Christian Valters Paintner is the Program Coordinator for the Ignatian Spirituality Center in Seattle and an adjunct faculty member at Seattle University's School of Theology and Ministry. She is a Catholic and a Benedictine Oblate who serves as Art Editor for Presence: An International Journal of Spiritual Direction. This well-done and quote-filled paperback forges deep and rich connections between the Christian faith and the natural world. Paintner writes:
"This book is designed to be an accompaniment and guide for ongoing prayer and times of retreat. It is an offering one window among many into cultivating a more intimate and contemplative relationship to God through the natural world. Each of the elements offers us a unique energy or way of understanding the sacred: water flows and cleanses; the earth roots us and nourishes us; fire represents the burning of love and passion; and wind expresses freedom, breath, and unpredictability."
The early church fathers and mothers, the Celts, and many Christian saints recognized two books of divine revelation: the book of scripture and the book of nature. The main focus of Water, Wind, Earth, and Fire is enhancing our contemplative response to the book of nature. Organized around "The Canticle of the Creatures" by St. Francis of Assisi, this paperback presents creative ways to pray with the elements, allowing them to function as wise spiritual directors. Each chapter targets one of the elements and contains relevant quotations from Scripture and selected mystics and poets, a reflection, questions and exercises, and practice suggestions.
In the opening chapter on "Brother Wind," Paintner quotes Hildegard of Bingen:
"The secret life of Me breathes in the wind
And holds all things together soulfully."
Paintner challenges us to see in the wind's qualities symbols for our relationship with God as life-breath, inspiration, powerful force, and the current that supports flight. We can get in touch with the wind by flying a kite, savoring the cool breeze on a hot day, going sailing, or blowing bubbles. She suggests creating a prayer based on Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's image of the "breathing together of all things." Since the wind is allied with the Holy Spirit in the Christian tradition, the author states that it is a salutary thing to start the day with gratitude for the gifts of the Spirit. There are also references and exercises to the Celtic journey of peregrinatio; "What to Remember When Awakening," a poem by David Whyte; the whirlwind in the Book of Job; psalms of lament; and many more thought-provoking quotations. She even explains how to do Lection Divina with the wind. The same pattern holds true for the other three elements.