Listening For The Heartbeat Of God In The World
(Written by Sr Mary Rowell on behalf of Sr Nicole Aubé)
In his beautiful book, “Listening to the Heartbeat of God”, J. Philip Newell says, “To listen to God is to listen deep within ourselves, including deep within the collective life and consciousness of the world.” In childhood, this listening to the “beat of God’s heart” in our surroundings often arises spontaneously. Most of us have memories of experiencing the “music” of a running stream, the “magic” of new shoots in Spring, the magnificent colours of Fall and the “silence of snow”. Such experiences commonly gifted us with our first sense of Sacred Presence, the call of God to both intimacy and service. Yet, as Philip Newell says such experiences will not have been affirmed generally in our religious tradition.
Despite early Christian tradition, found especially in the Celtic Church, that taught that God is revealed in both the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature a dichotomy between the two, historically occurred. A dominant Roman tradition emphasizing a spirituality in which God is to be “found” only within the context of the Church, its rituals and formal teachings eclipsed the earlier perspective in which as the Celtic theologian, John Scotus Eriugena, claimed, “all things, visible and invisible can be called a theophany” (a revelation of God).
The Celtic vision was inspired by a devotion to St. John, the beloved disciple, who leaned against “the heart” of Jesus at the Last Supper. This spirituality, as newell says, lent itself easily to “a listening for God at the heart of all life”, an understanding of a world of wonder and mystery in which the Holy Spirit affirms God’s continual presence in creation.
We discover this in the beautiful prayers and blessings of the Western Isles of Scotland handed down for centuries in the oral tradition and which in the nineteenth century were recorded by Alexander Carmichael in the beautiful texts of the Carmina Gadelica. Here we read blessings of “the ordinary things of life”, praises of God in nature such as “Behold the Lightner of the stars on the crests of clouds.” In a Christmas carol is written, “this night is the eve of the Great Nativity, the souls of His feet have reached the Earth” and in response, “Earth and Ocean illumined Him, mountains and plains glowed to Him, the voice of the waves with the song of the strand announced to us that Christ is born.”
This all speaks of a deep sense of incarnation and of a spirituality that perceives elements of the Earth as expressions of God’s grace calling us to a prayer of contemplative listening for the heart-beat of God in all creation, in all people as well as in the Church and to see the whole of life as sacramental. We are called by this listening, as Newell says, in new directions, “social and political as well as ecological” by “the conviction that God is the life of the world and not merely some religious aspect of it.” As Pope Francis reminds us in his recent and compelling Encyclical, Laudato Si’, “In the heart of the world, the Lord of Life, who loves us so much, is always present. [He] does not abandon us, [He] does not leave us alone, for [He] has united [Himself] definitively to our earth, and [His] love constantly impels us to find new ways forward!” Together we live in the pulsating rhythm of God’s heart in all life – let us listen anew.
(It has been my privilege to write this reflection first suggested by Sister Nicole Aubé and which I am sure had she been able to write at this time would have been so much more inspired, steeped as she is in this beautiful spirituality. Thank you Nicole for all the grace and wisdom you have brought to your work for the Ecology Committee and more generally for showing us how to live in every place and moment listening to the heartbeat of God.)