Posted on by Dianne Otwell
Since returning from Iona, studying my notes from the lectures John Philip Newell gave on the island, and listening to some of his other lectures, perhaps the most meaningful thing to me in his teaching and in the Celtic tradition is the belief that what is deepest in us is of God (rather than what is deepest in us being opposed to God). In other words, more emphasis might be placed upon the first story of creation, in which God makes human beings in God’s image and declares them—and all of creation—“good,” than upon the second story of creation, that of the “fall.” Newell points out that Jewish tradition begins with the sense that what is deepest in us is sacred. The theology of “original sin” came to be deeply imbedded in Western Christian doctrine, but was rejected in Celtic Christian tradition. Once when Newell was teaching in a conference with a rabbi, and they were questioned about the doctrine of “original sin,” the rabbi responded that when asked about this topic, what would come to mind for most Jews would be an original sin (as in a creative sin!).
Newell speaks of looking into the eyes of his newborn children and “seeing the light of God and smelling on their skin the purity and freshness of the One from Whom they came.” He said he finds the theology of “original sin” absurd. Of course, we as humans are capable of enormous wrong and terrible falseness. Still, at the core of our being is the sacred: the pure gift of God. Julian of Norwich says that we are not only made by God; we are also made of God. When Jesus speaks of being born anew, he is not speaking of becoming something other than ourselves, but of the need for what is deepest in us to come forth again—of the need for the sacred at our core to be born afresh in radically new ways again and again and again.
The meaning of the Greek word for repentance, metanoia, is “turning around”—not to become something other than ourselves, but to turn back to our true essence. This points to our need to become robustly repentant people in order that we might become part of a great rebirthing process.