Finding God in the Singing River by Mark Wallace
(Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005) 158 pages, with photos, notes and indices.
It is difficult to say how important this book is; Mark Wallace makes so many crucial connections essential for a Christian pneumatology, I hardly know where to begin. The book itself is an experience of ‘deep calling to deep.’ It simply asks, “Is our spirituality green or Gnostic?” while it invites us into a way of perception that is as wholistic as it is beautiful. If the measure of a good book is that it is readable, nurturing, adventurous and educational, then this is a good book. Wallace’s writing style has some of the finest use of inclusive language I have ever read.
Modern Christianity suffers from dualism. As a result, there has been a denigration of the material, the physical and an exaltation of the ideal. Our common Platonism is deficient in that there is nor can be any true relation between the real and the phenomenon. Consequently, we automatically rule out of our Christian theology any relationship between God and creation. The deconstructionist funeral of philosophy has left us all wanting. We seek Spirit. This had really come home to me as I was writing my essay on ‘Ecospirituality.’
Wallace clearly demonstrates that the biblical language of the Spirit is primarily brought to us in physical imagery, fire, water, wind, dove. The biblical story narrates an intimate relationship between Spirit and creation, and opens us to the beautiful, nurturing, caring character of the earth. It is an opportunity of exploring the feminine in all life (especially essential for us males who have wrongly understood the feminine). It is to find the beauty and benevolence of the Creator as visibly demonstrated in the entirety of the creation and especially appropriate to do so in the light of a theology of the cross.
“I am self-conscious about my earth-centered hermeneutic and believe that such a hermeneutic allows the Bible to speak again from the center of its love and passion for the good creation God has made. God is not distant from our planet, unmoved by earthly concerns, dispassionate and unaffected by the environmental degradation that despoils the bounty and beauty of the created order. Rather, from a green spirituality perspective, we learn that God loves the earth, manifests Godself as an earthen being in the human Jesus and corporeal Spirit, and suffers deeply from the environmental abuse that causes pain and loss to all beings…If we would learn again, like Jesus, to see the world with green eyes, then we could catch Jesus’ vision of an earth charged with a natural grace and beauty more profound that anything can imagine. A green world alive with color and fragrance – the restrained elegance of lilies in an open field – is the supernatural food Earth God offers to us to feed our hungry bodies and souls.”
Wallace’s green spirituality addresses disputes within the ecology movement, the tragic influence of humanism and its androcentrism, and the role played by deconstruction culminating in the application of Kenneth Gergen’s theory of ‘social constructionism.’ This last move could well have been supplemented with Girard’s notion of our corporate interdividuality. The end result is that our very language about the earth is exposed as culpable and we are invited into the transformation of our language by the Spirit.
Wallace then boldly moves right into the strategic significance a theology of the cross makes for green spirituality, following the insights developed by Jurgen Moltmann. For me, as a reader, this was the grounding I sought, the way language was truly transformed by experience and experience by new language, the articulation of suffering. “Jesus suffers on the cross the sins of the world; the Spirit in the earth suffers the despoilment of the world. Jesus suffers because he bears the sins of the world in his human flesh. The Spirit, as coeternal and coparticipatory with Jesus in the eternal Godhead, also experiences this suffering (even as does God the Father, for that matter). But the Spirit also suffers in a way distinctive of her role in creation because she feels the pain of a degraded earth in her more-than-human body.”
Wallace begins the book with his childhood experience of the Pascagoula River (the Singing River) and ends with his contemporary experience of Crum Creek. Like all good authentic language on the creation it abounds with the personal, yet is humble, recognizing the limits of language to perceive or describe. Mark Wallace makes a great many important contributions in this book. It is as fine an example of Evangelical Christian post-modern theology as you will find. Mark Wallace is Associate Professor of Religion, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA.
- reviewed by Michael Hardin, April 2005