Sorin Books, 2020
Reviewed by Stephen Wollaston (aka Santoshan)
The author, Christine Valters Paintner, is described as an online abbess for Abbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery offering classes and resources on contemplative practice and creative expression. The title reminds me how in the Islamic tradition, Earth is sometimes referred to as a mosque. Earth: Our Original Monastery is essentially a book of practices and exercises related to both the natural world – its wildness and awe-inspiring beauty – and the Christian contemplative tradition.
The author writes well and is aware not only of past Nature-mystics, poets and writers of Christian wisdom but also of more contemporary spiritual writers and thinkers from various backgrounds such as Thomas Berry, David Abram, Thomas Merton, David Steindl-Rast and Teilhard de Chardin. The book is nicely illustrated with Nature drawings at the beginning of each chapter. As expected, there are various quotations from the Bible and various mystics concerning the natural world, and stories shared, including some about early Celtic Christians.
The author recommends a contemplative walk in each chapter and brings in other types of exercises to fit the theme of each chapter such as the practice of gratitude and various blessings. The seven chapters are on ‘Earth as the Original Cathedral’, ‘Earth as the Original Scriptures’, ‘Earth as the Original Saints’, ‘Earth as the Original Spiritual Directors’, ‘Earth as the Original Icon’, ‘Earth as the Original Sacrament’, and ‘Earth as the Original Liturgy’. An awareness of herbs and their usage is also included as well as a recommendation to learn the names of various species, as the author believes this can aid in finding better connections with Nature and an understanding of Her workings.
Overall, this is a very well put together book that has the right balance of contemplative quotations and exercises for reawakening an interrelatedness with the natural world. However, I felt disappointed when the author felt it necessary to mention the birth story to show the significance of Jesus but didn’t write about the creative element of birth itself and its obvious connections with Nature. In addition, a section that mentioned how a bear became St Ciaran’s first disciple/monk and made himself a cell, and other animals came from their dens to accompany and obey Ciaran’s words as if they had been monks themselves, sounded Walt Disney-ish to me. I would have preferred more objectivity for a book published in 2020. Nonetheless, although the book lacks a progressive element in places, there is much that makes it a worthwhile book, and beneficial for our current times in reassessing our interrelationships with Earth-life. Hopefully, it will encourage readers to reflect more and take collective responsibility for a more engaged green spirituality. The below passage is from the author’s Introduction:
The invitation to live life with more slowness, simplicity, and attentiveness is a rich gift in a world driven by speed, consumerism, and distraction. Contemplative practices help to offer an antidote to ways of living that have contributed to the destruction of Earth…Our work as spiritual seekers and contemplatives is to see all of creation as woven together in holiness and to live this truth. In this loving act we begin to knit together that which has been torn; we gather all that has been scattered. Contemplative practice is a way to bring healing presence to the world.