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Two New Books on Ecology

Reviewed by Mark Lombard
Catholic News Service

God in the Garden: A Week by Week Journey Through the Christian Year, by Maureen Gilmer. Loyola Press (Chicago, 2002). 215 pp., $17.95 (paper).

The Re-enchantment of Nature: The Denial of Religion and The Ecological Crisis, by Alister McGrath. Doubleday (New York, 2002). 256 pp., $23.95.

In time for the observance of the feast of St. Francis, two recent books focus attention on the Christian responsibility to tend the resources of the earth.

"God in the Garden: A Week-by-Week Journey Through the Christian Year" couples practical information about plants with spiritual insight. It is organized around 48 weekly and 12 monthly entries, each with a Scripture passage, a meditation, an inspirational gardening quote, gardening information, a discussion about the plant featured, a detailed line drawing and a prayer.

From the snowdrop, which was known as the "flower of the purification," to the more common carnation, chrysanthemum and tomato, author Maureen Gilmer details each plant entry with a description of its origin, scientific name, habitat, size, information about when to plant and notable features as well as any particular Christian significance.

Writer of 15 books, syndicated columnist, founder of two gardening-related Web sites, landscape designer and horticultural consultant, Gilmer also offers the reader a useful glossary of terms and list of catalogues and books on plant supplies and "Christian gardens." She writes that through her quarter-century of horticulture work she has "found myriad connections between plants and religion," adding that the liturgy and Christian calendar of feast days "have clear parallels to the farmer's annual cycle of reaping and sowing."

"When God created humans in his own image, he did not choose to place them on a mountaintop, in the ocean, in a building or cave. No, God chose a garden as the ideal place, a paradise in which his beloved creations" should live and "charged them with the task of cultivating and tending the plants," she says.

Hoping readers will "rediscover a path of Christianity that is age-old," Gilmer said that "true wisdom and simplicity" can be found "through a deeper relationship with God in the garden."

In "The Re-enchantment of Nature: The Denial of Religion and the Ecological Crisis," Alister McGrath, a professor of theology at Oxford University, says that the dominant intellectual systems of the last two centuries have led mankind to lose "touch with the world of nature."

On the other hand, Christianity -- in the monastic traditions of the Egyptian and Syrian deserts, Celtic Christianity, Franciscan spirituality and statements of church leaders through today -- has championed a sense of connection and interdependence. McGrath places the blame for the ecological crisis at the feet of the Enlightenment, the lure of technology, modernism, postmodernism and scientific positivism. These forces have perverted "the notion of dominion of nature from 'care' to 'oppression.'"

Before becoming a theologian, McGrath worked at Oxford in the field of molecular biology. He says that there is a "natural link" between scientific research and religious faith as both are "about a sense of wonder and a longing to understand the world."

Yet, he argues, "the dominant theme of our times is that nature has become disenchanted -- robbed and emptied of whatever mystery and sanctity it once was believed to possess." McGrath says mankind must "reclaim the idea of nature as God's creation and act accordingly," denying the view that humanity "possesses" nature but rather serves as a careful steward of its resources. "To re-enchant nature is to accept and cherish its divine origins and signification, not least in what it implies for our own nature and ultimate destiny."