Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books



Nature Spirituality: Stewardship and Mystery

by David Yarian, Ph.D.

It is fitting that the story of the Bible begins with the creation of the natural world. Most cultures have stories that tell how the world began and explain man’s relationship to the animals.

The Judeo-Christian tradition has long interpreted the relationship of man to the natural world in terms of having “dominion” over it – i.e., the world of animals and nature is to be dominated and used for human purposes. This hubris has in large part helped to create the tragic consequences we are living with today, as the Earth’s environment is damaged, and many of its wondrous animal species are endangered or have been wiped out.

“Nature spirituality” is the general term selected to describe a variety of approaches, including religious, spiritual, mystical, and philosophical, that seek to honor the natural world and find deeper meaning in the human relationship with the Earth and all living things. Nature spirituality is by definition ecological, for it looks to the human-environment interaction for clues to the mysteries of life on Earth, and celebrates the great and wonderful diversity of life on this warm, wet, blue-green planet.

Nature spirituality recognizes humans’ unique gift of consciousness and our ability to be self-referential – but it does not privilege the human point of view over that of other beings in the natural world. We are but one organism among countless others – and some would describe all life in the biosphere as part of the larger planetary organism that is Gaia.

Nature spirituality honors the process of observation as a fundamental way in which humans can connect with their environment, and be touched and transformed by contact with the natural world.

That which is fundamentally human that we may call “spirit” or “soul” is seen to be the embodiment of nature in humans, or human nature. Many ancient languages recognize this basic connection with nature through using the same word for both spirit/soul and breath, or wind. Prana in Sanskrit; pneuma in Greek; spiritus in Latin; and ruach in Hebrew all carry the dual connotation of soul/spirit and breath/wind. Thus we are in nature as nature is within us.

Nature spirituality also implies a sacred trust for the care of all Nature. Ecological and environmental consciousness is a central theme in nature spirituality, and humans are called to be accountable for their stewardship of the planet. With over six billion people and  unprecedented technological power and production capabilities, we humans have a massive impact upon the Earth. When we were few in number, and lived simply without advanced technology, the impact of humanity on the planet was slight. Since the development of agriculture some eleven thousand years ago, humans have been slowly accumulating more and more ability to transform the landscape and shape it to human purposes. It is now possible that we could destroy all life.

Nature spirituality responds with wonder and awe to the mystery of Life in all its varied embodiments – from one-celled plankton that are at the base of the food chain, to the wild diversity of complex plant and animal life that thrive on Earth.

In the words of Beth Nielson Chapman’s song, “Life holds on, given the slightest chance.” Areas devastated by fire, flood, toxic pollution or nuclear radiation are soon recolonized by hardy plants and animals who set about to transform the wasted area to full productivity. The fossil record bears testimony to the remarkable perseverance of life on Earth, as there have been five massive extinction events in geological time, where a substantial portion of living species have died out. Each time, the unfolding evolutionary process brought forth new forms of plant and animal life that filled the planet with burgeoning diversity.

The books recommended in Nature and Spirituality emphasize the mystery, wonder, stewardship and accountability implicit in a spirituality that honors Nature. They uphold the necessity of embracing all of the environment, in a sacramental ecology. Here you will find a variety of perspectives, including most of the world’s major religions, Native American and other indigenous practices, deep ecology and other philosophical traditions concerning nature, depth psychology and New Age thinking.

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