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A Publication of
Catholic Concern for Animals

Selections From The Ark Number 198 - Winter 2004

Book review
The Cosmic Circle: Jesus and Ecology

by Edward P. Echlin
Blackrock, Co Dublin: The Columba Press, 2004, ISBN 185607451X, £5.99.

The author grew up amid the complex and rich biodiversity of Michigan.  There, as a boy, the bears and trees, the streams and lakes, the native peoples and the cyclical turning of the seasons, all helped to lay the firm foundations of an ecological consciousness that continues to inform his theological reflections.

                His Earth spirituality is born out a deep and conscious embeddedness within the natural world.  In like manner, Jesus, rooted within his own native soil community, gives rise to an Earth spirituality that includes within its sphere animals, peace amongst peoples, liberation from injustice and the sharing of the Earth’s gifts sustainably and locally.  

                Jesus learned about the natural world around him from his parents, from local farmers, from craftsmen.  All of them knew full well that they lived in total dependence upon the sun, the rain, trees and shade, soil fertility and biodiversity.  So they lived lightly on the land and they shared the fruits of the land.  Jesus was fully aware of the interconnectedness of his life with the lives of his family, his fellow workers and all the plants and animals native to Galilee. It is in encountering and contemplating Jesus within his own country that we, today, can draw insights for our own ways of living lightly on the Earth.

                We may not have access to a garden, park or allotment.  But a humble window box will suffice to connect us to ‘nature’ and to the earthy Jesus.  Here, imagination is the key.  We know that Jesus was immersed in rural and family life for the images in his parables and sayings are often drawn from the soil community.  Using our own imaginations we can draw close to him and the natural world in which he was embedded.  And because God’s Word, in Jesus, becomes flesh and unites with the whole Earth community, then our spending time contemplating our window box is also time spent revisiting Jesus in his native lands.  Imagination is the key.

                Drawing from the riches of the Orthodox Christian Tradition, Echlin outlines ‘ways of proceeding’, that is, ways of relating our discipleship of Jesus with our love of the Earth.  In responding to the ecological crisis, the cry of the Earth, we both seek to discover the ways of Jesus in relation to his own environment, and to put these ways into practice. The first, imagination, bridges the time gap between us and the earthly Jesus.  Secondly, words can enlighten us.  Words are shared symbols, linking us to one another and to the wider community.  They bind us together, give us meaning. Thirdly, creeds.  These give us continuity and identity in a fragmented world.  ‘Choice’ is a favourite word of politicians.  Yet choice often leads to confusion.  The poetry of the creeds invites us to look deeply at our dependence upon one another and ultimately upon God.  Fourthly, prayer. As Christ saves not only humanity, but also the entire created order, so our prayers should reflect this.  Fifthly, theological art and poetry can contribute to an Earth spirituality and a cosmic liturgy.  The final ‘way of proceeding’ is practice.  Our commitment to Jesus and our commitment to the Earth come together in the practice of living sustainably locally. Here, the author names other environmentalists who have shown the way, and who can provide Christians with inspiration. So Christians, rooted as they are in Jesus, offer a distinctive voice to the many voices now calling for ecological justice.  The Cosmic Circle presents a compelling account how and why Jesus, the Earth and the Church are inseparable.

                The book concludes with a very comprehensive list of environmental, church and peace organisations which provide resources and inspiration for caring for one another and the Earth.

Laura Deacon

* Laura Deacon is the Information Officer for Christian Ecology Link.  

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