Last time out, Diana Butler Bass tried to re-envision a revitalized Christian church. In this lyrical, mystical, and spiritual book, she mines the multiple treasures of panentheism, which means "everything in God, and God in everything." It stresses the presence of God in the world right around us and has no room for a three-tiered universe with a transcendent God taking care of all things from a command center in Heaven.
Panentheism encourages us to find the sacred in all of life. Seeing the divine presence in ourselves, our neighbors, nature, animals, plants, and things is – which Bass calls the "language of divine nearness" – is "the very heart of vibrant faith." She notes:
"The most significant story in the history of religion at this time is not a decline in Western religion, a rejection of religious institutions, or the growth of religious extremism; rather, it is a changed conception of God, a rebirthing of faith from the ground up."
The Spirit is acting in, with, and under our natural habitat. Bass begins her explorations with chapters on three of the four classical elements: dirt, water, and sky. With great elan she helps us to marvel at the mysteries of these dimensions discovered when we look for God in the world. Take off your shoes and walk barefoot in the grass; get your hands dirty in the garden; give thanks for the water you drink every day; clean up a watershed; let the stars dazzle you; rejoice in the air that you breath.
In a section titled "Human Geography," Bass salutes the bounties of cherishing your home, searching for your ancestral roots, honoring the ways in which you can make the most of the great web of belonging, following in the footsteps of John Wesley and developing "holy habits," reaping the benefits of home repair as a spiritual exercise, searching out neighbors and collaborating with them in the mending of the world, practicing hospitality toward strangers, formulating a "grand communal vision of God, the world, and humanity," and opening your hearts and minds to the art of sacred cosmopolitanism ("an awareness of the connections we share with God and others here on earth").
Theologians and spiritual teachers have been talking about panentheism for years. But the idea is just catching on with the general public, replacing the "Grandfather in the sky" image of God familiar from old-time religion, and also going beyond the "God is within me and is me" idea promoted in New Age circles. Bass has made an important contribution by beautifully explaining a broader and more inclusive understanding of God that can be embraced by the spiritually independents ("spiritual but not religious") and also by those rooted in one of the world's religions. Indeed, Bass suggests that the best place to begin finding God in the world is to start in your synagogue, mosque, temple, or church. She ends her book with the following words:
"It is time for the church to wake up. There is nothing worse than sleeping through a revolution."