Holy Ground

IN HER RECENT BOOK Finding Beauty in a Broken World, Terry Tempest Williams uses “mosaic” — literally fragments of glass, stone, and marble assembled into a work of art — as a metaphoric response toward healing our damaged world. Creating new beauty from broken fragments of earlier worlds inspires hope that the future can be different. Holy Ground demonstrates this through assembling a rich mosaic of essays that plumb ancient fragments and teachings from various religious traditions, reassembling them to reclaim hope for the Earth in a time of global brokenness.

These voices seek to mend the unfortunate divide that has developed between many religious and environmentalist communities. In her introduction, editor Lyndsay Moseley traces this split and healing through her own experience of growing up with a love of nature that often seemed at odds with her deeply religious and politically conservative community. Yet involvement in her church youth group and a class on community organizing eventually led her to reread the Bible through an ecological lens and discover that it was “green from Genesis to Revelation.”

Moseley’s experience illustrates a broad movement afoot worldwide today: what some have termed the “greening of religion.” A quick survey of the website of the Forum on Religion and Ecology (FORE) at Yale University gives some sense of the breadth and depth of this growing movement. It features a bibliography of literally hundreds of scholarly articles and books on the intersection of religion and the environment in ten of the world’s largest religious traditions.

Holy Ground’s more modest, focused goal is to examine how theological values and principles “become part of the core convictions of local leaders and congregants,” reshaping the ways we live in and with creation, while “coming to grips with the spiritual imperative of Earth Stewardship.” The collection succeeds at this to a remarkable extent, as it interweaves responses from religious leaders including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of the Orthodox Church and Pope Benedict XVI alongside both familiar sages like Wendell Berry, Linda Hogan, Gary Snyder, and Abraham Joshua Heschel, and newer voices. Among the most moving is Nandini Iyer’s “Reborn in the Flames,” where she reflects on the symbolism of fire and the Hindu god Shiva to make sense of the loss of her home and 566 others in a California fire.

Some of the essays will resonate more than others, depending on one’s own stance. Even so, the diversity of these voices in this thoughtful collection reflects the power of the mosaic; as Williams writes, “what appears illogical or abrupt close up, blends from afar. . . . It’s as though sunlight has entered the room.”