John Philip Newell

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John Philip Newell (born 1953) is a poet, peacemaker, minister and scholar, internationally acclaimed for his work in the field of Celtic spirituality. Based in Edinburgh, Scotland, with his wife (Alison Newell née Cant) and four children, Newell teaches and preaches internationally on themes related to the sacredness of the earth and the oneness of the human soul. He is one of the most prominent teachers of spirituality in the English-speaking world.


Newell was born 4 May 1953, in Chatham, Ontario, Canada, third of four children to the Rev Dr William James Newell (Christian pastor and Director of World Vision Canada) and Pearl Newell, née Ferguson (mother and housewife). Following his early education in the Canadian public school system, he received a BA in English Literature (McMaster University 1975), a BD in Theology (University of Edinburgh 1978), and a PhD in Ecclesiastical History (University of Edinburgh 1981). An ordained Church of Scotland minister, Newell has served as Ecumenical Chaplain to McMaster University (1982–88), Warden of Iona Abbey in Scotland (1988–92), Assistant Minister at St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh (1992–95), Warden of Spirituality for the Anglican Diocese of Portsmouth in England (1995–2000), Scholar in Spirituality at St Giles Cathedral (2000–02), as well as the honorary positions of Writer Theologian for the Cathedral of the Isles in Scotland (2003–05), and, since 2006, Companion Theologian for Casa del Sol in New Mexico, USA.

In 2011, Newell launched the Praying for Peace Initiative in New Mexico to nurture greater relationship between Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and in the same year co-founded Heartbeat: A Sacred Journey Towards Earth's Healing ( In November 2011, he was honoured with the first-ever Contemplative Voices Award by the Shalem Institute in Washington, DC, in recognition of his service to spirituality and peacemaking.

Vision and beliefs[edit]

Newell celebrates the sacredness of the universe under the belief that everything that exists is made of God:

New science speaks of being able to detect the sound of the beginning in the universe. It vibrates within the matter of everything that has being. New science is echoing the ancient wisdom of spiritual insight. In the twelfth century Hildegard of Bingen taught that the sound of God resonates ‘in every creature’. It is ‘the holy sound’, she says, ‘which echoes through the whole creation.’ If we are to listen for the One from whom we have come, it is not away from creation that we are to turn our ears, it is not away from the true depths of our being that we are to listen. It is rather to the very heart of all life that we are to turn our inner attention. For then we will hear that the deepest sound within us is the deepest sound within one another and within everything that has being. We will hear that the true harmony of our being belongs to the universe and that the true harmony of the universe belongs to us. … Everything arises from that sacred sound."[1]

Newell sees that an essential part of the pathway towards healing in our world is to become more deeply conscious of our brokenness, individually and collectively:

Knowing and naming brokenness is essential in the journey towards wholeness. We will not be well by denying the wrongs that we carry within us as nations and religions and communities. Nor will we be well by downplaying them or projecting them onto others. The path to wholeness will take us not around such awareness but through it, confronting the depths of our brokenness before being able to move forward towards healing. As Hildegard of Bingen says, we need two wings with which to fly. One is the ‘knowledge of good’ and the other is the ‘knowledge of evil’. If we lack one or the other we will be like an eagle with only one wing. We will fall to the ground instead of rising to the heights of unitary vision. We will live in half-consciousness instead of whole-consciousness."[2]

And Newell teaches that transformation will come in our lives and world to the extent that we choose to bear the cost of transformation:

Like never before in the history of humanity, we are becoming aware of our inter-relatedness. 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. And the further question is where we will find strength and vision for this work."[3]

Central to Newell's practice of spirituality is his belief that meditative discipline and prayer serve the way of transformation.

To the home of peace
to the field of love
to the land where forgiveness and right relationship meet
we look, O God,
with longing for earth’s children
with compassion for the creatures
with hearts breaking for the people and nations we love.
Open us to visions we have never known
strengthen us for self-givings we have never made
delight us with a oneness we could never have imagined
that we may truly be born of You
makers of peace.[4]

Published works[edit]

Ed, The Iona Community Worship Book (Wild Goose Publications, 1991)

Each Day and Each Night: A Weekly Cycle of Prayer from Iona (Wild Goose Publications, 1994) published in the USA as Celtic Prayers from Iona (Paulist Press, 1997)

An Earthful of Glory: Prayers and Meditations (SPCK, 1996)

Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality (SPCK, 1997) published in the USA (Paulist Press, 1997)

One Foot in Eden: The Stages of Life (SPCK, 1998) published in the USA (Paulist Press, 1999)

Promptings from Paradise (SPCK, 1999) published in the USA (Paulist Press, 2000)

The Book of Creation: The Practice of Celtic Spirituality (Canterbury/SCM, 1999) published in the USA (Paulist Press, 1999)

Celtic Benediction: Morning and Night Prayer (Canterbury/SCM, 2000) published in the USA (Eerdmans, 2000)

Echo of the Soul: the Sacredness of the Human Body (Canterbury/SCM, 2000) published in the USA (Morehouse, 2001)

Sounds of the Eternal: A Celtic Psalter (Canterbury/SCM, 2002) published in the USA (Eerdmans, 2002)

Sounds of the Eternal: Meditative Chants & Prayers CD (Material Media, 2005)

Shakespeare and the Human Mystery (Azure, 2003) published in the USA (Paulist Press, 2003)

Celtic Treasure: Daily Readings and Prayer (Canterbury/SCM, 2005) published in the USA (Eerdmans, 2005)

Christ of the Celts: the Healing of Creation (Jossey-Bass, 2008) published in the UK (Wild Goose Publications, 2009)

Christ of the Celts Audio CD (Material Media, 2008).

Ground of All Being (New Beginnings, 2008)

Praying with the Earth: A Prayer Book for Peace (Canterbury, 2011) published in the USA (Eerdmans, 2011)

Chanting for Peace: Praying with the Earth CD (Material Media, 2011)

A New Harmony: the Spirit, the Earth, and the Human Soul (Jossey-Bass, 2011) published in the UK (St Andrew Press, 2012)

A New Ancient Harmony: A Celtic Vision For the Journey into Wholeness (Material Media, 2019)

Critical References[edit]


  1. ^ Newell, Philip (2011). A New Harmony. United States: Jossey-Bass. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-470-55467-8. Archived from the original on 14 March 2012.
  2. ^ Newell, Philip (2011). A New Harmony. United States: Jossey-Bass. pp. 64–5. ISBN 978-0-470-55467-8. Archived from the original on 14 March 2012.
  3. ^ Newell, Philip (2011). A New Harmony. United States: Jossey-Bass. pp. 143–44. ISBN 978-0-470-55467-8. Archived from the original on 14 March 2012.
  4. ^ Newell, Philip (2011). Praying with the Earth. United Kingdom: The Canterbury Press Norwich Editorial Office. p. 52. ISBN 978-0-8028-6653-0. Archived from the original on 23 March 2012.