The Green Devotional: Active Prayers for a Healthy Planet
I was hoping for something as wide and deep and as well organized as the Oxford Book of Prayer, but with a focus on environmental topics. Instead, this is a book of quotations – not prayers for the most part, but more on that in a moment -- with only the loosest organization around chapter headings of Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Time, Space, and Essence. The Introduction makes much of offering “350 bits of devotional wisdom” – 350 being a reference to the warning that 350 parts-per-million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere constitutes a danger point -- so I expected 7 chapters with 50 readings in each one, plus 16 closing prayers, adding up to a year’s worth of devotions. However, the chapters vary in their number of readings; for example, the Water chapter has only 32, and eight of those don’t mention water at all. Each chapter begins with a short essay that largely lacks references for the experts it quotes. There is no numbering scheme and no index of authors or topics. That brings me to the selection of readings. In her Introduction, the author sets out her goal – “to value all shades of green.” However, the book seems top-heavy with contemporary prose quotations from Euro-American authors. Environmental concerns are not new to the religions of the world, yet their voices seem to have been pushed to the background with only a few selections from sacred scriptures that have been sounding the green bell for centuries. For example, when I hear Psalm 98 say, “Let the rivers clap their hands, and let the hills ring out with joy,” I feel the anguish of those streams and mountains that are choked or crushed and far from joyous, but that verse is missing from the chapter on Water, where it would fit nicely. The abundance of indigenous wisdom is commendable, although concentrated among North American sources. I would have preferred more poetry, too. And why is there nothing (at least nothing that I could find) from Van Jones, as a representative of inspiring African-American activists in this field?Even with its weak organization and somewhat narrow selections, this devotional volume offers an interesting challenge in its subtitle “Active Prayers for a Healthy Planet.” As the author explains in the Introduction, “the active prayers within these pages may not always fit your own definition of prayer.” They remind me of Pray the News, the one-time effort of Carmelite nuns in Indianapolis, who “placed ourselves and our prayerful energy into situations of distress in the world.” The readings vary from the inspirational to the confrontational, but are always capable of stimulating a response. Even if the response is, “I can’t stand to read another depressing fact about what bad shape the Earth is in,” that’s a response worth our meditation. In conclusion, this is an interesting effort, but not the ideal, mature environmental devotional that truly honors “all shades of green” from all continents and a balanced variety of sources from the streams of indigenous wisdom, the world’s religions, and contemporary science and environmental advocacy. It will probably be a welcome addition, though, to the shelves of public speakers who need a handy set of quotations on environmental topics.