Listening for the Heartbeat of God
The first book on Celtic Christianity I ever read was a book by John Philip Newell titled, "Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality." I was still a layperson back then, trying to muddle my way through damaging theologies and ideas that didn't seem to make sense to me about God, faith, and the world around me. So, at the suggestion of my mentor and pastor, I read this book.
Immediately, I was captivated. The ideas, the theologies, the deep connections of Celtic spirituality were speaking aloud deep truths and hopes that I had long held but had no language for. For example, Celtic spirituality incorporates Pelagius' teaching about original blessing, as opposed to Augustine's theology of original sin. While the Historical Church ran with Augustine's idea that we are all born sinful because Adam and Eve screwed up, Pelagius held that we are all born good, and life and our choices begin muddying things up for us after we are born.
But it was more than just debunking the horrible theology of original sin that spoke to my soul. Celtic spirituality names and celebrates a deep connection to creation. It holds that God is not up in the sky somewhere removed from us or our lived realities, God is a part of us--ALL OF US--and not just us humans, but also in the flowers and the trees, and the animals, streams, and soil. "The presence of God's spirit in all living things," Pelagius wrote, "is what makes them beautiful; and if we look with God's eyes nothing on the earth is ugly."
What's more, Celtic spirituality finally answered questions about love and neighborliness that years of empty and trite anecdotes of both never even touched. Newell explains, "Because Pelagius saw God as present within all that has life, he understood Jesus' command to love our neighbour as ourself to mean loving not only our human neighbour but all the life forms that surround us. 'So when our love is directed toward an animal or even a tree,' he wrote, 'we are participating in the fullness of God's love.'"
All of this informs SO MUCH of what we do in our household--it's why we garden, why we took up half of our yard plant native prairie plants. It's why we don't fertilize our yard, why we feed the birds (even the ones that are sometimes a nuisance). It's why we adopt dogs and recycle what we can. It's why we compost and leave a bunch of leaves for critters over the cold months. It's why we share the harvests from our garden with others, why we hang our clothes out on the line to dry in the sun rather than in the dryer: Because God, my spouse and I understand, is present in it all, and we are connected to it all. We are trying our best to participate in the fullness of God's love.
On Sunday, May 7th, we are celebrating Rogation Sunday here at St. Paul. It is a time to ask God's blessing on our efforts to sow seeds that might provide a bounty and delight to ourselves and others. It is a time when we recognize our connection to one another and, indeed, ALL of creation, and we ask God's blessing on our own endeavors--whatever they may be--to participate in the fullness of God's love. It's a time when we recognize that our gardens, our pollinators, our delicate and magnificent ecosystem is one big Divine gift...a gift that connects us and sustains us all.
I pray you will join us for Rogation Sunday, and I pray you will be intentional about leaning in to your own postage stamp of the earth and listening for the very heartbeat of God that is drumming a divine rhythm throughout all of creation...even here. Even now.
Listening for the heartbeat of God with you,
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Rev. Melissa Sternhagen
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen was called as the pastor of St. Paul Congregational UCC in June of 2020. Prior to her call to St. Paul, Pr. Melissa worked as a hospice chaplain in the Ames, IA area, following pastorates at rural churches in Central Iowa and Southern Illinois. Pr. Melissa is a second-career pastor with a background in agribusiness and production & supply operations. She received her M.Div. from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO, and holds a MA Ed. in Adult Education and Training, and a BA in Organizational Communications.