Grounded, by Diana Butler Bass, October 2015. HarperCollins, 304 pages, ISBN 9780062328540. RRP £13.99 (hardback)
This splendid book could be described as slow theology, to be savoured and enjoyed, with its points made through stories and the title fully justified. She writes: “God is … that which grounds us. We experience this when we understand that soil is holy, water gives life, the sky opens the imagination, our roots matter, home is a divine place, and our lives are linked with our neighbours and with those around the globe. This world, not heaven, is the sacred stage of our times.”
The book’s earthiness appears in the chapter “Dirt”, referencing Fred Bahnson who describes soil as a portal to the world as God intends it to be, and Sallie McFague’s metaphor of “body” for the relationship between God and the world. “What if we saw the Earth as part of the body of God, not as separate from God (who dwells elsewhere) but as the visible reality of the invisible God.”
She writes similarly of water and the sky, summing up their importance and her concern about their abuse by quoting Hildegard of Bingen: “If we fall in love with creation deeper and deeper, we will respond to its endangerment with passion.”
The chapter “Roots”, explores how we are caught up in a web of belonging, and in “Home” she writes of “Two locations …. have emerged as particularly sacred: the front door and the table, the physical places at home from where we form the spiritual habits of hospitality and gratitude.” She suggests, “to build a house on a good foundation may save the planet. Our homes are a sort of spiritual training ground for what happens in our world house.”
Bass emphasizes the importance of neighbourhood, writing, “The world can no longer afford tribes intent on purity who believe God blesses only them; the world is longing for tribes that place hospitality front and centre of spiritual practice and work to bless others on their way. We do not need gated neighbourhoods, but neighbourhoods with open gates.”
I found the chapter “Commons” most important, discussing the need to recognise the world commons and the spiritual elements of community: communitas, the spirit of unity; communion, the spirit of relationship; and compassion, the spirit of action. “Communitas emerges when human beings gather, a collective sense of unity. Communion is the sort of sharing that results in a more profound sense of our relationships to each other and the world. And compassion insists that we have a moral responsibility for each other.”
Bass’s lucid exposition of her belief that the distant patriarchal God is gone, replaced by the presence of the Spirit who dwells with creation and in us, conveys her fundamental Christian convictions as embracing the whole of creation in a wholly compelling way. It is a profoundly hopeful book and I finished it feeling much encouraged.