Opening the Book of Nature
4. Library of Christianity and Nature
THERE ARE FEW BOOKS on the task of learning from nature which are explicit, useful and recent. Most describe the process of learning from creation as a historic relic. Few discuss the task of how to learn. Some major texts include the following.
Å Glenn Clark, The Man Who Talks with the Flowers: The Intimate Life Story of
Dr. George Washington Carver, Macalester Park Publishing Co., Shakopee, MN 1939, reprinted 1994.
Author Glenn Clark, a Presbyterian minister, captures a spiritual dimension to Carver's life that most biographies miss. He begins with insights about how Carver taught others to pray with unusual potency and how he left transformed lives in his path. This text introduces Carvers ability to talk to God through the flowers and vegetables -- and to receive clear responses. The secret, says Carver, is "you have to love it enough."
"When I touch that flower, says Carver, I am not merely touching that flower, I am touching Infinity." To enter into this experience, Carver gives simple rules which any person can use and find valuable, not only for penetration into nature, but for a more complete practice of discipleship. There are few modern publications which help much in learning to read the "Book of Nature," but this booklet is certainly one of them.
Å Clarence Glacken, Traces on the Rhodian Shore: Nature and Culture in Western
Thought from Ancient Times to the End of the Eighteenth Century, chapter five: Nature as a Planned Abode, subsection Nature as a Book, Univ. of California Press, Berkeley, 1967, fifth edition, 1990.
This cultural geography textbook is used at a few universities to survey historical land attitudes. Primarily provides information on attitudes to nature in Western civilization.
Å Charles Cummings, OCSO, Eco-Spirituality: Toward a Reverent Life, particularly ch. 3: Opening the Book of Creation, Paulist Press, 1991.
This Cistercian monk reviews numerous citations about the presence of God within the world and then devotes an entire chapter to the Book of Creation for which he finds abundant historical reference. This book will teach us, he says, about the harmonious relationship of interdependence that the Creator established among all creatures.... A good introductory historical summary although it only scratches the surface.
Å Susan Power Bratton, Christianity, Wilderness and Wildlife: The Original
Desert Solitaire, University of Scranton Press, 1993.
Bratton documents historical aspects of Christianitys concern for creation through the Reformation era. Bratton offers wonderful stories about the lives of selected saints and sees the loss of creation care as a missing dimension in Western Christianity. She perceives in Luther and especially in Calvin a misdirection away from the discipline and understanding of the spiritual benefits of wilderness which characterized earlier strains of Christianity.
To retie the threads of a fractured wilderness tradition, Bratton proposes reexamination of the disciplines in Early Christian spiritual practice. While she correctly discerns that this path holds keys for a revitalized understanding of nature in Christian faith, her theological suppositions become more of a hinderance than a help. While this book is filled with insightful historical stories, it holds too many questions and doubts on top of too little clarity for this work to be much more than an expression of historical Christianitys legacy of nature and wilderness care.
Å Flower Newhouse, Finding Enlightenment through Nature, The Christian Ministry, Escondido, California, 1952
This hard-to-find booklet is on the right track, but burdened with denominational baggage. Newhouses assumption is that the stronger the love of God, the stronger the yearning to learn of nature. To her, nature is a School of Wisdom.
Å Steve Van Matre, editor, The Earth Speaks, The Institute for Earth Education, Warrenville, Illinois, 1984.
This anthology of poetry, excerpts from nature essays and quotes intimates at lessons from creation but never provides clear guidance into the task. A nice collection.
Å David Douglas, Wilderness Sojourn: Notes in the Desert Silence, Harper and Row, San Francisco, 1987.
This book narrates a few reflections on elementary lessons in wilderness by a fellow who spent a few weeks in the desert. A fair collection without much inspiration.
Å Tim Lehman, Seeking the Wilderness: A Spiritual Journey, Faith and Life Press, Newton, Kansas, 1993.
This book of reflections is by someone who intuits the spiritual lessons of wild places. Provides a nice collection of wilderness stories and draws beginning lessons from them.
Å Joseph Cornell, Listening to Nature: How to Deepen your Awareness of Nature, Dawn Publications, Nevada City, 1987.
This is a pointing and intimating book; it shows that there are lessons in nature but approaches them through stories rather than systematically. It offers thirty-one quotations about nature from many traditions (mostly Eastern) and provides a paragraph or two of commentary from each. Marginally useful.
Å Liberty Hyde Bailey, The Holy Earth, Sowers Printing Co., Lebanon, PA, 1915, reprinted 1943 by the Christian Rural Fellowship, and in 1988 by the United Methodist Rural Fellowship, Columbia, MO.
This often reprinted book, first written in 1902 aboard ship in the South Pacific, is a classic on attitudes toward the land.
Å J. Allen Boone, Kinship with All Life, Harper and Row, New York and San Francisco, 1954, (and since reprinted).
This collection of simple, real-life experiences shows how animals communicate with each other and the lessons which people can learn about animals, about relationships and about life in general. Great book of insightful stories, even though they are somewhat dated to the 1940s. Wonderful for children and adults.
Å Robert Bly, News of the Universe: Poems of Twofold Consciousness, Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, 1980.
Here is another example of what might have been an uplifting and inspiring work. Instead, because of the authors prejudices, it dwells on the negative and reinforces the false Lynn White assumption that Christianity is the problem rather than the solution. Nevertheless, if one is a searcher, some genuine insight can be found in the poetry selections, although the commentary is relentlessly anti-Christian.
Å Stanton Coblentz, Sea Cliffs and Green Ridges, Naturegraph Publishers, Inc., Happy Camp, California, 1979.
This is a collection of the authors best nature poetry. Here and there he has allusions to the lessons of the land, and the whispering wisdom of the woods, but you have to be a dedicated miner to find the few nuggets hidden in this nice, but not brilliant, collection. Like most other nature works, the theological and the ecological exist on different strata and they never quite integrate.
Å Henry Van Dyke (editor), The Poetry of Nature, Doubleday, Page & Co., London, England, 1909.
Because this anthology was published almost ninty years ago, this is a hard book to find. It is filled with selections primarily from Longfellow, Wordsworth, Lowell, Shelley, Whitman, Browning, Bryant, Tennyson, Keats, and other major American and British poets. From my brousing, there is nothing here that could not be found in other publications as these poets are all widely reprinted. Again, this is nice, but not focused on our particular concern.
Å Robert S. deRopp, Church of the Earth: The Ecology of a Creative Community, ch. 18: Thanksgiving, Dell Publishing Co., New York, 1974.
Open your eyes and look about you, reads the opening line. Throw away your books and learn directly from the biosphere. It teaches man all that he needs to know.... While the author opens this chapter with great potential for insight, he quickly detours into complaints about how modern society has not learned the lessons of the land. His failure to identify the underlying principles for learning from nature keeps this book from going very deep or being very helpful.
Å Doug Sadler, Reading Natures Clues: A Guide to the Wild, Broadview Press, Petersborough, Canada, 1987
This handbook focuses upon the physical side of wilderness skills such as tracking, observing sign, and reading habitat. Provides insights on natural environments from many countries and sprinkles the text with accounts of explorers and naturalists as diverse as Henry David Thoreau, Sgt. Patrick Gass (narrator of the Lewis and Clark Expedition), John James Audubon, David Livingston, Leonardo da Vinci, and others).
Other Books of less explicit value:
Å T. C. McLuhan, The Way of the Earth: Encounters with Nature in Ancient and Contemporary Thought, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1994
Å James Cutsinger, The Form of Transformed Vision: Coleridge and the Knowledge of God, Mercer University Press, 1987
Å Wharton James, Learning from the Indians, Running Press, Philadelphia, 1908, 1974
Å Rupert Sheldrake, The Rebirth of Nature: The Greening of Science and God, Bantam Books, New York, 1991