Daniel G. Deffenbaugh is Associate Professor of Religion at Hastings College where he teaches a variety of courses, including Sacred Space and Ecological Ethics. He has been the Summer Education Director at Narrow Ridge Center, an environmental education and retreat center in Washburn, Tennessee.
"Many these days take to the trails or to the rivers and lakes hoping in some way to regain a sense of being one with nature, but they fail in this because they cannot get away from the ingrained tendency to relate to these places as 'environments,' as commodities. The climber sees the mountain as an obstacle, a challenge; the hiker, 'wilderness as therapy,' " he wisely observes in this paperback. But there is another way to approach nature: "Persons reveal themselves only in a relationship of care and gratitude. The garden is the one place where this can occur today, where people can, over a committed period of time not just a Sunday afternoon here and there listen and watch patiently, enter into alliances, perform rituals, give thanks, know intimately the myriad persons of their community, and experience a sense of living in place."
The traditional Christian view of human beings as having dominion over the earth has alienated many who feel a spiritual kinship with creation. Deffenbaugh believes that if this religious tradition does not affirm the intrinsic goodness of the biotic communities in which we live and work, then Christians will be missing a chance to deepen their faith and savor the multiple pleasures of the world which God created. The author salutes the myths among the indigenous peoples of North America that connected them in satisfying ways with nature. These are contrasted with the stories told among Euro-American immigrants to the New World who saw themselves as overlords of creation who could exploit the earth and its resources for their own purposes. This commodification of nature has led to the present predicament where four companies (Monsanto, DuPont/Pioneer, Novartis, and Dow) now control a major portion of the North American corn, soybean, and cotton market and are involved in the genetic modification of crops.
Deffenbaugh calls Christians back to a reverence for place instead of the traditional eschewing of time on earth coupled with a yearning to be with God in heaven. He also sees in organic gardening a chance for individuals to nurture life within a context that brings us in touch the soil, plants, animals, and the four seasons. The author is convinced that tending to the growth of various garden plants is a kind of lectio the reading, ruminating, responding, and resting in the text of our place. Wendell Berry's writings are good examples of this kind of spiritual practice. Thanks to his regular tilling and keeping, he knows the language of his fields and revels in his relationship with the biotic community. We would add that Barbara Crafton also is a good teacher of this practice.
Deffenbaugh brings ecology down to earth and challenges the Christian community to develop a new spirituality of place .