Diana Butler Bass

THE EARTH: Consider The Stars by Diana Butler Bass

November 16, 2018

From Grounded  Outside of Guelph, Ontario, is an old Jesuit monastery.  There are only a few monks left, but the place still hums with energy.  Rechristened the Ignatian Spiritual Centre, the complex includes offices for nonprofit organizations, an organic farm, an old-growth forest that is being restored, and a retreat house.  Beyond the old monastery building, at the edge of the farm, there is a walking path for meditation.  Traditionally, such paths at a Roman Catholic monastery would trace the final steps of Jesus before his death, the walk called the Stations of the Cross.  More recently, such walking paths have been labyrinths, a mazelike walk without any specific Biblical reference.  But here the path is unique: the Stations [...]

THE EARTH: “Where Is God” And The Sky by Diana Butler Bass

November 9, 2018

From Grounded  The question, “Where is God?” appears several times in the Bible, perhaps most famously in the book of Job, but it occurs frequently in the psalms as well.  Psalm 115 offers a lyrical meditation on the question: Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness. Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases…. The heavens are the Lord’s heavens, but the Earth he has given to human beings. (115:1-3, 16) God is in Heaven; God inhabits the sky.  It is an ancient and universal answer, so ancient and universal that we do not know when or where human beings first articulated it.  And it may [...]

THE EARTH: Sky by Diana Butler Bass

November 2, 2018

From Grounded  We are stardust, We are golden, And we’ve got to get ourselves Back to the garden. (Joni Mitchell) Growing up in a large city, I never really knew the sky.  In Baltimore, trees and buildings kept the sky from view.  To see it, you usually had to look straight up.  The sky did not meet the Earth at a far horizon; indeed, you could only rarely see where they touched.  No one has ever considered calling Maryland, “big sky country,” for it is not.  The sky is small, a backdrop to urban landscapes or wooded hills. My first real acquaintance with the sky came in 1972, when my parents moved our family to Arizona.  We left Maryland in the early November, on a cloudy morning, and headed west for a five-day journey in our [...]

THE EARTH: The River Of God by Diana Butler Bass

October 19, 2018

From Grounded  I still walk along the Potomac.  But some days I sit by it.  Those are rowing days, when I watch my daughter’s crew team race on the water. The young women are dedicated.  They spend the winter months training, working out for hours on erg machines and running.  In the spring, they get on the water, perfecting their form and rowing together as a team.  And they learn the river, figuring out winds and currents to their advantage.  In effect, the best boats become one – a unity of rowers and river as the team works together and with the Potomac.  It is not an individual sport where people can jockey for attention; nor can rowers fight the river.  Rowing embodies strength, control, and flow, the spirit of the [...]

THE EARTH: Let Justice Roll On Like A River by Diana Butler Bass

October 12, 2018

From Grounded  In the eighth century BCE, a Jewish farmer named Amos railed against the rich who were manipulating credit to seize land from small landholders.  The woes of Amos’s time were real.  Traditional farms fell into disarray, as the poor were kicked off their native lands.  An extended drought had reduced agricultural production, and people had little water to drink: “One field would be rained upon, and the field on which it did not rain withered; so two or three towns wandered to one town to drink water,” (4:7-8).  Amos gives voice to those suffering, drawing attention to the link between abundant water, productive fields and vineyards, and economic justice.  He calls for the rich to act on behalf of the poor.  At [...]

THE EARTH: The Threat To Water by Diana Butler Bass

October 5, 2018

From Grounded  In March 2014, the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 led to the largest and most expensive multinational sea search in history.  For a month after the plane was lost to radar, investigation experts and sophisticated naval teams from the world’s most developed countries spread out over the Indian Ocean in a desperate search for the airliner.  The media covered it 24/7.  Millions watched, hoping for some sign of the doomed airliner and the lost passengers. At an early stage in the search, an excited news anchor broke into CNN coverage reporting that satellites had picked up a large “debris area” at a distant location in the South Indian Ocean.  For hours, experts speculated about and analyzed this news, [...]

THE EARTH: Healing Wells by Diana Butler Bass

September 28, 2018

From Grounded  Given the universality of water in stories of creation and healing, it appears that human beings have always understood that water is vital for happiness and well-being.  In recent years, however, the connection between water and happiness has been explored by a host of mainstream scientists, especially neuroscientists.  Researchers around the globe have demonstrated that being in natural environments with water makes human beings more relaxed, happier, and more satisfied with life.  For example, a Canadian study discovered that taking a fifteen-minute walk along the Ottawa River boosted energy and positive emotions for the participants.  A United Kingdom social psychologist found that photographs of waterscapes [...]

THE EARTH: The Spiritual Quest For Water by Diana Butler Bass

September 22, 2018

From Grounded  Throughout human history, the quest for God has often been connected with a quest for freshwater.  Just off the road in the Scottish village of Invermoriston is an ancient well fed by a spring that has existed since pre-Christian times.  According to local legend, the spring was once toxic and people feared the water, believing it was possessed by evil spirits.  When people drank from it, they sickened and developed ulcers.  The bad water killed many.  Around the year 565, Columba, the missionary abbot from the Isle of Iona, arrived in the village and prayed over the spring.  The evil spirits fled, the spring ran clear, and the water became fit to drink and acquired healing powers.  Columba’s ancient biographer [...]

THE EARTH: “Where Is God?” And Water by Diana Butler Bass

September 14, 2018

From Grounded  There is an odd remark at the beginning of the Gospel of John.  A man named Nicodemus asks Jesus how a person might enter the Kingdom of God.  Jesus answers, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit,” (3:5).  Some Christians have interpreted “water” in this story as baptism, certainly a legitimate reading of Jesus’s response.  In the history of preaching on this verse, however, it is a rare sermon or commentary that emphasizes the water as literal rather than as symbol.  Most interpreters jump quickly to the Spirit, relegating water to theological runner-up.  Jesus did not do that.  He twinned water with Spirit (often depicted as “wind” or [...]

THE EARTH: Water by Diana Butler Bass

September 7, 2018

From Grounded  Water is the blood of the Earth, and flows through its muscles and veins.  It is accumulated in Heaven and Earth, and stored up in various things of the world.  It comes forth in metal and stone, and is concentrated in living creatures.  Therefore it is said that water is something spiritual. (Chuang-tzu) Sometime before 1658, John Morris, my first immigrant ancestor, sailed up the Chesapeake Bay and then into one of its major tributaries, the Potomac River, to make a new home in Maryland.  Like many other English settlers of his time, he was probably convinced to make the trip by a popular account by Captain John Smith that described this lush world, with its unique intersection of land and water, as a place where [...]

THE EARTH: Earth Is For Real by Diana Butler Bass

August 31, 2018

From Grounded  Walking through a bookstore, the end cap of religion books drew my eye.  The movie, Heaven Is For Real, had just been released.  The film, based on the book by the same name, is about a boy’s near-death experience.  As part of its promotion, the store featured a dozen books about miracles, near-death experiences, and going to Heaven.  Most of them claimed to offer evidence – either scientific or spiritual – for the afterlife, the paradise “up” or “out there” where the dead dwell with God. I stared at the books.  We are confused about “Heaven,” talking about it as both a place and a state.  Heaven, as a state in the afterlife – well, who really knows about that?  What happens after we die has [...]

THE EARTH: Holy Dirt by Diana Butler Bass

August 17, 2018

From Grounded  On a cool and unusually cloudy day in New Mexico, I drove out of Albuquerque some seventy miles north to the tiny town of Chimayo, known primarily for two things: chilies and a church.  Although this may seem an odd combination, it really is not.  The chilies and the church both depend on the area’s unusually fertile soil, a gift of the sands and springs of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the Santa Cruz River.  The ancient Tewa tribe, for whom Chimayo was the location of creation, found the rich red clay of the area the ideal location for growing chili peppers, the best in the entire region. But the church?  In a small building attached to the side of a Roman Catholic chapel, there is a pit of red sand, a well of [...]

THE EARTH: Soil, Sin, And Salvation by Diana Butler Bass

August 10, 2018

From Grounded  For liturgical Christians, Easter Vigil is the most important service of the year.  Held in the last hours before Easter morning, it begins in the dark as the community of faith waits for the rebirth, the empty tomb that witnesses to the resurrected life of Jesus.  During the service, new Christians – both infants and adults – are baptized and welcomed into the church by candlelight. Baptism is always beautiful, but most especially at Easter Vigil.  The priest pours water from a pitcher into a font amid prayers of blessing.  Infants are presented in Christening gowns, children strain to reach the Baptismal Font, and adults have their foreheads splashed with holy water.  Washed in the water of the Spirit, made clean [...]

THE EARTH: Losing Eden? by Diana Butler Bass

August 3, 2018

From Grounded  Even as more and more people are beginning to see God in the ground and finding a revitalized spirituality there, we are also discovering how fragile and endangered the Earth is.  The first time I ever heard someone explain that the soil was in distress was in college.  A curmudgeonly professor was lecturing in European history class.  The subject was Russia and Communist expansion, and the day’s topic was the Ukraine, the breadbasket of Europe.  I was duly taking notes when he went off on a tangent about the soil, how important it was, why the Ukraine was so significant, and how similar it was to North America’s Great Plains.  The students, mostly from suburban Los Angeles, looked bored. Then his tone became [...]

THE EARTH: We’re Dirt by Diana Butler Bass

July 20, 2018

From Grounded  Since human history began, people have wondered how the world came to be – and how we came to be on it.  Our ancestors told stories about creation, the ground under our feet, and the animals, birds, and humans that make their home upon the Earth.  These stories cross all cultural boundaries, and they share similar characteristics and themes.  One of the dominant motifs is the relationship between soil and our souls.  Whether it is the Maori tale of shaping a woman from the scarlet soil, the Navajo story of man and woman journeying through the worlds to find a home on the land, or a dedicated humanist’s case that life crawled out of the sea to the shore, through the centuries we human beings have tried to make [...]

THE EARTH: “Where Is God?” And The Dirt by Diana Butler Bass

July 12, 2018

From Grounded  At first hearing, it is very difficult for many contemporary people to imagine God having anything to do with dirt.  We are the offspring of an earlier revolution – the Industrial Revolution.  A few hundred years ago, our ancestors decreed that the Earth and all therein were “resources” to be used for profit based on technical advances in labor, production, and science.  This revolution did many things – some good, some bad – but it fundamentally transformed how we understood the dirt.  The soil became an object to be managed (in the case of productive farms) or removed (in the cases of mining and urban development).  Over the decades, we moved to cities away from the land, severing both spiritual and [...]

THE EARTH: Dirt by Diana Butler Bass

July 5, 2018

From Grounded  We must abandon the external height images in which the theistic God has historically been perceived and replace them with internal depth images of a deity who is not apart from us, but who is the very core and ground of all that is. (Paul Tillich) Rowan eats dirt.  And he digs holes.  He would probably tunnel back to his native Ireland if we let him.  When he is not eating dirt, he lies on it.  Full belly on the ground, legs stretched out in front and to the back with every inch of his body pressing into the soil.  Although he appears to be relaxed, he is on alert – fully aware of every sound, every movement around him.  The dirt seems to make him more attentive, ready to chase the first squirrel that dares [...]

THE EARTH: Natural Habitat by Diana Butler Bass

June 28, 2018

From Grounded  We need the sun, the moon, the rivers, and the mountains and birds, the fish in the sea, to evoke a world of mystery, to evoke the sacred. (Thomas Berry) I woke around five in the morning and, with unnatural enthusiasm, nearly jumped out of the hotel bed.  Back home on the East Coast, it was eight o’clock.  But here in Santa Barbara, California, it was still before dawn.  I pulled on capris and a sweatshirt and, with determined stride, walked across Cabrillo Boulevard to the beach to greet the morning light. It had been overcast for days, but I glanced up and saw stars above.  No fog this morning, perhaps just ocean mist.  At first I strolled along the bike path.  But then I crossed over the low dune of sand and ice [...]

THE EARTH: Genesis—A Spiritual Revolution by Diana Butler Bass

June 22, 2018

From Grounded  Almost one in four Americans no longer identifies with any particular religious tradition, a number that rises to one in three if you count only American adults under thirty.  In Canada, the national number is slightly more than one in four; across Europe, the percentage of religiously unaffiliated people is higher.  In societies that were once strongly shaped by Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, increasing numbers of people have opted out of conventional religions at historic rates.  In terms of raw numbers, between 660,000 and 700,000 Americans per year in the last decade have left religion, making “no religion” the second largest “religious” group in the United States – and the only group posting numeric [...]

THE EARTH: Genesis—We’re Grounded by Diana Butler Bass

June 14, 2018

From Grounded  If you pay attention, you can hear this shift in conversations everywhere.  On a flight from Washington, D. C., to Los Angeles, a successful executive was seated next to me.  After she told me about her work, she asked, “What do you do?” I replied that I write about religion and spirituality. She laughed.  “’Religion’ isn’t a very popular word, is it?” I agreed. “I used to be religious,” she explained.  “I grew up Roman Catholic, but left the church over the sex-abuse scandal.  The church doesn’t make much sense in the world as it is now.  But I still believe in God.  I’d say I’m a spiritual person.” “Lots of people tell me that they are ‘spiritual but not religious,’” I said, [...]

THE EARTH: Genesis—God With(in) The World by Diana Butler Bass

June 7, 2018

From Grounded  Here in the labyrinth, I struggle to find words to describe what I feel. Up on the mountaintop, I knew the language to describe God: majestic, transcendent, all-powerful, Heavenly Father, Lord, and King.  In this vocabulary, God remains stubbornly located in a few select places, mostly in external realms above or beyond: Heaven, the church, doctrine, or the sacraments.  What happens in the labyrinth seems vague, perhaps even theologically elusive. Like countless others, I have been schooled in vertical theology.  Western culture, especially Western Christianity, has imprinted a certain theological template upon the spiritual imagination: God exists far off from the world and does humankind a favor when choosing to draw [...]

THE EARTH: Genesis—Where Is God? by Diana Butler Bass

June 2, 2018

From Grounded  Not so long ago, believers confidently asserted that God inhabited Heaven, a distant place of eternal reward for the faithful.  We occupied a three-tiered universe, with Heaven above, where God lived; the world below, where we lived; and the underworld, where we feared we might go after death.  The church mediated the space between Heaven and Earth, acting as a kind of holy elevator, wherein God sent down divine directions and, if we obeyed the directives, we would go up – eventually – to live in Heaven forever and avoid the terrors below.  Stories and sermons taught us that God occupied the high places, looking over the world and caring for it from afar, occasionally interrupting the course of human affairs with [...]

THE EARTH: Genesis by Diana Butler Bass

May 26, 2018

From Grounded The whole universe is God’s dwelling.  Earth, a very small, uniquely blessed corner of that universe, gifted with unique natural blessings, is humanity’s home, and humans are never so much at home as when God dwells with them. (U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Renewing the Earth)   Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each and which also united us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river, and mother Earth. (Pope Francis)   What we need is here. (Wendell Berry) I am sitting in the center of a labyrinth at Mount Calvary, a monastery in Santa Barbara, California.  The labyrinth, a [...]