September 13, 2008

Black Elk Web Sites

Required Web-Based Reading for The Sacred Pipe

Please read the supporting material from the web sites below in the following order, paying particular attention to the ways that Black Elk's interviews were used by the writers of the books featuring his words, and to the controversy around his conversion to Catholicism.

The Wikipedia article (very brief - has some links you can explore):
Copy of the account of Black Elk's vision as a young person (from Black Elk Speaks).
Black Elk's account of the Winter of the Hundred Slain (from Black Elk Speaks).
Brief account of Black Elk's later years as a Catholic catechist (teacher).
An overview of Black Elk's life with some additional pages and links, along with a nice bibliography of additional works. Read the sections BELOW the bibliography (also linked). Pay particular attention to the bottom of this page, "Why is Black Elk So Controversial?"
Then read this brief book report of Clyde Holler, Black Elk's Religion: The Sun Dance and Lakota Catholicism. From this and the site above, think about the question of whether (and how) someone can be a proponent of and practitioner of two faiths without being false to either of them.

September 14, 2008

Reading Questions for The Sacred Pipe

The Spiritual Journey -- Questions for Week # 5-6

Sep 24 - Week 5 - Do Web assignment reading first, then read through chapter 4 (p. 66) of The Sacred Pipe;
Oct 1 - Week 6 - Complete The Sacred Pipe.

Reading straight through The Sacred Pipe at one sitting is probably not the best way to proceed. The language and way of thinking found here is quite different than most urban Americans are used to. Try reading one or two sections and then go back and reread again. Read the entire book over these two weeks, while focusing especially on four of the ceremonies: the rite of purification; crying for a vision; the sun dance; and preparing for womanhood. As you read, keep in mind some of these questions, which we will use for class discussion (and you can use any of them that spark particular interest as prompts for your reading journal as well, but are NOT required to write on them).

1. What are some of the common themes, visual images, materials, actions, and rituals that run through the various sacred ceremonies? What unites them?

2. Reflect on Black Elk’s life experience: early life embedded in Lakota culture; visions at age nine; response by his community to these visions over his youth; his experience with the destruction of his people and the Ghost Dance religion; his experience as a dedicated Christian catechist (prayer leader and teacher); and his “discovery? late in life by the writer/compilers of his two books, Neirhardt and Brown, as an expert on Native ways. How is this history reflected in The Sacred Pipe? Do you think his years of active Catholicism have influenced his views? If so, in what ways?

3. In this book, what attitudes does it appear that the Lakota people hold toward spiritual beings? How would their approach to the divine compare to the Jewish or Christian approach, as you understand it?

4. These are sacred ceremonies, and in that sense the book is a sacred text. Certainly contemporary Native people are treating this work as a source of inspiration. Did this reading provide you any opening or window to the divine? What parts of the text did you find most personally engaging?

5. What did your own religious upbringing teach you about relating to the natural world? How is that different from the attitude reflected in this book?

6. After reading about these rituals from a different tradition, do you see the rituals of your own tradition differently? If so, in what ways?

October 1, 2008

Links to Read on C.G. Jung

Please read the material below, as well as the entries for Joseph Campbell and Marian Woodman, for our next class (Oct 8). There are some questions for discussion included in each section.

Following are a few selected links that have summary information about the life and work of C.G. Jung. There's a ton more out there - but much of it is oriented to people who are already pretty familiar with his work, so these are a pretty good start. In reading this, try to come up with a working definition for yourself of "the archetype" as used by Jung. Also try to figure out what he felt the goal of psychological development was and how, in the modern age, people are supposed to go about the work of becoming more fully themselves. How do people get it wrong?

An overview of his life and work, with many links, on Wikipedia.
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A one-page biography.
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A several page biography and summary of key terms and ideas in Jung's work. Includes the development of his personality theory by Meyers and Briggs and a summary of their typology.
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Use this for the brief biography, the introduction to Jung - which has some especially good and succinct definitions - and the essay by Jung about psychology and art (which he sees as parallel to religion). Don't use the other links, as they take you out of the Jung material.
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A brief Jung quote on the mandala - also, a link to a long and interesting collection of Jung's quotes on dreams which is worth browsing. The other links are sometimes broken or take you to commercial places.
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Background on Joseph Campbell and Mythology

Here are a few useful web sites for anyone interested in knowing more about Joseph Campbell's work and ideas on mythology.

In reviewing these and reflecting on the "The Hero's Journey" video, think about how mythology contributes to people's religious journey. What is the relationship between myth and ritual? When are myths "alive" and when do they become culturally stagnant? How does myth work for a civilization? For an individual? (This connects to the Jungian theories of archetypes discussed in other Web reading for this week.)

An interview with Joseph Campbell, “Mythic Reflections," published in 1985

Wikipedia article biography

An overview of Campbell’s life and work

Great online journal with short articles

Description of Joseph Campbell collection at Pacifica

Marion Woodman links (contemporary Jungian)

Marion Woodman is one of the most intriguing of contemporary Jungian psychologists, and one particularly interesting for individuals interested in spirituality and in gender. Read these articles and interviews to get a better idea of her work. For Woodman, what is the relationship between the spiritual side of life and the physical side of life? How does gender figure in to spiritual or psychological growth? Are there distinctive challenges that women or that men face in their spiritual/psychological journey?

The official Woodman site, with a number of links to on-line articles and more:

An interview with Marion Woodman with Bert Hoff on men, women, femininity, and masculinity.

Another interview with Woodman in What Is Enlightenment Magazine, an online journal:

Woodman’s speech a couple of years ago at an annual Women and Power conference:

October 12, 2008

Being Peace questions, resources

Here are some resources on Buddhism and questions to consider in reading Being Peace over the next two weeks. Some of the links at the end of this entry focus on women in Buddhism.

Here are three local Buddhist meditation centers that are all pretty much westerners - take a look at what they have to offer:

Here's questions and comments on Being Peace:

Visit the web site for an updated look at the five Mindfulness Trainings and some commentaries, as well as more recent talks by Thich Nhat Hanh, some of which were intended for children - VERY accessible and sweet! Note that there are two satellite centers in the United States where, for a rather modest price, people can go and do extended retreats.

* In the book Being Peace, pay attention throughout the book to what meditation is described to be. What is its purpose? (Chapter 1 and further-- especially the last chapter.)

* For Thich Nhat Hanh, what is the relationship between inner peace for individuals and work toward social peace and justice?

* What should be our attitude toward suffering? (Is this realistic, in your view?) -- Chapter 2.

* What are the "three gems," and how are they interrelated? (Chapter 3).

* In Chapter 3, what is "dependent co-arising"? What would be the ethical outcome of taking this concept to heart?

* How would our perceptions change if we accepted the Buddhist understanding of non-duality?

* What needs to happen for us to perceive clearly?

* Think about the ideas of non-duality and interbeing. How do they relate to the ideas of Buber in I and Thou? Are there differences?

* Look at Chapter 4 to explore the relationship between self and society. What role does meditation play in developing awareness of this relationship?

* What does Thich Nhat Hanh mean by "engaged Buddhism"?

* In Chapter 5, what are some ways of changing our perceptions of other people who do evil acts? Or people whom we understand to be "the enemy"?

* What are some helpful ways to think about technology and our use of the environment? How are these issues related to spiritual practice?

* Reflect on the 7 principles of reconciliation. How could these work in situations you have experienced? In larger social conflicts?

* In chapter 6, what are some ways Western and Buddhist traditions can enhance each other? What does Thich Nhat Hanh think an American Buddhism might look like?


From the BBC – overview of Buddhism and some links to radio programs with more details.

Overview of basic Buddhist beliefs from one of the most central web sources.

Web site for women Buddhists

Buddhanet’s page on women in Buddhism

Buddhanet’s page of links related to women and Buddhism

Bibliography on women, Buddhism, and the feminine sacred

Essay on women in early Buddhism

October 15, 2008

I Do Not Rehearse My Anger

Below is the link to the a sound file of the article assigned to go along with Being Peace: “I Do Not Rehearse My Anger: The Teachings of Sister Chan Khong?, from The Bond Between Women, by China Galland.

Download file

This is a .wav file, which should work with Windows Media Player or I-Tunes. It may take a while to download. Or, on your computer, it may just play (using QuickTime). It should take a bit less than 30 minutes to listen to.

The "I" of this article is China Galland - a writer and practitioner of Buddhist meditation who is also interested in Christian tradition and practice - who had taken a trip to various places around the world (Mexico, India, elsewhere) in search of extraordinary women who could teach her more about doing action in the world from a spirit-centered place. China is recounting meeting Sister Chan Khong and the conversation she had with her. (Remember that Chan Khong was the Buddhist nun in the video we watched in class, who has been a co-founder with Thich Nhat Hahn of his monastic communities.)

In addition to the questions on the earlier posting for Being Peace, what new insights to you get into Buddhism, especially "engaged Buddhism," from listening to this article?

Do you think that Chan Khong's experience as a woman shapes her understanding of or experience of Buddhism in significant ways?

(Remember that you should be reading your spiritual classic.)

October 19, 2008

Preparing for Class Presentation

Now that you are plunging into the reading and thinking about your spiritual classics, keep the course themes in mind as you read and discuss (posted below, with questions highlighting some themes). Each group will be responsible for providing me as an e-mail attachment a one-page overview of the main points your group is making in your presentation, to be posted here on the blog. (This is a single page, giving a paragraph of background and then listing your main points as bullet points - one per group, not one per person.)

Presentations (and one-page overviews) should do the following:
-- Say something about the writer, and the historical context for the writer (primarily the writer's place in the history of the religion represented, with some attention to broader history).
-- Also, where the writer is describing someone else (the Desert Fathers, St. Francis), place those people in the historic context.
-- Describe the book briefly - format, main content, the author's purpose.
-- Then for the bulk of your presentation, link the book to important course themes as well as to the writing and thoughts of authors already encountered in the course.

Here are the themes (choose only the ones that are most strikingly evident in the book and the life or lives represented in the book):

naming and discerning the divine
transcendence and immanence
nature and the sacred
false self and authentic self
individual and community
ritual and practice
ethical and social concerns
gender in religious language, experience
metaphor, symbol, and myth
race/ethnicity and class shaping religion
spiritual path or progress on the journey

Pay particular attention to the following three questions that highlight important themes.

1. What helpful information does this text give in regard to the stages, attitudes, techniques, and goals for the reader’s progress on the spiritual path?

2. Ethical concerns: what does this text suggest regarding the relationship between ethical behavior and spiritual progress?

3. What is the nature of the divine in this text, and how do we encounter the divine? (Transcendence and immanence may play a role here.)

Beyond these, look for any of the other themes that show up – some texts will have material related to gender, some to nature.

October 20, 2008

Journal of Mrs. Jarena Lee

Here are links to two sound files I recorded of the article, each 30 minutes or a bit less.

First half of article:
Download file

Second half of article:
Download file

First, a little background: This account was published in 1849, and covers much of Jarena Lee's life. She tells us she was born in 1783 in New Jersey. The photo on the opening page shows her at 60 years old in 1844, so she was 65 when the book was published. She was still hoping at that time that she could write and publish a more extensive and reflective account of her ministry, but didn't succeed in doing so. To refresh your minds, the Civil War took place between 1860 and 1865. This means that slavery was a part of the society that Jarena lived in throughout her life. The section you have copies of takes you from her girlhood, through her conversion, her marriage, and her call to preach. It ends in the early days of her formal preaching ministry. The account goes on from there, recording extensive travel and an active preaching ministry through the remaining decades of her life. She relied on the kindness of the people in the communities where she came, not earning much money from this labor.

The Journal was published again in 1988 as part of a collection titled Spiritual Narratives, brought together from the Schomburg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women Writers by African-American scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who has spent much of his illustrious career discovering and helping to get republished the forgotten writings of African Americans.

This sort of spiritual autobiography has a long history in Christianity, and played a particularly strong role in the waves of Christian revivalism that have swept the United States. The Quakers in particular published many spiritual accounts. The authors of such works are testifying to the work of God in their, and serving as a role model for the reader in following the Gospel call. For a woman, and particularly an African American woman in the United States during the period of slavery (she was born free, but spent much of her childhood serving as a servant to a white family), entering into the traditions of Christian preaching and writing is to lay claim to equal dignity and worth in the sight of God. This radical equality of believers is a deep strand in Christian scriptures, in contrast to the way that Christian organizations have many times reinforced social inequalities (many churches of Jarena's own day preached that the Bible supported slavery, as an example, and justified the inequalities suffered by the slaves as a result of the punishment by God of Ham, who mocked a drunken Noah). At the end of the selection we have of Jarena's story, she describes an encounter with a slave-owning man who believes that African-Americans did not have souls, until he heard her preach.

Jarena was largely self-taught, so even though she was clearly extremely bright, her writing style is sometimes tangled, overly-formal, and hard to follow. Her main literary model is the Bible. Also, her purpose in writing this account shaped her style: to show how God had directed her career in preaching, not her own ambition, and to serve as a role model and inspiration to others.

This text also follows some of the conventions of similar accounts of the day of an individual's spiritual autobiography, and also the conventions of testifying (verbally witnessing publicly to the workings of God).

It appears that, as Jarena first felt called to preach, women could testify to their own experience of conversion, or pray with others, but not preach - which was to expound on Bible passages. Notice the point at which this changed for Jarena, when she felt impelled to stand and expound on the passage about Jonah, and how (as she described it) her bishop was moved enough by the power of her words to reverse his earlier prohibition and finally authorize her to preach. But she had taken a real risk.

Here are some reading discussion questions to look over and talk about concerning the Journal of Mrs. Jarena Lee.

1. What does this account reveal of Jarena's social situation? Were you surprised about any of her circumstances or experiences? Why?

2. Trace out the stages of Jarena's spiritual development, as she understands it. In particular, go back to the descriptions of the three stages of spiritual development as Jarena understood them: conviction, conversion, and sanctification. What is involved here? What do you think of this understanding of spiritual development? How does this understanding of progress on the journey compare to the understandings we have from reading Buber (mystical Judaism), Black Elk (Native American-Sioux) and Thich Nhat Hanh (Vietnamese Zen Engaged Buddhism)? How does her account compare to your understanding of Christianity from your own background or other sources?

3. In what ways did Jarena position herself by means of her religious experience and her articulation of what this experience meant to challenge the social roles she was put in as an African American woman with limited education and financial resources during the time of slavery in this country? What did you think of the religious experiences (visions, dreams) that Jarena described?

4. What do you think accounts for Jarena's strength of purpose and persistence in overcoming resistance to her call to preach?

5. The Bible - discuss how it shaped Jarena's experience, positively or negatively - and shaped social relations in her life (within the church community, the family, shaping gender relations, shaping relations between social classes and races).

6. Look at the role of psychological or physical illness in Jarena's spiritual journey. How does this connect with the illness Black Elk experienced when he had his visions?

October 22, 2008

Meditation Instruction Links

Here is a list of some meditation instructions I got from the Web. The ones on the bottom are audio instructions accessible via the Web.
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Here’s a particularly comprehensive site for meditation, which also has some on-line classes, but also a nicely-organized list of short explanations and instructions:

Here is an overview of sitting meditation from Thich Nhat Hahn’s Plum Village monastery (with other links to their Buddhist practices at the left of the page):

Vipassana meditation (mindfulness) instructions:

More instructions from Shambala center:

This has a nice wrinkle in imagining the whole body breathing in and out:

More links and instructions:
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More good audio instructions:

October 26, 2008

Christian Mysticism Websites

Websites on Christian mysticism - Please browse through these as you work on your spirituial classic.

There are lots more out there, but these are good ones to browse to get some background that will help illuminate the Christian spiritual classics. Just browse through these, reading some of the introductory parts.

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This is a site that is designed to prompt meditation, not discuss it, and includes some art and literature.

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A world-wide organization of Christian meditators, dedicated to bringing the spirit of monastic spirituality into the life of everyone else.
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About Lectio Divina -- reading as a spiritual practice. Lots of examples and explanation.
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Another primer in monastic spirituality from another monastery (Trappist) in Iowa.
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A Website devoted to Juliana of Norwich and others. Very extensive stuff!
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Christian mysticism especially centered on St. John of the Cross

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just stumbled on this - it is a thoughtful section of a blog done by an individual (Jon Zuck) with some very insightful comments on Christian mysticism and faith (these are linked under “An Introduction to Christian Mysticism"). Recognize that many historic mystics, such as your spiritual classic authors, were sometimes in some degree of tension with the church authorities of their day (remember in the Still, Small Voice video the statement that “the church likes dead mystics"). However, they remained within the institutional church and attempted to revive its spiritual emphasis. I get the sense that this blogger is doing something of the same, though perhaps a bit farther out on the edge than our spiritual classic folks.

October 27, 2008

Early Christianity Background

From some of people's journal and class discussions, it seemed that it might be helpful to give you some background on early Christian history. We'll also cover some of this in class. I located a couple of good resources on the Web for you. This is optional reading, but if you do read around in these sites, please capture a bit of your response in your reading response journal.

The first site is the Web companion to a wonderful PBS series called "From Jesus to Christ." There's lots here to explore for those interested.

The second site is put up by an organization called Religious Tolerance, and seems, from my background and training, to be helpful and objective.

October 28, 2008

Spiritual Autobiographies to Choose

Here's a list around 50 spiritual autobiographies for you to consider choosing for your second paper. (SEE A COUPLE OF NEW ONES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE LIST.)

To find out more about the books, go to and look them up to see if readers have done helpful brief reviews. You'll find that some of them are available cheaply in used versions through, and many are available in libraries. I also have quite a few, and can lend one if you are having no luck finding a copy.

I want each person do a different title, thus giving the whole class an introduction to a lot of good books to read in the future (you will be doing a BRIEF response to the book in our last class).

I have read many of these books, so I know they are good for the purposes of this assignment. I found a few on through searching on "spiritual autobiography" and found others excerpted in Katherine Kurs's Searching for Your Soul, an excellent collection of brief personal stories from many faith traditions.

These books are in no special order. I've put your names IN BOLD where one of you has made a choice, so those are not available for others to read (unless you convince someone to swap). Books with no names listed are still up for grabs, and you may choose one by e-mailing me (if you haven't chosen yet) or you may request a change (if you don't end up liking the one you chose).

I am open to suggestions for books not on the list, but will take a look at reviews or descriptions of what you suggest, and may turn you down if it doesn't seem to me the book will work for the assignment. Books must be (a) first-person accounts, not biographies written by someone else; (b) an account of the person's religious or spiritual experiences, or of their life in light of religious or spiritual convictions; and (c) showing a good degree of reflection and depth.

For those who haven't chosen, or are uncertain, I've put an asterisk (*) in front of some unclaimed books that I know from my own reading to be particularly well-written and interesting books.

Carl G. Jung - Memories, Dreams, and Reflections -- STEVE.

Joseph Campbell - An Open Life -- CAIDEN.

Bernadette Roberts - The Experience of No-Self (listed in K. Kurs) - Eric C?

Dan Wakefield - Returning (from Kurs) - GRETA

Margot Adler - Heretic's Heart: A Journey Through Spirit and Revolution (Kurs) - -- AMAND

Mary McCarthy - Memories of a Catholic Girlhood (Kurs)

Charles Fenyvesi - When The World Was Whole (Kurs) - CODJO

Mahatma Ghandi - Autobiography - ANITA

* Kathleen Norris - The Cloister Walk, or Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, or The Virgin of Bennington (written later, but covering her college and early professional years, through the move to the midwest)

Thomas Merton, esp. The Seven Storey Mountain and Asian Journals (doing both would give you 'bookends' - one written early in his life, and the other late) - ERIC

Annie Lamott - Traveling Mercies -- CONNIE

* Carol Christ - Oddyssey with the Goddess (could combine with earlier Laughter of Aphrodite: Reflections on a Journey to the Goddess) -- MAURA.

Luisah Teish - Jambalaya - OMICA

* Sue Monk Kidd - The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman's Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine (Sue Monk Kidd started out a popular Evangelical Christian writer, but moved out into feminist spirituality in the 1990s, then wrote a popular book of fiction, The Secret Life of Bees)

Ann Linnea - Deep Water Passage : A Spiritual Journey at Midlife -- JEAN.

Peace Pilgrim - a couple of books (or web site) -- BARB

Jane Goodall - Reason for Hope : A Spiritual Journey -- JOHN.

* Henri J. M. Nouwen - Road to Daybreak : A Spiritual Journey, or Genesee Diary (or both) --

* China Galland - Longing for Darkness : Tara and the Black Madonna, A Ten Year Journey , or The Bond Between Women : A Journey to Fierce Compassion (the selection on Sr. Chan Khong was a chapter in the second book)

* Carol Lee Flinders - At the Root of This Longing: Reconciling a Spiritual Hunger and a Feminist Thirst

* Joan Halifax - The Fruitful Darkness : Reconnecting With the Body of the Earth by Joan Halifax - out of print, so use a library

Diane Eck - Encountering God : A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras - an academic journey esp. through eastern faiths (I haven't read this one)

* Terry Tempest Williams - Leap - or others of her work (especially. Refuge)

* Patricia Hampl - Virgin Time

*** Mary Rose O'Reilley - The Barn at the End of the World: A Year in the Life of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd (Mary Rose O'Reilley teaches at the University of St. Thomas locally) - Eric C?

Jean Houston - A Mythic Life: Learning to Live Our Greater Story

Dorothy Day - The Long Loneliness (Catholic convert - co-founder of Catholic Worker's Movement) -- HIROKO Y.

C.S. Lewis - Surprised by Joy - autobiography -- MICHELLE T

Malcolm X - Autobiography of Malcolm X -- JOHNNY

Black Elk - Black Elk Speaks -- SHANAH

Paramhansa Yogananda - Autobiography of a Yogi -- AMY

Helen M Luke - Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made on: The Autobiography and Journals of Helen M. Luke -- Helen Luke was a pioneering Jungian woman earlier in 20th century - written at age 70 (she died in 1995 at age 90).

* Karen Armstrong - Through the Narrow Gate - early years in a convent prior to Vatican II , or better yet, the recent Spiral Staircase, the story of her life beginning in college and taking her through becoming a world-renouned scholar of religion, especially of the intertwining histories of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam (or both)

Jean Shinoda Bolen - Crossing to Avalon: A Woman's Midlife Crisis (mid-life journey by physician/Jungian therapist) -

Marion Woodman: Bone: Dying Into Life - story of a bout with cancer in her 60's - written by a pioneering and prolific Canadian Jungian therapist and author. -- AMY??

Natalie Goldberg - Long Quiet Highway (writer and teacher of writing who became Zen Buddhist in Minneapolis - later moved to New Mexico) - Jocelyn

Annie Dillard - Pilgrim at Tinker Creek - a very well-known poetic and spiritual reflections about nature. Dillard also published An American Childhood, which could give more background into how she developed - it would be a good companion book to read. - PHIL

Etty Hillesum - Etty Hillesum (journals and letters of this remarkable Jewish woman who experienced a spiritual awakening and who subsequently died in a concentration camp) -- MICHELLE K

Feld, Merle -- A Spiritual Life: A Jewish Feminist

Kelly, Lorna -- The Camel Knows the Way - spiritual renewal including personal experience with Mother Theresa in Calcutta after 15-year struggle to find meaning.

Tickle, Phyllis -- The Shaping of a Life: A Spiritual Landscape - childhood in Tennessee, and journey into Christian practice (Episcopalian)

Willis, Jan -- Dreaming Me: Baptist to Buddhist, one Woman's Spiritual Journey - African-American professor who becomes Buddhist. Includes childhood in segregated Alabama. -- JESSICA

My Master's Robe : Memories of a Novice Monk by Thich Nhat Hanh - KATHY

* Grace Notes: The Waking Of A Woman's Voice BY HEIDI HART (Comments from QuakerBooks) -

"Hart's lyrical memoir shifts seamlessly back and forth through time as she traces her often-tortuous path toward spiritual grace. Raised and married in the Mormon faith, she found herself becoming a reflection of her own mother, a woman [with] no individual voice. As she became increasingly disillusioned with the direction of her own marriage and with the male-dominated and male-oriented [Mormon church], she found. solace in the diary of an early-nineteenth century kinswoman.. Drawing strength from [this communication], Hart was able to honestly evaluate her own past and find the inspiration to leave the [Mormon church] and become a member of the community of Quakers."-Booklist

Called To Question: A Spiritual Memoir
BY JOAN CHITTISTER (comments from QuakerBooks)

Called to Question: A Spiritual Memoir is Joan Chittister's most personal and intense writing to date. Following a moving prologue on the nature of faith, Called to Question is broken into six parts that explore key themes -- the inward life, immersion in life, resistance, feminist spirituality, ecology, dailiness. Within each theme is a wide array of topics that embody Sr. Joan's life's work as a sociologist, theologian, Benedictine nun, rights activist, and spiritual guide to countless people throughout the world. Alive with the raw energy of a journal each chapter is an engaging dialogue between Sr. Joan and many different sources of wisdom.
Sheed and Ward 2005 260 PP. Cloth

Driving By Moonlight: A Journey Through Love, War, And Infertility BY KRISTIN HENDERSON (comments by QuakerBooks) -- TARA.

After 9/11, Kristin Henderson's husband, a Lutheran Marine chaplain, is shipped out to Afghanistan, and Henderson, a Quaker, finds herself alone, and her own faith and belief in pacifism sorely tested. Together with her German shepherd, Rosie, Henderson sets off on a cross-country journey in her 1978 Corvette, exploring a changed country and her own altered emotional landscape. From the whispering Iowan corn fields and the simple fortitude of her Quaker kin, to the desolation of a snow-swept lodge in the Rocky Mountains and the quiet gifts of strangers, Henderson seeks guidance and searches for answers on the road.
Seal Press 2003 310 PP Paper

Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love - KATHERINA

Sidny PoitIer, The Measure of a Man- A spiritual Autobiography - ROSE

Elizabeth J. Andrews, Swinging on the Garden Gate: A Spiritual Memoir (suggested by a student last year). Here is a quote from the author's preface, explaining why she wrote the book: "There was a time when I was not yet out of the closet when I'd stand for hours scanning the bookstore shelves for a book that dealt honestly with both sexuality and spirituality, that might reconcile the experience of being bisexual with the Christian faith."

* John Punshon, Encounter with Silence: Reflections from the Quaker Tradition. This book written by a well-known British "convinced" Friend (one who chose Quakerism as an adult) is both a modern classic among Quakers (published in 1987) about contemporary belief and practice, and a very personal account of John's convincement and religious experiences as a Quaker. He has experienced a very Christ-centered faith, which isn't true for all contemporary Quakers. Somewhat theological writing; not as much narrative as some.

October 29, 2008

Spiritual Memoir Report - Project #2

Spiritual Memoir Report – Due in class Dec 10

Length: 6-8 pages, typed, double-spaced.

Format: use 12-point font; no extra lines between paragraphs; 1 inch margins.

References: use a short reference format with the author’s last name and the page number for any quoted material OR any material you are summarizing from a text. For the book you have chosen and for any additional reading you are referencing (background information about the author, etc.), also add a bibliographical listing at the end of the paper. You do not need to do formal bibliographical entries for books assigned for the class. An example in in-text citation from Buber’s I and Thou would be (Buber, p. 43).

For this project, pick a single book from the list on the class Web site. Some of the choices will be of individuals who situate their spirituality within a religious tradition, and some choices will be individuals who don’t. Included are individuals whose primary spiritual sustenance has been in contact with or study of nature.

In addition to reading the book, do some minimal research on the author and book (this can be done on-line – look for book reviews, even the short ones available on Open the link on the book’s title, then go down to “See more product details.?) Also use the data bases available through Metro to search on the book title and to search on the author, and do a GOOGLE search and see what you find.

Include these emphases:
(1) Use this book to discuss some of the central themes of the course, not just to summarize the person’s story. You do not need to connect with each and every course theme but should discuss several themes in some substantial way where they connect to the material you are reading.
(2) Make connections to course readings, videos, and discussions, where this additional background illuminates features of the individual’s experience. Don’t just mention authors or books we have read, but show how the book you are reading connects in meaningful ways with those texts/videos/discussions.
(3) Discuss what your book reveals about living a spiritual or religious life in contemporary times (see below for a partial list of issues and concerns that contemporary people wrestle with – there are certainly more than these).

Course Themes
Here, for your convenience, are the themes again:
• naming and discerning the divine
• ritual and practice
• transcendence and immanence
• ethical and social concerns
• nature and the sacred
• gender in religious language, experience
• false self and authentic self
• metaphor, symbol, and myth
• individual and community
• spiritual path or progress on the journey

For this project, pay particular attention to the theme of “spiritual path or progress on the journey,? using the following questions as prompts:
(1) For this individual, what have been the important points of spiritual growth and new understanding or insight as the individual matured spiritually?
(2) What were the events or discoveries that enabled this growth or new understanding?

Contemporary Issues

As mentioned above, what does it mean that this individual’s experience has been in the contemporary setting – what have been his or her experiences with the challenges and opportunities of 20th century life? Some features of the contemporary situation might include these (and many others that you will find in your books):
- global contact, bringing new ideas and alternative ways of understanding religion;
- environmental changes with increasing urbanism and the impact on nature of industrialism;
- mass media and mass consumerism;
- Western emphasis on individualism;
- mobility, and the fracturing of families;
- women’s and men’s changing roles;
- changing views of gender and sexuality;
- separation of religious and secular arenas in public life, with education largely secularized;
- generally accepted world view of scientific materialism;
- and a rise of alternative spiritualities, outside traditional religious structures).

Annotated Bibliography assignment (via e-mail or e-mail attachment)

For the annotated bibliography summary of your paper, please send the following (aim for no more than one page) to my e-mail address (
- Title of book, author
- Publisher, date
- A very short author bio
- A short summary of the book's purpose
- A brief description of the book's content
- Why would someone want to read this book?
You might consider posting your brief review out on for others to read as well!

In-Class Presentation on December 10

For your in-class presentation (you will have around 5 minutes, so – practice!), cover the points above (very briefly) and add a response to these questions:
- According to the author in this book, what is involved in living in the best way (both in terms of our ethical responsibilities and in terms of helping us to advance on our spiritual journey)?
- What is the goal of our spiritual journey?

October 30, 2008

McFague Notes and Discussion Questions

Overview: Reading Sallie McFague & Reading Theology

This overview and the reading notes that follow are required reading. You will find it very helpful to do this before starting McFague, and to keep the notes at hand as you go through the first three chapters. I know that this is a large amount of reading; we'll go through the book in class and I'll suggest some sections you can skim without losing the main train of thought. Like Buber, McFague does come back and revisit arguments. However, there are some key points that are not emphasized as strongly as they could be. Use my notes!

I want to demystify academic writing and the authority of the “magisterium" by helping you see that thinking about religious ideas is something that ordinary people (you and I) can and should do. Once you get beyond the gut reaction to fairly academic language, which can leave you feeling that other people have much more authority to think about religion than you do, you might find that you do have ideas, and that you have a right to have ideas and even differences in your ideas from what you have been taught, because, goodness knows, the Church’s ideas about God have changed, as you can see from the spiritual classics that you have been reading. Also, there isn’t one final, true understanding, because we are culturally limited, and we have limited brains to comprehend the immensity of the Divine.

In these notes, I’ll suggest ways that McFague helps us tie together the ideas we have encountered so far in the course. One tip: look up words you don’t understand, or at least mark them and then come back – you might find you have figured them out from the context.

Reading theology: The point of reading theology is that religion is not just a practice, but is also our understanding about why we practice as we do, in terms of what we understand of the tradition. In this case, given that the source of authority for Christians is the Bible, we need to think hard about how we interpret it, as it is not transparent.

New interpretations allow for new ways of living in the world, new opportunities to engage with other faiths, new ways of taking on the challenges of our changing society. So, for Sallie McFague, who has been a liberation theologian, to move in the direction of seeing nature as worthy of the same libratory compassion as our fellow humans is an immense change, and not one you will find a great deal of Biblical support for. So one question is whether she is making a new religion, or staying within the Christian religion and pushing its borders to take into consideration things that need to be considered.

Something you need to pay attention to is that McFague reads the Biblical heritage as metaphoric. She is reading the Bible as giving us images of God and of how we are to live, and not spelling these matters out in absolute terms. So she mentions her own previous work where she suggests re-imagining God: instead of being just a King and Father, God can also be imagined as a Mother, or a Lover, or a Friend. There are passages from the Bible and also from mystical Christian literatures that give credibility to these images (recall Julian of Norwich seeing Christ as Mother), as well as the more familiar ones, and they work better for some people in terms of their own experience.

In another book, McFague talked about how we can imagine the earth as “God’s Body," as having innate sacredness beyond what there would be in seeing earth as a lifeless artifact God has created. This brings religion down to where we really live, in our bodies on earth.

It might be helpful to take a bit of time to discuss what is a metaphor and what is a symbol: A symbol is an image that carries its own depth of meaning within it, and doesn’t bridge to something else. The cross, and yin-yang symbol are like this. A metaphor, though similar in carrying an emotional charge, obtains that charge through bridging something we know from sensory experience to something we understand that isn’t sensory in the same way. So we can understand love as imaged in one way or another, or God as imaged in one way or another.

Metaphors aren’t static. They come from our experience; the parables, for example include a lot of metaphors about shepherds and sheep to help communicate about how God interacts with people. These metaphors spoke vividly to people who lived an agrarian lifestyle and had shepherds and sheep all around. For us, it’s more of a stretch to think of all the resonances involved with shepherds and sheep.

The parables in the Bible are full of metaphors. God is imagined in a variety of ways – as the anxious father waiting to welcome back his wayward son, as a woman seeking through the night for her lost coin, as a mother bird sheltering her chicks under her wings, or a shepherd seeking a lost sheep – very different metaphors from the Judge coming at the end of the world to cast sinners into eternal fire.
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What is theology? Theology is reasoning – thinking – about divine things or the reasons for religious practices. The forms of theology that people are exposed to have been handed down after being created by individuals living in earlier times and societies who had different understandings of human nature and of what God wanted than we might have now. In the Christian faith, theology is built primarily on a study of the Bible, and also understandings from past practices in the church. (Protestants broke away from theology built on past practices, in part, in favor of Scripture; Catholics have the understanding that Scripture was created by the early church, and that the church also has equally ancient and divinely-founded practices such as the sacraments).

Through a study of historical theology, it is possible to look back and see how much theology has developed over time. (Karen Armstrong’s A History of God is brilliant in doing this in one volume.) For most people not trained in this history, and not given the status of clergy (who all had to go through this kind of training), the way we have been taught religion been to encounter the ideas, not in the context of their development, but as “this is the truth." And the implications for our future happiness in heaven, or damnation in hell have been portrayed as very stark. So there’s a lot of fear tied up in getting this stuff right, and also it’s been presented as authoritative, so we don’t feel we have any right to tinker with it.

But as a matter of fact, theology is a very human creation. God did not speak to us in a straight-forward way, in the way that God is sometimes understood to have spoken in the Bible (especially in the sacred texts of Mormonism and Islam); instead, the Bible was created by people in the context of lives of prayer and community, in historical contexts. The New Testament, in particular, spans some generations of great historical turmoil and suffering, which resulted in apocalyptic writing – the hope that surely God will come soon to end this suffering and restore the world. More peaceful times resulted in the apocalyptic thinking being pushed aside, or even eliminated, from theology. So the gospel of Mark is quite apocalyptic, as is the letter from John of Patmos, while the gospels of Luke and Matthew are much less so, as written in different times to different communities.

In contrast, the Koran for Muslims is understood to be God’s actual words dictated through the Prophet Mohammed, so God is understood to be speaking to the believer directly. Of course, this text still needs to be interpreted as to how to apply the teachings in changing times. Contemporary scholarly studies of the Koran argue that a human individual who was shaped by his own historic times wrote the text, though inspired to do so by visions or by hearing a divine voice.

So “inspiration" is a complex and layered thing – we need to go back and factor in how much of the human experience and interpretation got included in the work that was inspired, which is what goes on in scriptural studies, a fascinating endeavor on its own, and related to theological study.

Theology takes a step away, and says, all right, understanding what we now know about these sacred texts, and from our past practice as Christians (or as Muslims or Jews), what do the sacred texts mean for us in our time? What if there are questions that are not covered by the texts? We have to think these through for ourselves. For McFague, one of the issues not really covered by Biblical writers is the very real question of human capacity to destroy the balance of nature. How does our past theological and scriptural understanding help us come to an understanding of this issue? Also, women were not very much involved in writing scripture or theology through the ages, and their experience is arguably not well represented in the texts. In the Bible, they are seen as objects or possessions or companions, not generally as actors in the sacred-human drama. (An example is the story of the priest/warrior who carries through a pledge to sacrifice the first thing that greets him after winning a battle, which turns out to be his beloved daughter, as one grisly example – and there are others.)

Theology affects our religious practice and our lives very significantly. For example, what if you have a theology that says that God made men and women to be different, and to have different roles in life? You might believe that God wants men to be out in the world doing things, and women to be at home raising children. (One of the teaching statements from a recent Pope says something similar to this.) If you are a woman hearing these things, you might feel that you were violating God’s law and feel guilty for working outside of the home, even if you had no choice financially. But in fact, it’s an interpretation, and historically based on theological work by men, who may have seen this arrangement as reflecting their own sense of what is right and good and natural. And that interpretation has changed over time, in many churches (very much because women have become more active as theologians in their own right), but not in all churches. So what does God want men and women to do?

This book reflects a background of feminist thought and liberation theology. Some of the questions suggested above about the “natures" of men and women are addressed, though somewhat obliquely, in this work, but the core concern is the relationship between humans and nature. You’ll find echoes of some of the other reading we have done in the class, and later in the book, some reflections on the spiritual value of nature writing (including some of the writers in the list of spiritual memoir writing for the final project).

Please read as much of the book as you can, but pay particular attention to the pages indicated in the questions below. McFague is a very structured and logical writer, so presents her argument briefly, then elaborates on the supporting claims, then summarizes the argument as a conclusion. This will help you make sure you at least preview the main points – always read the introduction and summary of each chapter before you look at the specific pages addressed by the questions.

Please note that the first half is a bit harder to get through, and also more critical of the status quo. The second half has the positive ideas for change. I think her arguments in the first half are really powerful, though I don’t necessarily think she needs all of the feminist or deconstructive theoretical approaches she uses. Remember that she is an academic writing, at least in part, for an academic audience. But she’s also writing for a fairly general audience, hoping that church-based book clubs would read her book, or other general readers. If you can bracket out some of the technical theory, her arguments are helpful.

An interesting side note: McFague parallels some of the thinking and writing done by spiritual feminists and Pagan writers, without seeming to recognize this. If you are interested in a very different approach (very spiritually-grounded and not Christian/protestant), take a look at one of Starhawk’s most recent books: The Earth Path -- Grounding Your Spirit in the Rhythms of Nature. (Harper San Francisco, 2004). She is a writer that I admire a lot.
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Reading Notes on first three chapters to get your started - please read these chapters carefully, using these notes.

To start with, this book refers at times to some somewhat technical philosophy, feminist theory, and theology, but is intended for a general reader, not for graduate students or academic specialists. Things that at first may seem a bit complex to you will be brought back in later chapters with more examples and detailed discussion. (You remember that this was true of Buber’s writing, as well.) So make note of passages or arguments that seem obscure to you, and move on.

These notes will be more detailed for the first section of the book - after you have gotten many of her essential points, you'll be able to follow the rest.

Introduction - page 1. Pay attention to the thesis of the book in her first sentence. This is key, and will be discussed at length. Note the important connection right away with Buber: loving the other as a “subject" rather than as an object, understanding that the other has presence, purposes, and needs distinct from and different from the purposes, projects, and needs of the self. This is close to Buber’s distinction of the difference between I/It and I/You-Thou.

She says that traditional Christian theology doesn’t have much to say about the right relationship with nature except for the notion of “stewardship," which is still an I/It relationship, because it is focused on the usefulness of nature to us, rather than having intrinsic value as subject. She argues that we need to go farther than coming up with a sensible ecological approach to better conserve nature, but need a complete sea-change in how we imagine nature in relation to ourselves.

Note on page 2 how she defines what a theologian’s job is in context of the comments I made above. Notice in that second paragraph how she summarizes her other three books - this book continues an earlier train of thought, which has been leading up to this way of seeing self and other as subject-subject. Then she talks about the consequences that this new way of imagining self and nature would have – we’d have a unified experience that Christians haven’t had for several centuries.

Influences on her thinking: process philosophy and feminist epistemology. Don’t get scared of this stuff. Epistemology means “how we know things." So this last paragraph on page 2 – the ecological model – how do you think this resembles, for example, Buddhist thinking? Also Buber? Then, process thought: she doesn’t go into it much, but explains that the language is usually too technical for most people. Feminist thinking, she explains, has limited its attention to the relationships between women and men. (I disagree with her – there is a strong literature of feminist ecology, and feminist spirituality has much in common with her arguments in this book.)

Then, the rest of page 3 – she goes over what she’s going to cover in the different chapters. I’d suggest that, as you start in each chapter, you can go back and look over this quick intro to see what the focus is in the chapter.

Chapter 1 – how she came up with “Super-natural" – a pun, in a way, but a way of contrasting the anti-body, anti-nature assumptions of much of Christian supernaturalism with what she is moving us toward. Quotes Thomas Aquinas about errors in our views about God; also in 18th century, errors in views. The big point here is to understand the implications (“ramifications") of our ideas about the world. She discusses “world views" as usually being “implicit" – we aren’t fully aware of our world view until someone points it out; we just operate on unspoken beliefs about how we relate in the world.

She assimilates nature with the oppressed people that Christians should concern themselves/ourselves with. In this widening of the view of what Christians are called to, she refers back to her book The Body of God. But how should we do this? We don’t want to jump out of Christianity, but how can Christianity be expanded, within what it is, not to make it something else? That is one of the central questions we need to ask ourselves about this book: is she right in claiming that Christianity can become bigger without turning into something else entirely? That’s what she’s asking on pp. 6-7.

She argues that there’s no simple, “natural" attitude toward nature – our attitudes do change, and it’s appropriate that they change. The way they change is through changing metaphors we use to understand the world. She gives some examples of changes, and implications of these changes. (Middle page 7.)

Bottom of page 7 is the basic model in the west: subject-object (I-IT). We’re culturally scripted to this view of the world, especially since the scientific revolution. This perspective (subject/object) isn’t intrinsic to how we are as humans. So, what would it mean if we change the basic model for knowing (bottom 7, page 8)? She’s saying we don’t really think of other people as subjects, ordinarily; we’re so tied into the subject-object dualism, and that affects everything. People might think changing this model would be “sentimental," but, she thinks it’s an appropriate “hard-headed" suggestion, closer to reality, more accurate, to see this interrelatedness. The subject-object dualism is a fiction to start with. So we can choose how we view reality, and have a model that’s more helpful to supporting life and interrelationship, and none of this is just “objective fact,' but is interpretation, how we choose to view the world. Some current scholarship which she cites helps us understand this perspective. So she’s going to use this book to test out whether you can change that basic view of subject-object to subject-subject.

(Remember that Buber argues that you can change your perspective, but not easily and not continually, but only for flashes at a time – though you can get better at it by knowing what you are doing, and noticing when you are doing it. So I think perhaps her description is a little too easy. It may not just be an attitude that culture has taught us to view the world from a subject-object point of view, but that there are some hard-wired or big and deeply ingrained attitudes in us, ingrained through our practices of child rearing, as we’ve talked about before, in how the infant is led to see him/herself as a separate being in the world. It’s not going to be easy to just flip a switch here, which she doesn’t seem to acknowledge.)

Bottom of page 9-page 10 – and on – she’d doing definitional work with the words “spirituality," “nature" and “Christian," which are important to understand from her perspective. Spirituality: is it in contrast to, or does it mean the same thing as church-based religion? This came up in our first day in class. She talks about a recent definition from the Scottish Council of Churches that’s helpful. Spirituality is our life in relationship with others, including non-human creation and God. It’s not just
“me-God," but “me-nature-others-God" in a continuum. Not just solidarity with those who are poor, but inclusive of nature. She makes the point at the bottom here that there should be no distinction between contemplation and action in the world, but that they need to be connected.

Page 11 – one of the reasons it’s helpful for people to read religious autobiographies, is that you see that fusion of action and piety – Woolman, Day, and Bonhoeffer are examples here. It also seems to come up in these books of truly plugged-in spiritual people that nature is also worthy of their reverence and loving attention.

Page 12 – if you take that piety and practice together and extend it to a relationship to the world, that would be the direction she is looking at going. Here, Christian means, for her, liberation theology – care for the oppressed. She argues that the view of who is oppressed changes over time, so she thinks that, if God is concerned about the well-being of all creation, then we too have to extend our care to include all of nature. Later on in the book, she will bring in different points to support the view that God is indeed concerned about all of creation. We need to start with this question: what kind of God does Christianity assume?

Bottom of 12 top of 13 – a Christianity responsive to nature is not the same as pantheism, nature worship, reveling in nature, because it is grounded in liberation theology – a commitment to serve and love the interlocking parts of a social ecology which includes nature and how we interact with nature. It’s not just, “Poor old nature, we love you," but also “if we let nature go to heck, we won’t have enough food on the planet for all of us." So justice and ecology are connected. (This is a very feminist issue, very present in the writings of Starhawk – her group has purchased land to help people in Latin America develop sustainable organic farming).

Bottom of 13 – the opposing religion of the day that would oppose this social-justice Christianity: the worship of “economism." This is a striking description of blatant “I-It" relationships, a rather tongue-in-cheek but also strongly felt depiction of the economic situation we’re in.

Page 14 – We can’t just go to work to be revolutionaries – there’s something more we need to do involving our basic attitude and practice. We’re called especially to change the basic way we live in the world – what is particularly Christian here? Not just to save nature, opposed to saving the poor; it’s not (again) a worship of nature; but, bottom of page 14, is a summary of what she sees as the core of Christianity: the “radical, destabilizing nature of the parables," to start with.

Pay close attention to this set of three interlocking views of what is core, for her, of Christianity. (By the way, she isn’t alone in seeing the parables, healing stories, and table fellowship as core to Christianity; indeed, the oldest level of Christian teaching is embodied in this material, and it is very probably the core of the teachings of the Rabbi Jesus, much more so than the apocalyptic material added later). What she means by the “destabilizing nature of the parables" is that they give a picture of common world views turned upside-down. The first are last; the last are first. Radical love for the vulnerable and oppressed is a piece of that. There is also a “satori" dimension in the destabilizing nature of the parables, of people breaking open their common, everyday trance in the way they see themselves, the world, and God. (McFague doesn’t cite sources here, but is basing her view on some very well-established Biblical criticism.)

A lot of what she’s teasing out here is, what’s distinctive about Christianity, and what do Christians have to offer in the arena of ecology? “Incarnationalism" is the second main point here: God was born into a body, in the world – this distinctive teaching changes how we see the whole world. The body itself – our body, the bodies of others and their well-being – is of concern to Christians. Middle of 15: how does it work, this service to the oppressed, and can we extend it to nature? The second two ways are the healing stories and the table fellowship (both also authenticated through Biblical scholarship as shown in the original ministry of Jesus).

As mentioned, the parables show a radical overturn of our expected hierarchies. This, extended to nature, would change our views. Slow down and read that carefully!! All hierarchies are overturned, and this is one of them.

The healing of bodies: here the important connection she is implying, but maybe not spelling out – the body (human and animal bodies) – all bodies are nature in our intimate experience. We ARE nature – our bodies are living cells, along with other living cells. So that is simply recognizing the continuum of life. The healing ministry of Jesus is restoring health and wellness to those bodies (very different from the attitude of the Desert Fathers, who, to an extent, wanted to forget they had bodies and get on to heaven).

The eating practices or table fellowship models both inclusivity, or justice, and bodily health together. So these are the three ways that Christianity allows a potentially radically different approach to nature.

Page 16 – carries this on. Incarnation means: God in body. If God is in a body, that body of living cells, part of nature, that’s another reason you can extend a justice ministry to nature. At this point, she ties up the three points in a little logical syllogism to show that revisiting the core, radical roots of Christianity will lead to a different relationship with nature.

But how to do this? (She will detail this much more in a later chapter.) The first step is to break through the cultural training of “I-It" relationships to a subject-subject perspective. We need to be able to see nature in its intrinsic value, to fight the destruction of nature. She will come back to that in the last chapter.

Next definitional point: important! “Nature" has lots of meanings, and it is important to see how nature is being defined in a given context, and what the purpose of the definition is, in assessing views of nature. We can’t really be separated from nature, though we think of ourselves that way. She goes through the Hebrew views, medieval views, the views of a child, etc. Nature includes drudgery, beauty, death. Page 18, going on: nature study gets us into the most minute level of encounter with nature, which is why she values nature writers (lots more in the book on this).

Important point on page 19, second paragraph: the way we interpret nature is always from some perspective which has implications for action, for control. So the Nazis could be nature lovers and use their understanding of nature to support their destructive actions. We go from our view of nature to a view of proper behavior, as what is “natural." One good example of this is the very contested assumption of how nature and women are supposedly related (discussed in the stunning book by Susan Griffin, Woman and Nature). As I mentioned above, if men and women are viewed as naturally different, there are different actions they are allowed to have. Nature has been viewed as inferior, as women have.

The upshot is that our views about nature are human creations, and we can change our views of nature, just as we can change the ways we imagine the Divine. So, bottom of 17: what’s a Christian way of understanding nature? We can learn from modern science and ecology and shake ourselves out of medieval and Newtonian views of nature, though there were some good things about medieval views (more in chapter 3). But the Newtonian view was destructive of this medieval integration. Remember in the first video: Newtonian physics assumes that everything that happens in the world is caused by some prior physical event. This is the billiard-ball model: God set up a billiard table, and started the first ball moving, and everything since then has been determined by the balls pinging other balls.

She contrasts this with Buddhism’s view of “interdependent being," which we’ve been exposed to. She feels this interdependent view should be adopted by Christians, as it is the contemporary picture, supported by modern science, etc.

P. 22 – she’s going to use this interactive, interdependent, ecological model in the rest of the book. The essential thing is relationship (so much central to Buber too). But science alone doesn’t add the ethical dimension, which the Christian perspective does, of how we should relate. So the small answer, then, leads from the bigger understanding of nature in relationship, and takes it to an intimate level. We need to get up close and personal with the life forms around us. She quotes Buber and Annie Dillard, and suggests that we don’t know how to do it. One of her interests in nature writing is to expose us to how to pay the right sort of attention to the intimate details of nature.

P. 23 – she talks about some of those nature writers and the localized love which children often have to the parts of nature close to us. Quotes Robert Coles’s experience of talking with a little girl. It’s important for us all to have access to experiences with nature, as it enhances our lives. She quotes Buber on the experience of the horse. Subject-subject, I-thou.

P. 24: summing up: getting to the heart of what Christianity is, and extending it to nature – we need to get up close and personal, notice what nature is, and extend our loving care to nature – loving nature in the same way as we love God and other humans. It’s especially important now as nature is oppressed and needs our care.

Chapter 2: First paragraph: sums up the argument from the last chapter. Then she goes into how we should do this. The sacramental tradition is one good model: seeing God in the “stuff" of the sacraments is a model for seeing God in the “stuff" of nature, and contributes to a way of seeing the natural world as sacred. But there is a limit here: the sacraments are instrumental – that is, they are doing stuff for us, for our benefit, where she want us to see nature as valuable in itself. St. Francis of Assisi and Emily Dickinson: don’t use the lilies of the field, but just attend to them, pay attention to them. How? (Guess what – Buddhists do this all the time. That’s what meditation is all about – dropping all the “me, me" stuff and paying attention.)

Middle of 28 – Iris Murdoch a good example of this – feminism gives examples of paying attention to real differences – the use of stopping time to pay attention (very Buddhist) – the use of art in paying attention (very Buddhist, and also very Sr. Wendy) – Simone Weil, paying attention is prayer (remember Thich Nhat Hanh talking about nirvana and presence of God) – she sums it up bottom of page 29: pay attention to the world. To do that, of course, you need to be present, available.

Two ways of doing it: science and nature writing, helps us learn how to pay attention (page 31); the second way, bottom of page 31, is getting a distance, to see the world whole. We can’t not be on this planet; it’s all interactive. Then, bottom of page 32, the “loving eye" vs. the “arrogant eye' – how we see depends on our attitude in looking (more later in the book). What is our purpose in looking? The perspective from feminist philosophy is that we usually are interested in how everything we see is related to “my interests" (very Buber). The loving eye acknowledges “complexity, mystery, and difference" (important paragraph top of 34). We have to put aside our own fears and interests to be available. (Very Buddhist too! – what she doesn’t seem to acknowledge is that we can’t change our perspective to a loving eye by imposing our will, just deciding to do it, but need some the long practice of something like meditation over time.)

Then she talks about the loving eye through 34 – the model of subject-subject – feminist philosophy about that (Buber again). Bottom of 34 – the route to knowledge (epistemology). Important! Especially the word “embodied." Look closely at this, and how it is contrasted on page 35 in how knowledge in the west has been disembodied and cleaned up, distanced. She contrasts this with “mud and guts" complexity.

Another image of the loving eye is the “locking eyes" – gazing into another set of eyes (very Buber). This is an image from nursing babies. She mentions Buber, Iris Murdoch. She calls this REAL objectivity, rather than separation and distance, which feminists view as a mistaken view that allows for exploitation.

Mid 36 (note that these arguments weave around) – some sources for this new model – subject-subject knowing is based on friendship, a mutually-interested, embodied knowing, instead of disembodied and (supposedly) disinterested knowing. In her view, you can only know from the perspective of your own embodied experience, and that of your interrelationships with others that you love, from your connections.

Then she brings in her own experience and why she thinks friendship is the basic way of thinking about nature, especially how her views about nature have developed over time toward the “up close and personal" approach, where the individual violet has its own intrinsic value. More on relationship bottom of 37 – reciprocity – attention to detail. (Those of you who have had babies, women and men both, will recall how that interaction with a newborn brings the focus down to an incredibly detailed, intimate level.) She gives some examples of knowing and class differences.

Summing up: how should a Christian do this? A completely different model – non-hierarchical – she says that hierarchical thinking very much dominates how we structure our world. A “different sensibility" means a different way of imagining and being in the world. On page 39, it’s not just relationships with one subject, but subject-subject-subject – a net, or web, or beings. Looking forward to the next chapter: pay attention to differences, different parts of nature, thinking differently about each different part. Then some conversation about “rights" or “care" as a basis for ethics; the “care" ethic is most radical, as presupposing relationships. So, in sum, what’s Christian about it? It appears to be Christian; “love your enemies" is much closer to a subject-subject than to a subject-object relationship.

Tying things up: the need to recognize our own particularity as part of it – things the feminists have learned about difference – how a “map" model is less helpful than a “hike" model, as the map is understanding things at a distance, and the hike gets us up close and personal. That is why, again, she is attracted to autobiographical writing. She brings in an imagined opponent: “so, why bother", the critic might say? “This is just trivial and personal." (Remember Buber brings in imaginary critics at times in this back-and-forth kind of way.) “Yes, but", she responds: “we all relate to the world from our own individual, personal, experience."

Quotes at the end – remember Rabbi Abraham Heschel in the first video? “Prayer as our grateful response to the unimaginable gift of being" (or close to these words).

Chapter 3 – page 54. This chapter goes back and gives an historic framework to Western ideas about nature, centering on the complex ways that nature was viewed in medieval times. At that time, hard to recapture now, God’s hand was seen in every detail of the natural world. Nature was seen as another “God’s book", with lessons written in it for us to learn. But there was also a tradition, best exemplified in St. Francis of Assisi, of seeing natural beings in their own rights as being worthy of respect and love, as our brothers and sisters.

The first paragraph/page gives you the overview of what is going to happen in the chapter. She starts with Enlightenment as a fall into a limited and problematic way of thinking, and will go back and try to find some values in medieval thinking.

Earlier cultures, including our own, saw nature as more like us than as an object. That shifted in the 17th century Enlightenment, when reason became the rule (Newtonian thinking, scientific thinking). Again, she is talking about how metaphors shape how we think and act in the world. This objectification of nature is an anomaly in the vast span of human history, including all the cultures we denigrate as being “primitive." Even in our own Christian past culture, we had a healthier view of nature prior to the Enlightenment, where everything in nature spoke of God. There were problems with the Medieval world, in its static understanding and its hierarchical structure. There were good things too – a sacramental understanding of the “intrinsic value of things" ( p. 51) – because it’s God’s world, and things all matter.

Then in the next paragraph, she brings in the ecological interdependence model, which is different. Pay attention! This is going to be a little bit hard; she contrasts “symbolic ontology" with metaphoric thinking. The “symbolic ontology" of the medieval world is a static understanding of how things must be because of how we understand God to have intended them, which goes along with a static view of God (all powerful, creator). The more slippery, looser understanding she characterizes as metaphoric allows for things to be related but also different, and also allows for change. The first understanding pins natural beings down to a symbolic reading: a lion as God’s lesson to us on bravery, might be an example. If we read that same animal as being metaphoric, we can see the bravery, but also see the lion in its complex natural life as part of an ecological whole, with instinctual behaviors, and so on. I think this is what she’s getting at. The good things about the unified medieval picture of the world is that it allows for real respect for and relationship with other parts of creation; however, in our “postmodern sensibility" (this is on 52), we can’t go back to that unity, but have to find other ways of finding connection within our fragmented modern conditions. “Ecological interdependence" is the way to go.

We can’t go back to the medieval unity. We’re “Protestants" (that is, we live in a culture that has broken away from that earlier unified view), but we are also “Catholics" in having access to some of the good things of seeing the sacred in nature. These words are two co-existing Christian perspectives or mind sets, and we need them both. She goes on about the “Catholic sensibility" which goes back to that medieval church. We can’t be “primitive" and see nature as inhabited by spirit-beings like ourselves, but we still need to find a way of granting subject status to nature.

Now, looking more closely at the medieval world and what kind of sacredness creatures were seen to have in it, she mentions Hildegard of Bingen. God was seen to be everywhere, and everything around was symbolic of God’s action. We can’t go back to that sense of it, and read nature like God’s book, but there are things we can take: the idea of the presence of nature as carrying divinity for us, because God made it. She talks about the past practice of looking at animals and plants as allegories as limited (page 55), but the more radical way was seen in St. Francis of Assisi, who takes a big step to loving animals in their own right, calling them brothers and sisters. That’s a much different view. He also acted toward animals and nature in a loving kind of way, spoken to on page 57.

Then some difficult stuff about the vertical thinking and horizontal thinking. Plato and the Christian Neoplatonists, such as Augustine, saw reality as vertical – up and down. The most important and most real, good stuff was beyond this world, in the world of Heaven (for Augustine) to which we aspire. Everything below was a dim shadow of the real reality. Thomas Acquinas, following upon Aristotle, saw this world as horizontal, that is, on a plane, where God’s law worked itself out in nature. She cites Flannery O’Connor, the Catholic novelist, as representing a sacramental kind of novel writing. Read this paragraph with some care! (mid p. 57).

Then, an understanding of medieval sacramentality is that things are not just standing for qualities, but have a presence of the Divine, as being created by God. But, on the whole (on the bottom of the page), Christianity has had more of a vertical emphasis, and nature has been seen as a way to God, rather than being seen as having value in itself. This has been pretty normative in Christian thought, including Martin Luther and others: the direction is through nature, upwards and Godwards. Even (p. 58) sacramental poet Gerald Manly Hopkins falls into the vertical stuff. The rest of the paragraph, though, focuses on what Hopkins got right in a sacramental view of nature. Some of these quotes show God’s self-revealing in the works of nature. God’s speaking of God’s self in the world (there’s a lot of Buber in this – resembles his Hasidic understanding of God’s presence being scattered as little seeds through the world).

Then, at the end of the Renaissance, with science and secularism, nature got lost (page 59) – our world has been “literalized" – it’s no longer possible to see God’s presence or symbolic values in nature. Now, we’re isolated, little points of consciousness, no longer connected. This is strongly stated bottom of 59. Language becomes flat, losing its connection to actual experience in the world. The only place we really can encounter nature is in science – and in nature writing, where the meaning seeps back. She sees nature writers, in their close examination of nature, coming closer to a subject-subject relationship (61).

Nature affects us, influences us; in our flattened, secular world, we don’t have good language to talk about this. On 62, she says, our principle difficulty is introversion (that is, thinking of how things affect our needs and interests). In earlier cultures, we related to animals as important beings (mysterious and dangerous) – the example here of the cave paintings. In our modern world, we have only caged animals and pets (she doesn’t mention our meat animals); animals are seen as always relating to our interests, not as different, other than us. We demean them, sentimentalize them. She contrasts this with her own experience with a wild raccoon and Annie Dillard’s experience with a wild hawk.

She says there has to be something other than objectification or sentimentality (bottom of 63). Those are two ways of getting it wrong, seeing animals something to control, or instead as cute human-like Disney characters, both ways of thinking that have more to say about us and our interests than they do about animals. Instead, we need to try to let things be what they are – top of 65. A big shift of argument in the middle of this paragraph is that Americans have used a view of nature as a way of glorifying our own specialness (land of the purple-topped mountains), rather than seeing nature as it is.

Bottom of 65 – summary and sets up next chapter.

The rest of the book: you are on your own, now that you have been introduced to McFague's style of thinking and main concepts.
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Discussion Questions for in-class discussion (if you wish, use any of these questions that gets you thinking as a prompt for reading journals):

1. First of all, are you (preliminarily) convinced that Sallie McFague’s project is possible – that of finding a way within Christian thinking of changing how we relate to nature at a basic level? Or do we have to abandon Christianity to do this?

2. McFague cycles through her basic argument from several perspectives in these first chapters. Go back and try to pull together a synthesis of what she believes should be a distinctly Christian approach to nature. What does she draw on from the central traditions of Christian belief and practice in creating this view?

3. Go back and think about the ways McFague’s approach resembles that of Buber. Are there any differences you see between her approach and that of Buber?

4. In what ways is McFague’s understanding similar to that of Thich Nhat Hanh, this far in the book? How are the two perspectives different, do you think?

5. I didn’t mention any of this in my notes, but did you find connections or differences in comparing McFague’s understanding to that of Black Elk in The Sacred Pipe?

6. In what ways does McFague describe contemporary science and scholarship replacing historical Newtonian assumptions about the world?

7. In what ways does McFague’s approach and understanding connect with your understanding of how men and women might be socialized to view the world in differing ways? (Think of the “ethic of care" as one instance.)

8. Reflect on the spiritual classic you have read. What views of nature were implied in it? How do those views resemble the historic views summarized in chapter 3? Are there any ways that your spiritual classic author viewed nature more closely to the ways that McFague recommends, as “subject-subject"?

9. Now that you have read the first chapters and my notes, what is your thinking about what theology is good for? Does this perspective change how you view what you were taught about Christian beliefs and values?

Spiritual Journey – Reading Questions for McFague Chapter 4-5

The pages shown after each question are the REQUIRED READING. Try if at all possible to at least skim the rest. If a question isn't making sense in terms of the pages listed, go back to the section or pages just before those listed pages and see if that clears up the confusion for you.

1. Why is sight “of the mind"? What does that suggest about Western culture? About God? About humans and nature? (67-71)

2. In what ways are we mistaken that what we see is what is really there? (72-73)

3. Why do Plato and Descartes prefer sight as a model for knowing? How did Descartes’ philosophy change the understanding of nature? (Note the contrast between “rationality" and “empiricism" – check definitions.) (74-75)

4. Why should an “objective" understanding of nature include many different kinds of knowing? (76-77)

5. What is included in an ecological model of knowing? (77)

6. What is the connection between objectification of nature, perspective in painting, and the painting of the nude? (78-81)

7. How has the camera changed us? (82-86)

8. What are the broad cluster of associations that go along with the reason/nature dichotomies? How does objectification of nature affect categories of people? (88)

9. How is touch different from sight as a way of knowing? How would touch as knowing change our sense of self? (91-95)

10. What are some reasons to prefer a subject-subject model of knowing? (95-97)

11. What would an ecological model of self and nature involve? (98-99, 103)

12. Why does she object to “deep ecology" or romanticism? (98)

13. In what ways does McFague differ in her views from Buber? Does she get him right? (100-103)

14. What are the characteristics of the “relational self"? (105-7)

15. How can we extend the subject-subject model to nature? What is required to see "earth others" as subjects? (107-112)

16. How do we need to stretch or grow to maintain the loving eye? What skills do we need to cultivate? (112-117) (Note the definition of sin on p. 117.)

McFague – Questions over 6

1. (118-119) What happens to us humans when we are not exposed to nature?

2. (120-123) What are the components needed for children to begin to experience nature? What stands in the way of their experiencing nature?

3. (124+) Where is “wildness" possible? How is it different from “wilderness"?

4. (126-128) In looking at some models of nature preservation, which approach does McFague feel is best? Why?

5. (129-131) What is the purpose and value of nature writing? How is it like spiritual autobiography?

6. How can experience in nature change people (conversion)? (132-34 “Second naivety").

7. (134-136) What is the importance of both scientific and aesthetic elements of nature writing?

8. What is the problem with “oceanic feelings of oneness" as mentioned in several places?

McFague – Questions over Chapter 7 and Epilogue

1. (151) What is the starting point of a Christian ethic toward nature?

2. (152) How does a “community" model compare to an “individual rights" or “organic" model of ethics?

3. (153-4) What is involved in an ethic of care?

4. (155-158) What are some limits or problems to a justice/rights model?

5. (158-161) How does the metaphor of a “garden" work with an ethic of care?

6. (162-3) Why is an understanding of the “social self" helpful in constructing an ethic of care?

7. (164-167) How does the ecological model allow for a specifically Christian ethic toward nature?

8. (168+) How does Christian thinking go potentially beyond the ecological model in constructing an ethic toward nature? (Discuss the understanding of “sin" as “objectification" in the Christian model and its community of care ethic.)

9. (171) What are some specific examples of environmental issues Christians need to be concerned with?

10. (172-175) How can Christian sacramentalism contribute to a Christian response to nature?

11. (176-178) Why should we love nature?