John Philip Newell's new book is an inspiring and prophetic meditation on one of the most important phenomena in the world today. Much is being said and written about the decline of traditional Christianity, and people are simultaneously noticing the burgeoning interest in matters of faith and spirituality, contemplative prayer and healing, theology and spiritual practice. Cynthia Bourgeault, an Episcopal priest, author, and much-sought-after teacher on centering prayer, has said that she can't decide if she is a hospice worker or a midwife. Clearly, something is dying, but something is also coming to life. John Philip Newell sees this dying and rising again as a sacred moment in history that calls for reverent attention.
Throughout the book, John Philip provides vignettes that beautifully illustrate his reflections. In the introduction, he tells of a worship service he attended at the abbey on Iona. All of the worship leaders were women, the exact opposite of the tragic gender imbalance that plagued so much of Christian history, and John Philip was somewhat irritated that at least one or two men could not be found to serve. But then he remembered that it was the women in Jesus' day who stuck around as Jesus was dying and who even came to anoint his body for burial.
"Instead of seeing [this worship service] as a communion procession," he writes, "I begin to experience it as a funeral procession. Instead of bread and wine being carried forward for the sacrament, it becomes in my soul's eye the Church as body of Christ being borne for burial.... The women have not fled at the death. They are faithfully tending the body with care, with reverence. And such huge sorrow. This is death. This form will be no more." John Philip goes on to say, "Much of what is happening within the four walls of our household - liturgically, theologically, spiritually - is irrelevant to the great journey of the earth today and of humanity's most pressing struggles. Nevertheless, we are being asked not to flee." After all, the women who tended to the dying Jesus were also the first witnesses and proclaimers of the resurrection.
In the insightful and easy-to-read chapters that follow, John Philip identifies eight harbingers of rebirth or resurrection that he sees in our world and in our daily lives today. He invites us not only to see what is happening deep at the heart of reality, but to join in. The opportunity is to live into the new life that is stirring to birth among us, even while we are reverently tending that which is dying. What is coming to birth is new, but there is continuity with the old.
Each of the eight chapters in this book provides excellent material for deep personal reflection and group discussion. The invitation is to reconnect with Sacred Presence and Divine promptings that are stirring in the world around us, in our daily lives and interactions, and deep within the heart of all creation. We just need eyes to see and ears to hear, and the effect of the book is to sharpen our senses. The effect of these chapters is also to draw us into new ways of life and habits of being that align us with the rebirthing of God that is undeniably happening among us. In that sense, this book is not only spiritually sensitive; it is immensely practical, as well.
Political divisions, terrorism, anxiety and sleepless nights, income inequality, climate change, and arguments about children crossing national borders...it's not hard to see the problems. And as the author points out in the introduction, much of what is happening within the walls of our churches today is irrelevant to what is going on around us. But The Rebirthing of God is an invitation to see and live in the solution.