Celtic spiritual teacher and author John Philip Newell has just released a new book called Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul. It’s a beautiful text reminding us at just the right moment in human history of the gift of Celtic Christianity, a faith that honors the sacredness of the earth and of the human soul. For Celtic Christians, humanity and creation are interwoven in a beautiful tapestry of interdependence. “It’s all One, everything connected to everything,” the Celtic Christian might say.
In his opening chapter, Newell tells us of the story of Pelagius, the Celtic monk who lived in 360-430 AD. Those of us who went to seminary remember him as a theological adversary to Augustine (which makes me like him immediately), though John Philip Newell goes to great links to clarify and redeem Pelagius’ reputation.
Pelagius taught that it is not so much what you believe about Jesus that matters. The important thing is becoming like Jesus, becoming compassionate.
Pelagius says, “When Jesus commands us to love our neighbors, he does not only mean our human neighbors; he means all of the animals and birds, insects and plants, amongst whom we live.” To do this, we must attend to five areas in our lives: the human soul, nature, spiritual practice, wisdom, and compassion. These represent a fully integrated human life, providing a “Rule of Life” that opens us to God.
But, Pelagius says, the starting place is to see that all of life is grace. This moment is grace. Nature is grace. The rising sun each day is grace. Life is a gift of God through grace. As we live with that awareness, we receive the grace of illumination. We awaken to the deep connection of all of creation, and we return to right relationship with ourselves and each other. When we falter, we learn about the grace of forgiveness or mercy. We fail, we betray, we fall short, and we learn to seek reconciliation and return to our true integrity.
I love this balance of attention and grace. Pay attention to your sacred life, Pelagius says. But when you lose yourself, there is grace. Then, try again.
In a time of human history when we live in such divisive and disconnected ways, I am grateful that Newell has reminded us of what our souls already know to be true: All good things come from God.
Our calling is to wake up to that Sacred Love that gave life to all that is. From there, we can reflect that love to others and all of the earth. Then we will be truly and fully alive.
Let’s give it a try.
We are all in this together,