Endorsements for Before Nature: A Christian Spirituality:
“When theologians teaching at Lutheran colleges, universities and seminaries held a conference in 2012 to assess and discuss ecological theology, they called upon H. Paul Santmire to review the emergence of ecological theology among Lutherans. Lutheran churches made the first public theological statements on ecology in 1970 and 1972. One of their theologians, Joseph Sittler, beginning in 1954, was the pioneer of earth-regarding theology.
Santmire was a young theologian working alongside Sittler for the 1972 ecology statement by the Lutheran Church in America, having completed Brother Earth: Nature, God and Ecology in a Time of Crisis in 1970. By 1985 Santmire published his most important work, The Travail of Nature: The Ambiguous Ecological Promise of Christian Theology. With Nature Reborn: The Ecological and Cosmic Promise of Christian Theology in 2000, and Ritualizing Nature: Renewing Christian Liturgy in a Time of Crisis in 2008, Santmire finished his eco-theological corpus – except for a book that “has the feel of my last”: Before Nature: A Christian Spirituality.
Adapting the Jesus Prayer from Orthodox spirituality, Santmire offers a Trinity Prayer for daily practice that dwells within and upon the connections of Christian faith to the natural world. Santmire offers specific guidance for praying the Trinity Prayer in Chapter Two, Chapter Ten and the Epilogue of Before Nature. The Prologue and Chapter One introduce his personal connections to nature and Christianity, and his purposes for the book. Chapters Three, Four and Five frame the ambiguities and tensions of praying within the human condition, including doubt, a Christian sense of sin, and noetic limitations. The rest of the chapters discuss aspects of Trinitarian theology in relationship to creation and redemption, including interesting summaries of Santmire’s appropriations of Paul Tillich and Gordon Kaufman, his teachers, and other favorite theologians: Elizabeth Johnson, Jurgen Moltmann, Martin Luther and others.
An accomplished preacher and teacher, Santmire fills the entire book with colorful imagery and stories to which almost anyone could relate. Yet in the discursive Chapters Six through Nine his review of significant theological issues could keep a discussion group of pastors or seminarians busy for a season. Theologians may spy unfinished and open issues that ecological theologians – not only Santmire – face. But it is interesting to see how Santmire makes associations between doctrines, biblical texts, liturgy and ethics in order to interpret his overall amazement and appreciation of nature and God.
The book therefore is like a walk or tour with Santmire along which he introduces theological observations and religious associations. For instance, he invites readers to a hand-mown field he loves, stops to tell a story, and shares his sense of how holy is the world. Or, readers ascend with Santmire in a tower above a prolific canopy over a cemetery. From that perch Santmire recommends incarnational theology and spirituality to defy any spiritual ascent toward disembodiment. One of Santmire’s strongest sections is on the incarnational theology of Martin Luther (pp 135-143).
Theologically-informed readers could use Before Nature to approach a string of conversation-starters about Trinitarian analogies; perception of the Trinity in God’s created world; and related theological issues. Others, however, may simply find a kind voice framing Christian imagery and language with respect for the world that science and poetry also describe. Santmire recommends his prayerful Trinitarian spirituality to all spiritual seekers in an environmentally troubled world. Early in the book Santmire makes a warm invitation to any who may be estranged or unfamiliar with organized Christianity. He suggests to church leaders that they could follow his example: to be interested in and engaged with the environmental plight of the world opens common cause with others. Like his previous works, Santmire’s Before Nature honestly identifies neglect and culpability of Christians and Christianity toward the environmentally damaged and socially troubled world, but also details a wealth of Christian belief and practice which exhibits and enhances appreciation for nature and the here-and-now drama of God’s abiding care for the world.”
“With grace and wisdom, Paul Santmire draws the reader into intimate, intriguing conversation culminating in an earthy spirituality of nature grounded in historic Christian traditions and in his lifelong journey of encountering God in Earth’s creatures and elements. Santmire is an artist of words. His accessible lucid prose and delightful imagery guide the reader on a critical and deeply appreciative walk through Christian understandings of God both beyond and within the created world. All is couched in courageous unflinching accounts of his spiritual journey in its fragile beauty and brokenness. His final gift to the reader is an invitation to encounter God in creation by singing the ancient Trinity Prayer as a life-giving spiritual practice. Against the lure of cosmic despair prevalent in the church and broader society, Santmire weaves a vision of cosmic hope; all of creation is destined toward ultimate fulfillment. This will become a classic of earth-honoring spirituality.”
Cynthia Moe-Lobeda: Theology, Seattle University; author, Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation
No author in English is more important than Paul Santmire in the field of Christian theology of nature. Beyond Nature is a beautiful culmination of Santmire’s nearly half a century of writings on the topic. While being through and through a theology of nature, this book is at once a moving spiritual autobiography, a creative exploration of the doctrine of the Trinity, and an admirably practical guide to prayer. Beyond Nature presents an embodied “Christian spirituality” that is both conceptually rigorous and poetically imaginative, sustained by the infinite mystery of divine love.
John F. Hoffmeyer, Theology: Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia
“With a pastoral heart and prophetic passion, H. Paul Santmire continues his lifelong conversation about creation centered spirituality. Unapologetically Christian, Santmire weaves a Trinitarian vision into a universal fabric—calling the reader toward an inner/outer journey that integrates prayer and action. With his most personal testimony to date, the author has created a theological legacy rooted in a life time of faithful ministry.”
Susan R. Andrews: General Presbyter, Presbytery of Hudson River; formerly, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
“For forty years now, H. Paul Santmire has provided us with graceful retrievals of nearly lost Christian traditions of creation theology. In the process, he has reconfigured contemplative and spiritual ecology. Now, in Before Nature, Santmire continues and extends his life-long work by illuminating nature as a relationship whose center is the Trinity and whose circumference is prayer.”
Steven Chase: Author, Nature as Spiritual Practice and A Field Guide to Nature as Spiritual Practice
“In the face of the extinctions of our time—indeed, the threat to any human future at all—how are Christians still to pray? Here in our ‘twilight,’ Santmire invites readers into a practice of contemplative prayer capacious of both personal depth and clear-eyed vision. His Trinity Prayer makes possible a fully ecological immersion in reality, mystery, and hope: a Christian spirituality for life on Earth.”
Lisa E. Dahill: Theology, Liturgy, and Spirituality, Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio
“For several decades, Paul Santmire has produced a series of groundbreaking books on the theology of nature and the environment. They are rich and indispensable reading for anyone working in this area. Now he has added to his corpus this wonderful volume, Before Nature: A Christian Spirituality. In this work, Santmire brings together Christian spirituality, his personal narrative, theology of nature, and mission, in the very best sense of that word. The result is a feast, with all the right ingredients. We will never recover a theology of nature and place without recovering the accompanying practices, and in this work we get a wonderful insight into Santmire’s own practices and how to develop a spirituality for and of such practices. It is hard to stress too strongly how important is such a discussion. Even more important is that we learn from Santmire and incarnate such practices into our daily lives. The results would be truly revolutionary.”
Craig Bartholomew: Theology, Redeemer University College, Hamiliton, Ontario; author, Where Mortals Dwell: A Christian View of Place for Today
“In Before Nature, Paul Santmire weaves together theologies of nature, both ancient and new, which he persuasively employs to re-frame our understanding of humanity’s vital—and humble—role as co-creator and servant. Engaging scientific criticism and illumined by ‘fragile faith,’ Dr. Santmire journeys into the origin of all things in God as Trinity: Giver, Gift, and Giving. In a narrative combining elements of theological reflection, pastoral experience, and memoir, Santmire calls readers to own their role of theologian/creation-partner through prayer and action. An invitation to vulnerability, wonder, and hope , Before Nature is an inspiring and moving challenge to living in God’s present—in an ‘era of twilight.’”
Jonathan Maury: monk and member of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, Cambridge, Massachusetts