The Garden of God: A Theological Cosmology

By Colonna, Dominic | Cithara, November 2011 | Go to article overview

The Garden of God: A Theological Cosmology


Colonna, Dominic, Cithara


The Garden of God: A Theological Cosmology. By Alejandro García-Rivera. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2009. Pp. 157. $22.

Cosmological concerns abound in the world today. In this year, the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks in the United States, ideological fighting has manifested itself in continued war in the Middle East, debilitating political infighting in the United States, terrorist acts worldwide, and an "Arab Spring" that have shaken the stability of the human community, the environment, and our ability to see the world as it is, especially, its potential beauty and goodness. Traditionally, theologians have waded in the dangerous cultural conversations about war, human suffering, and oppression. In recent years, theologians have added environmental science (specifically, theories about climate change) and biology (specifically, ideas about evolution) to their reflections on God, the world, and the relationship between the two.

Theological attempts to join scientific conversations have been challenged from a cadre of atheistic (Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett) and "antitheistic" (Sam Harris) scientists. This group has developed a new canon of literature which challenges belief in God and theological attempts to use science to develop a modern cosmology which also serves as a faith-based foundation for moral living.

In the midst of current and future struggles and debates about the synthesis of science and theology for a theological cosmology, Alejandro García-Rivera suggests that we garden. In a way reminiscent of Gandhi's suggestion that his compatriots spin thread, García-Rivera suggests that we should all come to appreciate the cosmos as a "garden of God" in this, his last book written before his death. García-Rivera contrasts this metaphor with Augustine's "city of God." His use of the metaphor also is meant to foster reflection on the central Christian garden story, the story of the Garden of Eden. This metaphor, however, is used to do much more. García-Rivera synthesizes theology and science through the work of Charles Darwin and, in a unique way, Teilhard de Chardin and Hans Urs von Balthasar, to argue for an understanding of the cosmos as an "entangled bank" of beautiful, interdependent realities that is similar to a garden. This metaphor is helpful, García-Rivera argues, because gardens require a "creative receptivity," an approach to the world that involves an appreciation of and respect for the given, gift-like, objective quality of the cosmos. Garcia-Rivera's proposal for attending to the realities that threaten the cosmos is for a creative, "disciplined spiritual technology." By "technology," García-Rivera means human creative activity which he believes should be "as much art as it is craft." The mission of this technology, furthermore, should be the creation of a "garden of God," a "life-giving place for human becoming" that addresses "our human frailty" (125-26).

Garcia-Rivera's work is part of a new tradition of theological aesthetics that has developed in the wake of the work of Hans Urs von Balthasar.1 In chapter four, García-Rivera outlines an argument that utilizes his particular use of von Balthasar's notion of "form." Garcia-Rivera offers a synthesis that involves an explanation of evolutionary theory based not on efficient causality but on his understanding of formal causality, that is, on an appreciation of "natural" or "living" forms. Garcia-Rivera distinguishes his notion of form from that found in "classical philosophy or art theory" (84). "Living form," he explains, "is form that cannot be pinned down in any absolute way. It is form that is contingent, dynamic, and even kenotic" (84). Garcia-Rivera uses this understanding and appreciation of natural forms to identify the experience of "nonequilibrium thermodynamics" in the physical sciences as an experience of a (quintessential) form of beauty, one that helps us to appreciate the beauty of the rest of the cosmos (84-5). …

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