Landscapes of the Soul: A Spirituality of Place

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9780877936725: Landscapes of the Soul: A Spirituality of Place

Invites readers to see ordinary places anew -- to appreciate fully the way in which place nurtures their spiritual lives. Draws upon scripture, psychology, and theology to lay out the framework for a comprehensive spirituality of place. Hamma reminds readers that God is a God who cares about and becomes present in the places that they inhabit. Readers will find that they see with new eyes the places that have shaped their spiritual journeys.

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About the Author:

Robert M. Hamma is the author of numerous books and articles on spirituality and family life. Among his books are Along Your Desert Journey, Let's Say Grace: Mealtime Prayers for Family Occasions Throughout the Year and Circle of Friends: Encountering the Caring Voices in Your Life (which he co-authored with Robert J. Wicks). He holds an M.A. in theology from the University of Notre Dame as well as an M.Div. degree.

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Introduction

"The earth is charged with the glory of God!" Gerard Manley Hopkins cries out in his poem "God's Grandeur." The notion that creation reveals God is as old as the Psalms. "The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork," Psalm 19 says.

There is likewise an ancient Christian tradition that refers to nature as a second book of divine revelation. In a story told about the third-century monk St. Antony of the Desert, Antony is queried by a philosopher about how he can survive without books. Antony replies, "My book, sir philosopher, is the nature of created things, and it is always at hand when I wish to read the words of God." Mystics like Meister Eckhart and St. Francis have led us to discover that the deeper our awareness of God, the greater our perception of God in all of creation. Eckhart reminds us, "Look deeply into things, and discover God there." And Francis invites us to join him in regarding the sun, the moon, and all of creation as our brothers and sisters.

But beyond this sense of the Creator being revealed in creation there is a new awareness of place growing in those who are serious about spiritual practice. While it includes a consciousness of the way the beauty of creation mirrors God, it does not specifically seek out the beautiful as the best way to see God. Rather, it seeks to pay attention to how the ordinary places shape and form spiritual consciousness, and to reflect on what it is that they teach us in those moments when they are disclosive of some greater reality.

There is a saying in the apocryphal gospel of Thomas: "Split the stick and there is Jesus; lift the stone and one finds the Lord" (26:25-28). There is a hiddenness of God in the common place that does not easily yield itself to us. God is hiding in the stick, waiting to be found under the rock. Only when one notices the stick or the rock can that discovery even begin to be possible.

It's not easy to pay attention when the world is rushing by us, when we're worried or preoccupied. Charles Frazier, in his novel Cold Mountain, depicts well the problem that most of us have in noticing the ordinary. In this excerpt Ruby, a woman who has spent her life learning the secrets of the land, tests Ada, a woman from the city, to see whether she's learned to know the place.

--You say you want to get to know the running of this land, Ruby said. --Yes, Ada said. Ruby rose and knelt behind Ada and cupped her hands over Ada's eyes. --Listen, Ruby said. Her hands were warm and rough over Ada's face. They smelled of hay, tobacco leaves, flour, and something deeper, a clean animal smell. Ada felt their thin bones against her fluttering eyes. --What do you hear? Ruby said. Ada heard the sound of wind in the trees, the dry rattle of their late leaves. She said as much. --Trees, Ruby said contemptuously, as if she had expected just such a foolish answer. Just general trees is all? You've got a long way to go. She removed her hands and took her seat and said nothing more on the topic, leaving Ada to conclude that what she meant was that this is a particular world. Until Ada could listen, and at the bare minimum tell the sound of the poplar from the oak at this time of year when it was easiest to do, she had not even started to know the place.

Forming a sense of place is about learning to listen, to smell, to taste, to touch, and to see. It may be the wind in the poplars, it may be the footfalls of a child on the stairs, it may be the onset of a summer storm. The hidden God who is everywhere can only be discovered by such attentiveness. This book aims to help readers pay attention to the "particular world," to listen to and recognize the elements of that world so as to discern the presence of the divine in them.

Like Ada, we are just getting started. We have a lot to learn about the places where we live, their effect on us, and their potential for revealing God to us. For me, this book has become a part of the learning process. It is my attempt to root this experience of place in faith, to discover its revelatory dimension and to open myself to the demands that it places on me. What seemed at first a comforting mystical awareness has gradually grown into a call to responsibility and action.

If you are experiencing a similar awareness that place matters to you, I hope this book will help you explore the dimensions of that awareness in your own life.

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Hamma, Robert M.
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