Ministering with the Earth

By Mary Elizabeth Moore
Chalice. 1998. 226 pp. Pb. $19.99.
ISBN 0-8272-2323-4


Ministering with the Earth is a quiltwork, both the on-the-ground activity and Moore's book about so ministering. Moore, professor of theology and Christian education at Claremont School of Theology, is fond of the metaphor, suitably pastoral and feminist.

Ministering is “quilting a life in relation to God and God’s creation,” which includes gathering fabrics, imagining the design, cutting patches, stitching patches and basting on a backing (pp. 171-198, p. 20 et passim).

Ministering is a collection of insightful stories, episodes, thoughts, sermonettes, pastoral ideas and opportunities. The virtue in the book is its diversity and inclusiveness. To choose another metaphor, here is a smorgasbord. There is something here for everybody.

“Stitching the patches” (p. 21) is not easy to keep under logical control. But perhaps concern about an integrated, reasoned account is misplaced. Ecosystem science now teaches that ecosystems are more patchy than we once thought. One reaction is to enjoy the richness of the quilt. Another reaction is worry whether there is enough patterned connection. The piecemeal plurality overwhelms any overarching unity; there is little sense of theoretical principle, lawlike regularity.

There is useful analysis and example: Stephen R. L. Clark’s complaints about ecological theology (pp. 80-81), or planting trees at Claremont (p. 17). But Ministering is indeed inclusive: how to deal with a computer crash (pp. 147-148), whether “God is black” (p. 53), care for AIDS victims (p. 17), Christians’ attitudes toward other faiths (p. 72), the death of Princess Diana, or Hagar, Abraham’s concubine, and her courage (pp. 103-104). Solidarity with other persons — yes. But earth ministering?

Moore includes dozens of references to aboriginal peoples, commendably. A “wise elder” of the Tewa enjoins a running ceremony because “humans beings, in their running, can give strength to the sun father.” Moore adds that “the story points to a potent relationship of reciprocity and mutual responsibility” (p. 19). Perhaps. But we need more analysis, especially in a scientific age. By contrast, she does not consult a single contemporary environmental scientist.

Moore urges “conversation with the planet (p. 141). St. Francis implores the birds “not to be ungrateful but be zealous always to praise God” (p. 26). These are fetching images, but can we translate this into something less poetic? More plainly put: there ought to be caring whether human interactions complement or disrupt earth’s processes. That message does come through, loud and clear, in this imaginative and provocative book.