day, the experience is more about the other people around you than it is ticking off sites on some tour. You get into conversations with people as you walk. There’s time and space for a lot to unfold as we walk. I didn’t expect that the first time I went on the pilgrimage.

Eventually, the pilgrimage can become an act of prayer—and it unfolds as you’re discovering this community of pilgrims. In our book there’s not a lot of historical information. That wasn’t our goal. We’re offering readers much more reflective pieces in this book.

DAVID: People who haven’t been to Iona or made any global pilgrimage may be wondering: What’s so special about this place? Why couldn’t I just go for a walk in the woods with friends close to home and experience the same thing?

JANE: On Iona, there is the sheer physicality of this landscape and the fact that we don’t have absolute control over it—or the weather that comes in off the Atlantic. In the winter, the ferries to Iona sometimes won’t sail over for days because the conditions are so bad. We discover that we are less the masters of our own destinies there. Iona strips away this illusion of control we have in our ordinary lives. We find that we have to adjust our own living patterns within something much bigger than we are.

Plus, many people come to Iona at a period in their lives when they are looking for something—searching for something, even if they’re not quite sure what that is. To encounter lots of other people from around the world in that same situation in their lives means that there is real potential there to open up in ways we might not ordinarily do.

Iona has been a sacred place for millennia, even before Columba arrived on the island. On Iona, we sense this very long continuity of human engagement with the sacred. That creates a powerful momentum. And, of course, then we return to the rest of the world, hopefully looking for more fresh ways to rediscover God.

Care to read more about Iona?

READ A PILGRIM’S STORY: In 2007, we published a series on our first pilgrimage to Iona.

Please connect with us and help us to reach a wider audience

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!

We welcome your Emails! . We’re also reachable on Twitter, Facebook, AmazonHuffington PostYouTube and other social-networking sites. You also can Subscribe to our articles via Email or RSS feed. Plus, there’s a free Monday morning Planner newsletter you may enjoy.

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

Welcome back to the legendary wonders of Iona!

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0718_Iona_looking_across_graveyard_toward_Mull.jpg

Tiny Iona is one of the world’s most famous “thin places,” where the separation of the material and the spiritual becomes almost transparent.

“People from all over the world arrive on the ferry expecting God to be waiting for them on the jetty,” musician, teacher and writer Jane Bentley told me via telephone from Scotland a few days ago. “And of course that’s not the purpose of an Iona pilgrimage.”

As Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I have made two pilgrimages to Iona and, in one case, our fellow pilgrims (including ReadTheSpirit Publisher John Hile) were met—not by the warmly enfolding arms of God—but by a bitterly cold, gale-force hail storm that blew in off the Atlantic without warning and knocked some of us to our knees. As the full force of the storm unfolded across little Iona and the surrounding northwest coast of Scotland—all electrical power in the entire region crashed. That part of Scotland was dark for days.

Huddled around the last sputtering stubs of candles in the centuries-old Iona abbey, warden Malcolm King regarded us with a wry smile: “Well, you said you wanted to experience a thin place. Nobody ever said that a thin place wouldn’t be terrifying.”

I have never forgotten Malcolm’s response to the storm and the blackout that returned us for a day or two to the truly medieval lighting of Iona’s sacred landmarks. Nor have I forgotten Malcolm’s reminder that, at the core of faith, is not necessarily warm reassurance—but awe. Wonderment. A humbling awareness of our own precious-yet-fragile place in the grandeur of Creation.

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0718_Iona_guidebook_Around_a_Thin_Place_cover.jpgCLICK ON THE BOOK COVER to visit the Wild Goose Publication website, which is the publishing arm of the Iona Community.Now, in Around a Thin Place, Jane Bentley and popular Iona writer Neil Paynter have produced a spiritual guide to the experience of an Iona pilgrimage. While it is truly a guidebook to Iona’s spiritual experiences—the book is far more than that. These readings, even without a physical visit to Iona, are accompanied by images of the island and readings that we suspect many people will enjoy for their own inspiration. Many pieces in the book also will be popular in groups and congregational settings—some of them prompting fresh thoughts about pilgrimage and spiritual discipline.

The book is not available via Amazon (although an occasional Amazon re-seller lists it). The best place to get it—and all of Neil’s books—is the Wild Goose Publications site, which is the media-production arm of the Iona Community. (Here’s an Iona Community page within the Wild Goose site, if you want more background.)

FROM ‘AROUND A THIN PLACE’ …
‘A CELTIC BLESSING’

This is one of many prayers and blessings sprinkled throughout this 192-page book. Not all the prayers are voiced in this Celtic style. Many of the prayerful readings are focused on stirring up our awareness of the urgent needs in our world today. This prayer does both.

A Celtic Blessing

Bless to us, O God, the earth beneath our feet.
Bless to us, O God, the path whereon we go.
Bless to us, O God, the people whom we meet.
Bless to us, O God, each thing our eyes see.
Bless to us, O God, each sound our ears hear.
Bless to us, O God, each ray that guides our way.

Amen

FROM ‘AROUND A THIN PLACE’ …
EXCERPT FROM ‘GOD AND MAN AND WOMAN’

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0718_Pilgrims_prepare_for_worship_on_Iona.jpgPILGRIMS PREPARE FOR WORSHIP ON IONA.This reading often is part of the daylong pilgrimage on Iona. Two people read it aloud—A and B—usually at a stop along the route in the ruins of a centuries-old nunnery. At that sacred site, pilgrims are challenged to remember the often-forgotten roles of women throughout our religious tradition. Many of the pilgrimage readings are spiced with humor and are aimed at troubling our all-too-complacent assumptions about our faith and our world. This is a memorable example and is a text often requested by pilgrims after the daylong journey ends.

God and Man and Woman

A: In the beginning, God made man.
He was so disappointed that he tried again,
and the next time, he made woman.

B: Eve, the first woman, was a vegetarian.
She liked apples, and ate the wrong one.
Men have been suspicious of vegetarians ever since.

A: Noah didn’t eat apples.
He was a man … so he drank alcohol.
In fact, he drank so much alcohol that one day
his sons found their old man completely sozzled
and lying in the nude.
Women have been suspicious of alcohol ever since.

B: Delilah didn’t eat apples or drink wine.
She was a hairdresser.
Samson didn’t know that,
but while he was resting his macho muscles,
Delilah cut his hair and took his strength away.
Men have avoided being bald ever since.

A: St Paul didn’t know Eve, Noah or Delilah.
But he did know some women,
and those he did must have given him bad memories.
Because he told them not to speak in church,
not to go into church without a hat
and always to obey their husbands.
Paul also said that men shouldn’t get married
unless they were able to control themselves.
Men have been unable to control themselves ever since.

B: But Jesus was different.
He was strong, but he cried.
He even cried in front of other men.
He knew that some women had bad reputations,
but that didn’t keep him back from them:
he knelt beside them.

He loved his disciples who were all men
and he wasn’t afraid to tell them that he loved them.
And though he was never married,
he was always surrounded by women, who, at his death,
were more faithful to him than the men.

Jesus didn’t make a fuss about who was who, or who was what.
He said that everyone who loved him was his mother,
his sister,
his brother.

A and B together: Thank God for Jesus.

Care to read more about Iona?

MEET JANE: Read our in-depth interview with Jane Bentley.
READ A PILGRIM’S STORY:
In 2007, we published a series on our first pilgrimage to Iona.

Please connect with us and help us to reach a wider audience

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!

We welcome your Emails! . We’re also reachable on Twitter, Facebook, AmazonHuffington PostYouTube and other social-networking sites. You also can Subscribe to our articles via Email or RSS feed. Plus, there’s a free Monday morning Planner newsletter you may enjoy.

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