- Spirit and Nature: The Study of Christian Spirituality in a Time of Ecological Urgency ed. by Timothy Hessel-Robinson and Ray Maria McNamara
"Ecological urgency" is the framing hermeneutical context that drives the choices made by editors and authors of this anthology. The time in which we live is different from any previous time in human history, because today human activity is altering all the conditions of life on Earth in fundamental ways. How does this make a difference in both what and how we study in the field of Christian spirituality?
In biblical studies, two recent major projects illustrate the range of approaches to such a question. The Green Bible project (Harper 2008) operated on the assumption that many texts in the Bible carry an Earth-friendly message, which needs to be highlighted (literally) and promoted. The Earth Bible project (Sheffield 2000), on the other hand, worked from the basic premise that core principles of the biblical message are inherently anthropocentric and, as such, destructive to the larger community of life on Earth. While the Green Bible approach permits an optimistic hermeneutic of retrieval of the ancient texts, the Earth Bible approach [End Page 293] demands a thoroughgoing hermeneutic of suspicion followed by radical reconstruction of the message on the basis of new, Earth-friendly principles.
Different contributors to the anthology under review here tend more to one end of this spectrum or the other. The first essay, Toni Craven and Mary Jo Kaska's "The Legacy of Creation in the Hebrew Bible and Apocryphal Deuterocanonical Books," has an Earth Bible flavor. The authors affirm that central biblical texts that are often referenced promote a hierarchical worldview that objectifies and demeans both women and non-human living creatures. For example, the Hebrew word in Genesis that is translated as "subdue" is violent, meaning assault and even rape. Craven and Kaska argue that we will not be able to find a positive ecological interpretation simply through the usual historical-critical approach, but rather must open up to the unconscious in order to discover a "new story" based on "an inner sense of resonance and creativity" (46).
The next three essays, however, take a more sanguine approach to the retrieval of classical traditions, even as they recognize that critique and reinterpretaton are necessary. In "Spiritual Practice and Sustainability: Resources from Early Christian Monasticism," John O'Keefe proposes that the early desert monks and, especially, Irenaeus offer perspectives that affirm the physicality of the world as the native place God created for humans. Belden Lane's "A Reformed Vision of the World: Trinitarian Beauty and Environmental Ethics" interpets John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards' insights into the grace of participation in the Trinity's beauty as the ground for a theocentric ecological ethic and spirituality. "Orthodox Spirituality and Contemporary Ecology: John Cassian, Maximus the Confessor, and Jurgen Moltmann in Conversation" by Brock Bingaman is particularly strong in reclaiming Maximus' theology of Christ as both the original pattern and the eschatological goal of creation. Like the Green Bible, these three essays demonstrate that by sifting the Christian tradition scholars can find and lift up classical resources that contribute richly to an ecological spirituality.
These are followed by three essays that also sink deep roots in classical Christian traditions, but given even greater emphasis to a re-visioning dialogue with the new realities that encompass us today. In "Contemplation in the Vibrant Universe: The Natural Context of Christian Spirituality," Robert John Russell meditates on Teresa of Avila's image of the diamond and John of the Cross's "fire, earth, water and air" to explore the interplay between contemplation and science—the inward and outward faces of our twenty-first century journey toward our source and destiny. Nancy S. Wiens follows with "Practicing Christian Spiritual Discernment in Light of Natural Science," affirming a non-interventionist, objective, special divine action theory to affirm both human freedom and real divine guidance in the process of discernment. For Timothy Hessel-Robinson...