Listening for The Heartbeat of God, Celtic Christian Spirituality – Part 13

With The Rev. Deacon Joe Dzugan


May 15th, 2022

Celtic Christian Cross St. Francis Adult Formation



Listening for The Heartbeat of God, Celtic Christian Spirituality – Part 13

Opening Prayer for Friday Morning


In the light of the high heavens and the infinity of dawnings in space,

in the darkness of ocean depths and the sea’s ceaseless waves,

in the glistening of a creature’s eyes and the dark life-blood that ever flows, 

in every emanation of creation’s life and the warmth that moves our bodies,

in the inner universe of the soul and its everlasting foundations, your glory glows, O God.

In every shining of the world’s inwardness and the warmth that moves our everliving soul

your glory glows.

  • J. Philip Newell, Sounds of the Eternal – A Celtic Psalter, p. 62.


Remember the Key “Threads” in Celtic Christian Spirituality


Celtic Christian Spirituality – Closing Reflections on Listening for The Heartbeat of God

In our last session, we considered “Two Ways of Listening: John and Peter.” We heard that:

The stream of Celtic spirituality is characterized by the expectation of finding God within, of hearing the living voice of God speaking from the very heart of life, within creation, and within ourselves. It is a spirituality that recognizes the authority of St. John and reflects his way of looking and listening for God. At the decisive Synod of Whitby in 664, where two distinct ways of seeing, represented by the Celtic and Roman missions, came into conflict, the former allied itself to John. Coleman of Lindisfarne argued that the Celtic tradition originated from St. John, the disciple who was, he said, “especially loved by our Lord.” Wilfrid, on the other hand, argued for the Roman mission, which he claimed, was based on the authority of St. Peter, whom he called “the most blessed Prince of the Apostles.” The tragic outcome of the synod was not that it chose the Roman mission, but that it neither made room within the Church for both ways of seeing or declared that both were firmly rooted in the gospel tradition.

The practice of listening for God within the whole of life was based on the perspective of St. John’s Gospel; it is therefore not limited to the Celtic tradition, but found in various mystical traditions in the history of the Church. Celtic spirituality is, however, unique in the way in which it developed and cherished John’s vision. It is important to always remember that Christianity is not confined to a single perspective; rather, it comprises a rich interweaving of approaches to God. It is not a question of choosing between the John and Peter traditions, but of attempting to hold them together. We need to ask how we can celebrate both and merge them into a spirituality for ourselves and the Church today.

In the New Testament, the John tradition is of course best reflected by the Gospel according to St. John. The Peter tradition, on the other hand, finds its clearest expression in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, which includes the reference to Peter as the rock on which Christ will build his Church (chapter 16). By comparing these Gospels, we can understand the conflict of the Synod of Whitby (664) and its aftermath and the tensions and complementarities between these two ways of seeing.

John and Peter did listen, in different ways, and this is why it is important to bring together their distinct perspectives and draw on the complementary Gospel traditions. [History has] shown how the Church has been weakened over the centuries by its rejection of Celtic spirituality and the latter’s development of the mysticism of St. John. The Church would have been infinitely richer if it had embraced both Pelagius and Augustine, affirming the essential goodness in every life while remaining alert to the evils that can destroy us. This would have provided surer foundations for integrating our spirituality with the whole of life and with what is most natural.

At the synod of Whitby, why could the way of John not have been held together with the way of Peter? The Celtic mission, which acknowledged the light present even in those who have not heard the gospel, complemented the Roman mission, with its emphatic claims of the uniqueness of the gospel. The two were not mutually exclusive. The Church was the poorer for forcing Celtic spirituality underground, so that for centuries it survived primarily on the Celtic fringes of Britain, among people unsupported in their spirituality by clergy. Would not the Church and the world have been better prepared to meet the challenges of the modern world – including ecological crises – if they had learned from Celtic spirituality instead of rejecting it? Would they not have been enriched by the awareness that God’s light is within creation as well as transcending it? Why was the Church so frightened when, in the nineteenth century, persons representing Celtic spirituality [Alexander Scott and George MacDonald] taught that we are a reflection of God’s image, the divine being inextricably interwoven with the human? Would it not have been enlarged in its spirit by affirming that our creativity, sexuality, and passion for life can be expressions of the life of God?

Finally, in the twentieth century, when the John tradition was reflected in George MacLeod and others, why did their conviction that God is the Light of the world (rather than just a religious aspect of it) not burst open the doors of the Church to the world? If it had more wholeheartedly accepted this belief, the Church would surely have avoided many of the dangers of irrelevance, which often characterize it today. Could it not have redefined its boundaries? Instead of being shut off behind its four walls, upholding a spirituality that too often looks away from life, could it not have transformed itself into a kind of side chapel for the world?

Our churches might then have become places where we could more easily step into and out of daily life and be reminded that the real cathedral of God is the whole of creation. If the Church’s symbols and rituals pointed more clearly to the world as God’s dwelling place, we might then more fully rediscover that God’s heartbeat can be heard in the whole of life and at the heart of our own lives, if we will only listen.


  • J. Philip Newell, Listening for The Heartbeat of God – A Celtic Spirituality, chapter six. 

Closing Prayer for Friday Morning

That your glory rises in the morning sun and sparkles off flowing waters, 

that the glory of the everlasting world shines in this world growing from the ground and issuing forth in every creature, that glory can be handled, seen, and known in the matter of earth and human relationship and in the most ordinary matters of daily life, assure us again this day, O God, assure us again this day.

May the light of God illumine the heart of my soul.

May the flame of Christ kindle me to love. 

May the fire of the Spirit free me to live this day, tonight, and forever. 

  • J. Philip Newell, Sounds of the Eternal – A Celtic Psalter, p. 65.


“Listening for The Heartbeat of God”, Deacon Joe Dzugan, St. Francis Episcopal Church, Greensboro NC, 2022.

Posted by Mark Hamby at 6:00 AM
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