Elements of Renewal: Fourfold Wisdom

By Grau, Marion | Anglican Theological Review, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Elements of Renewal: Fourfold Wisdom


Grau, Marion, Anglican Theological Review


In Our Common Future, the United Nations' Brundtland report, the audiors call for a "new ethic, which puts the relationship between humans and nature as a first priority."' The need to change industrial and post-industrial ways of life has been in public consciousness for more than three decades, but as a global community we are far behind acting on what we know and have known. It looks less and less likely we will avoid so changing the climate patterns of the world that life as we know it will be catastrophically transformed.

What does it mean to be in solidarity with all life on the planet, rather than just looking at local benefits? Life is connected on a cosmic scale, and we cannot pretend that things that affect others do not affect us. We live in a global/local age where the local is more noticeably connected to the global. The effects of our actions haunt us and our descendants, as those of our ancestors haunt us. We experience deep entanglement, delayed consequences that are hitting home for generations to come.

Any real transformation will have to be so profound that the lives we have come to take for granted must change, and we must become willing to let the rest of the world and cosmos truly matter to us. We have completely absorbed the logic of neoliberal economics, believing that what does not concern us directly and personally are "externalities" that somebody else must worry about. But "out of sight" ought not to mean "out of mind," and a "reductionist analysis" of the crises we are in will lead to "reductionist solutions."2

I am proposing here a step forward in ecotheology, a move toward deeper practices of embodied ecospirituality, calling for a profound coherence of faith and practice. 1 am proposing that the conceptual framework of the classical four elements offers one way of moving toward practicing such embodied faith. I propose that the concepts of the elements can function in several ways: as heuristic devices, as a sacred geography, a sacred labyrinth of movements and connections, centering, decentering, re-enchanting how we see the world.

The elements are a useful sacred geography in an increasingly multireligious environment where we have to seek solidarity across religious difference to make a difference in our world, and to work on peaceful coexistence. The following represents a Christian theological approach for cooperation with other religious communities. The elements are a framework that can be found in many other traditions, a shared conceptuality that allows us to move beyond doctrinal differences, gaps in technology and development. They are ancient and deeply embedded in human drinking and sacred texts.

Living in an Elemental Economy

The elements help us to envision an enlarged sense of divine economy on a larger scope than "economy" as it is often used in common parlance: a late capitalist reductionist framework that prioritizes and isolates profits and externalizes nature, elements, animals, even humans. We have been conditioned to understand the term "economy" in a rather narrow fashion, as referring to stock markets, profits involved in human consumption, consumer prices, financial markets and derivatives. News media may on occasion speak about employment concerns, hirings, firings, layoffs, buying power, and so forth. Some have called for a green economy that would include in its resource allocations a far greater range of factors having to do with the sustainable use of resources and the life quality of all fife forms on the planet.

I define "economy" as resource allocation, management and distribution, the mapping of relationships of exchange, and the managing and just distribution of resources. "Divine economy" moves on a cosmic scale, referring to God's involvement in the world as it relates to the cosmic workings of divinity in all aspects of planetary and human life. Looking at the world from a perspective of the divine economy means resisting the bifurcation of sacred and secular, material and spiritual, and seeing these exchanges as inseparable, as informing and expressing each other. …

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