Ecological Posts

For me, April 22, 2020 was not just the celebration of the first Earth Day fifty years ago, it also was a more parochial time to begin some ruminating. I published my first book in ecological theology the same year as the first Earth Day – Brother Earth: Nature, God, and Ecology in a Time of Crisis (New York: Thomas Nelson, 1970). Fifty years ago! In those days, mine was one of a very few voices addressing ecological issues theologically. I had to struggle even to come up with a title for the book. My first impulse had been to think in terms of “Mother Earth.” But in those days many Christians – who were then as now my target audience – were highly suspicious of anything that sounded like “paganism” or “nature religion.” Those were the days, too, when numerous American Christian thinkers were, following the great Karl Barth,Read More →

The construct ecological spirituality and terms like that have by now become familiar to many, Christians and others, who are seeking to respond to our global ecojustice crisis from religious perspectives.1 Perhaps the most widely celebrated theological voice in this respect is Pope Francis’, who in his encyclical Laudato Si’ has championed the importance of an ecological spirituality for all, for Christians especially, in this era of global emergency, as the beautiful prayer with which he concludes that encyclical powerfully shows.2 But how is such an ecological spirituality to be claimed more generally by members of our churches today? In recent years I have become more and more convinced that narratives of personal experience, fragmentary as they typically are, have a role to play in helping church members today to develop ecological spiritualities of their own, alongside of more discursive theological studies and confessional statements such as Laudato Si’. ItRead More →

“A shoot shall come forth from the stump of Jesse…” (Is. 11:1) In front of our old farmhouse in southwestern Maine, I witnessed a sign from heaven this past summer. Several years ago, we called in a tree-man to cut down – sadly – a grand old maple, which we’d treasured for decades. One of its three huge trunks appeared then to be threatening our kitchen. It could have come crashing down on us during some ferocious mountain windstorm. So we had the whole tree removed. That was then. Sometime this past spring, a single gold and brown gallardia took root in the middle of that large maple’s stump. That gorgeous flower, maybe two feet tall, flourished all by itself from July through the first fall frosts. This wasn’t exactly a shoot from the stump of Jesse. But, for me, it was something like that. I contemplated that astounding flowerRead More →

Prepared for Lutherans Restoring Creation Commentary (lutheransrestoringcreation.org) Lectionary Series B 2014-2015 September 27, October 4, October 11 A series honoring St. Francis of Assisi Note: Sunday, October 4, 2015 is the Festival of St. Francis. This series affords the preacher an opportunity to address the texts of the three successive Sundays with St. Francis in mind. Themes: Sept. 27, “St. Francis: Prophet of God,” Oct. 4, “St. Francis: Child of God,” Oct. 11, “St. Francis: Man of Wealth.” Resources: — Pope Francis, Laudato Si’: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html. The text of the 2015 papal encyclical. — Eloi LeClerc, The Canticle of Creatures – Symbols of Union: An Analysis of St. Francis of Assisi, tr. Matthew J. O’Connell (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1970). A study of Francis, focusing on his famous Canticle. — H. Paul Santmire, “The Life and Significance of Francis of Assisi,” in The Travail of Nature: the Ambiguous Ecological Promise ofRead More →

They asked me what I thought.  An academic and church consortium brought me to lovely Adelaide in southern Australia in March of 2015 to present a paper on ecotheology and spirituality.  That I did (the paper will be published in due course).  Along the way they also asked each of the conferees to take some quiet time to reflect about his or her own spirituality of nature.  Have I thought about anything else the last sixty years?  But I did what I was told. I found the time for my own reflection when all the other conferees were off visiting wineries in that, one of Australia’s richest wine-producing regions.  I absented myself from that trip, spoilsport that I was, since, following my simple, if not simple-minded, practice of many years, I had “given up” imbibing any kind of alcohol during Lent.  It would have been boring for me, and allRead More →

During my brief visit to Australia in 2015, I had occasion to walk through the Chinese Garden of Friendship in Sydney, a gift in 1988 to that city from the citizens of Guangzhou in southern China. I know very little about Chinese or Japanese gardens, but they have always fascinated me. Is it true that for the former Lush is More, while for the latter Less is More? Am I right in thinking that this distinction, if it is apt, further reveals the influence of Taoism and Zen Buddhism respectively? Be that as it may, the Chinese garden in Sydney left me with the impression of overflowing fecundity. But it was not the kind of wild profusion that Americans might anticipate. Nature did not take over here, as, for example, it tends to do in Frank Lloyd Wright’s captivating rural Pennsylvania home, Fallingwater, nestled deeply in a forest, precariously builtRead More →

It must have been Garrison Keillor who observed that at the gates of heaven the Jews will carry a shofar, the Catholics a crucifix, and the Lutherans a bowl of Jello. I saw signs of that Lutheran sensibility on the streets of Manhattan on Sunday, September 21, 2014, during the Peoples Climate March. But I celebrate that sensibility. Just about every group that I saw carried its own sign or banner or flag, announcing its identity and its presence and promoting its own commitment to this good cause: the Hare Krishnas, the Unitarians, the Service Employees International Union, 350.org, the Sierra Club, the Hindus, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, St. John’s Sunday School, Harlem, and many more. We Lutherans carried three by two foot green signs, with “Climate Justice: For All of God’s Creation” in large letters. In tiny print, I mean really tiny print, down inRead More →

Every late fall, I rake the forest path. It usually takes me a couple of days. I began to carve out that path at the edges of the rugged, wooded hill behind our old farm house in rural, southwestern Maine some forty years ago. I love to saunter up and down and around that path whenever I can, to let my mind wander, to contemplate the larger things of life, and to encounter surprises along the way, a huge, fallen branch from a hundred-year old white pine, a pristine rhododendron blossom, the telltale knocking of an unseen woodpecker, the mysterious footprints of a moose. For me, this walk is a way of loving nature. But I couldn’t do the walking without the raking. In the fall that path totally disappears underneath a thick layer of oak and beech leaves. When that happens, even I sometimes have trouble following the path.Read More →

I walked over to Harvard the last day of April from my nearby residence, to lend my tired voice to the students and faculty and alums who had gathered there in the Yard to protest the University’s failure to divest itself of its holdings in oil. Been there, done that, it felt, hundreds of times. But it was worth the walk. It was a cold spring morning. As I stood there – perhaps the oldest alum in that gathering of about two-hundred souls – feeling that chill to my bones, I carried a sign that a student had given me, “The Temp is Going Up!” The first speaker, a writer for The Nation and an alumnus, reveled in his anger against Harvard and its President, Drew Faust, as well he should have. Make no mistake about it, he yelled into his hand mike, those who are already suffering the mostRead More →

The plumber called today, early. Thankfully, I thought, as I turned over in bed to grab the phone and rubbed my eyes in the morning twilight. I’d been eagerly awaiting that call, since our toilet – our only toilet – had been nearly stopped up for a couple of days. Longer than that actually, since I – whose grandfather and two of his sons had been plumbers by trade – fancied myself to be a kind of down-home expert on toilets; and I had been using my own five-foot long plumber’s snake off and on, for months, to clear blockages. But to no avail. It was time. Even I have limits, when it comes to plumbing. Hence the plumber’s call, rousing me from my peaceful slumber. I knew the guy. I’d called on him before, in the aftermath of other – failed – efforts of mine with the house’s plumbing.Read More →

Scything up here in the Maine foothills of the White Mountains of New Hampshire is indeed a wonderful exercise. The exercise itself, to begin with, is good, of course. But there are other benefits. Scything keeps our large field from turning into a forest. Scything also can and typically does produce many piles of “green manure,” as we call it, which a year or two later I dig into our veggie garden. Then there’s all the time I invest standing there, catching my breath, and contemplating the mountains to the West, which were especially beautiful on this crisp, fall-like day toward dusk. There are liabilities, to be sure, like the time when I sliced through the hive of some paper wasps, hidden in the tall grass, dozens of which landed on my legs, which is particularly bothersome to me, since I am allergic to insect stings (I lived). The liabilityRead More →

I am all in favor of spirituality and of spiritual experience more generally. I discuss such matters in personal terms in a chapter of my book Nature Reborn. But not a free-floating spirituality, where anything that “works” is treasured. The specter of Gnosticism has always been lurking at the door of the Church, as the counter-festimonies of Irenaeus, Augustine, and Francis of Assisi show. In our own world, one does not have to maintain that Gnosticism is the American religion, a la Harold Bloom, to see signs of the Gnostic spirit everywhere: precisely in the free floating quest for spirituality that is so popular in American church circles where the experience of the individual has become the treasure-trove of so many of the faithful. Witness the interest in Jung, still, to this day. Witness the influence of New Age trends practically everywhere. Witness even the radical individualism of some formsRead More →