A New Harmony: The Spirit, the Earth, and the Human Soul
July 2011, Jossey-Bass
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A New Harmony: the Spirit, the Earth, and the Human Soul
Author Seeks “A New Harmony” Between People, Religions and Nature
by Exploring the Connectedness of Everything
San Francisco, CA - Named after the utopian community in Indiana that became a 20th century center of ecumenicalism and attracted the likes of theologian Paul Tillich, A New Harmony: The Spirit, the Earth and the Human Soul (Jossey-Bass, 2011), is a necessary corrective to the walls that divide people, faiths and the natural world.
Written while on sabbatical in New Harmony, Indiana, John Phillip Newell – a Canadian-born Presbyterian minister and former warden of the famous Iona Abbey in the west of Scotland – draws on his eclectic background, which includes a PhD from New College at the University of Edinburgh and time spent with monks in India and peacemakers in New Mexico, to deliver a book which (to use Newell’s metaphor) sees the world through the softness of evening light where lines dissolve, while still recognizing the reality of the approaching midday sun.
Here, Newell – who describes himself as one inside “the Christian household” – gives readers of all faiths a book of spiritual insights that point the way to rediscovering the connectedness of everything, from the similarities shared by the world’s faiths to the tight relationship between science and spirituality and spirituality and the natural world. In advocating this universalist awakening – described here as a “new Pentecost” – Newell draws on insights from psychiatrists, poets, scientists, sociologists, Christian mystics, Eastern spiritual teachers, dreams, the life of Jesus and personal anecdotes from his experiences ministering around the world.
Newell grounds himself in a long tradition of spiritual writing by rejecting fear (which manifests itself in fundamentalism of all sorts), embracing love, asserting the sacredness of everything, and – most prominently – moving past the dualism of Western thought. In rediscovering this “older unity,” Newell joins the likes of the Catholic monk Thomas Merton, who – Newell recalls – once told an inter-faith gathering, “My dear brothers, we are already one. But we imagine that we are not. What we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are.”
Towards the end of the work, Newell offers something of a summation of the book’s themes – and its daunting challenge – when he writes, “As never before in the history of humanity, we are becoming aware of our interrelatedness. We are beginning to comprehend that what we do to other species is what we do to ourselves. We are beginning to perceive that what we do to other nations and peoples is what we do to our own soul. The question is whether we will choose to translate this emerging consciousness into transformative action.”
A New Harmony is prophetic: it not only re-asserts neglected truths, but also calls people to action in light of them. It also refuses to gloss over the reality that, for all its sacredness and promise, the world is still deeply broken, but longs to be whole.