The Rebirthing of God is the title of John Philip Newell’s new book. Its subtitle is Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings. This week I will be at the Ghost Ranch in New Mexico taking a workshop with Newell that focuses on this book. I am certainly looking forward to that. In the meantime, I’ve been reading the book itself.
In this brand new book Newell speaks of the death of Christianity as we know it and of the need for “the rebirthing of God.” He believes that this rebirthing is a good thing “pointing to a radical reemergence of the Divine from deep with us.” In each of the book’s eight chapters Newell discusses something the church needs to reconnect with. Having read a number of his other books I was not surprised to discover that the first thing he believes we need to reconnect to is the earth. Newell concurs with eco-theologian Thomas Berry that “we need to move from a spirituality of alienation from the natural world to a spirituality of intimacy with the natural world.”
Reflecting on both the Book of Genesis and the writings of Julian of Norwich Newell notes that we are not only made by God but are also “of God.” He says “We are made of the Light that was in the beginning. We are made of the Wisdom that fashioned the universe in its glory and interrelatedness. We are made of the Love that longs for oneness.” He sees one of our great needs “the desire to move back into relationship with everything else that is of God.” This means “choosing to move in harmony with the universe again, knowing the rising of the sun and the whiteness of the moon as part of us, seeing the beauty and wildness of the creatures as expressions of what is also within us, the unnameable and untameable presence of the Divine in all things. It means growing in awareness of earth’s sacredness, knowing that its moist greenness issues forth directly from the ever-fresh fecundity of God.”
If you are a regular reader of Seeing Creation you know that I write often about the sacredness of the earth. I, too, feel that Christianity has suffered greatly by setting up a false dichotomy between the spiritual and material world. This false dichotomy has kept many from being open to experiencing God in the natural world. This is most strange considering the Biblical insistence that God is certainly to be found in the Creation.
I appreciate the fact that Newell utilizes the teachings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. He refers to de Chardin as “the first modern Christian prophet of the sacredness of the universe.” De Chardin once wrote “at the heart of matter is the heart of God” and “the deeper we move into the mystery of any created thing, the closer we come to the Divine Presence.” These are things I believe too. De Chardin believed that the Incarnation of Christ “points to the oneness of heaven and earth, the Divine and the human, spirit and matter” and also “reveals the essential sacredness of every person and everything that has been created.”
In case you’re wondering, in the remaining chapters of his book Newell goes on to talk about how reconnecting with compassion, the Light, the journey, spiritual practice, nonviolence, the unconscious and love will also be important facets of the rebirthing of God. I’ve not read the whole book yet but already I have found much encouragement about the future of Christianity in it. If we would just take seriously this first part, reconnecting to the earth, it would make a world of difference. I plan to keep pointing others in this direction and ask you to do the same.
(I took the images shown above near my home in Henderson, KY.)