Sex, Gender and the Sacred

The road to the sacred runs through the carnal. Not only the Bible but Life itself reveals that sexuality is more spiritual than biological. The erotic is God's poetry of love calling us out of ourselves to awareness of beauty and to an expansive creativity and giving of ourselves. We go to God through one another, via loving, not apart from one another. --Paschal.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Celtic Spirituality, Newell, book review.

Celtic Spirituality: Listening to the Heartbeat of God
by J. Philip Newell, Paulist, 1997, 112 pp.
ISBN 0-8091-3795-3
a few notes by Paschal Baute
with a mention of other books by Martin Prechtel.

N. emphasizes in this little book the essential goodness of creation and humanity, that is to say, that God’s Presence is to be found in the whole of human life, in Nature, in all creation, in human love, instead of almost exclusively in Church and its traditions. All of the world is God’s dwelling place. Nature is not opposed to spirituality, but sources of revelation. Matter or flesh is not opposed to Spirit, but its hidden source.

How many of us were taught to recognize the whole of human life and all of creation as sacramental? Or encouraged to find this mystery we call God within?

The Celtic view is that the presence of God is within all people. Creation itself is the Living Word of God. Rather than look to the organized church, Pelagius Delatinus taught we should look for a friend of the soul, one to whom the inner self can be opened, to know and explore what is in one’s heart. Pelagius saw God as Present within all of life, but ran into trouble by teaching 1) women to read Scripture; 2) that every child was conceived and born in the image of God. He did not deny evil and its power but implied that at the heart of humanity was the image and goodness of God.

Since God is at the very heart of life itself, we should look within our hearts to find the Living Word of God. The more deeply we look into matter and nature the closer we will come to God. John Scotus in the 9th C proposed not looking away from life but more deeply into it. He was convinced of the essential good ness of everything: if we deny our humanity via religiosity, we are not releasing our Truest Selves.

My further review of this book got sidetracked by other pressing projects. Recommended.

A further comment. Until one can immerse oneself into one of the indigenous cultures of the world, we cannot understand HOW N’s view of Celtic Spirituality was true, and how spirituality was part and parcel of everyday life and how everything was sacramental. We cannot realize either how devastating was the effect of the Christian missionaries in destroying the ancient traditions of many of those cultures.

So much are we enculturated by our own dominant culture, that it is difficult to grasp the power of this without actually living in a different culture, or reading a book that describes the indigenous soul well, from the inside.

Such is the writing of Martin Prechtel, whose two books, recently finished, I can highly recommend for this purpose. They are Secrets of the Talking Jaguar, and Long Life, Honey in the Heart, Tarcher, Putnam, Penguin. Prechtel was a westerner raised on an American Indian reservation, lost, heart-broken, and in desperate need of a place to belong when he first arrived in the Guatemalan village of Santiago Atitlan. He was not only allowed inside the secret world of the village’s Tzutujil Mayan culture, but embraced as a member of the tribe, and later became a highly respected village chief.

He dedicates his book to the “youth of the world who are continually refused initiation and to all indigenous peoples who have had to watch their cultures dismantled, attacked from within and without, by other unfortunate peoples whose conscientiousness has been scrambled by infinite dynasties of greed-sanctioned violence and territorialism, and to the memory of all his teachers and mentors....” Subtitle is “A story of initiation and eloquence from te shores of a Mayan lake.”

Prechtel’s writing, unlike that of Newell, is written from inside the culture by one who has become immersed in it, and who lives it passionately and not always wisely. For an unforgettable lesson in how far our own culture in the USA (and organized religion) has come to deny the sacramentality of everyday life and the richness possible in the view that God is Present Everywhere in life as Newell explains, and to see it from the inside, P would be preferred to N. if one had to make a choice. If your interest is Celtic, read both.

December 16, 2002