Bayswater. Coventry Press, 2018. P/back. $34.95 + post and packaging – 264 Pages
Author: Rex A E Hunt
Available from the author at a discount price of $30 + $8.95 p and p. Email Rex
Reviewed by Rev John Churcher, Former Chair, Progressive Christianity Network Britain,
Author, Retired Methodist Church Minister.
For those of us who have thrived in our preaching and worship leading on the back of Rex Hunt’s on line sermons and liturgies, this is another splendid resource looking closely at ecological theology and religious naturalism. The problem of the on-line material has been, at least for me, a resource overload that often has taken many hours of seeking among the huge range of material to find just the right phrase or the liturgical insight that will take the congregation into a deeper understanding and experience of that which Hunt refers to as ‘G-o-d’. And for those seeking to explore the links between progressive Christianity or progressive spirituality and such as science, ecology, cosmology and environmental justice here is the resource at our finger tips. No longer needing to explore the on line resources, it is here in a book of sermons, insights, poetry and good clear references to some 200 publication in his combined bibliography – an amazing resource in itself.
This book will doubtless be criticised by those of the old killing paradigm of conventional institutional theology for yet again going beyond the creeds and established doctrines of the Church. Others will probably be equally as critical on the grounds that Hunt is not jettisoning the primitive spiritual quest and going whole heartedly into rational scientific developments. However, in line with many other passionate progressive writers [e.g. Matthew Fox, Lloyd Geering, Bruce Sanguin, Gretta Vosper, et al] Hunt is clear that progressives need to explore and to extend the work beyond conventional theology into an exploration of natural theology that is relevant for our time.
The sub-title of the Prologue signposts the way in which his argument is going to develop: “To Walk on Green Earth! Religious Naturalism and Ritual in Progressive Spirituality.” The book has 23 addresses / sermons all usefully arranged in Themes: Seasons; Earth / Early Spring; Humour; Environment Day / Climate Change; Learning to Be More Genuinely Human; Autumn: the Season of Leaves and Harvest; G-o-d / Jesus; Blessing of Animals; Evolution / Darwin; Desert / Wilderness; Advent / Ordinary; Apocalyptic / End Times; Ocean; After Christmas / Year’s End; Cosmos; Family; Land / Power; Creation / Universe; Children / Education; Meaning; Celebration / Life; Evolution; Food / Eating.
A number of the themes are accompanied by John Cranmer’s thought provoking poetry.
Throughout the book there are gems of quotes and insights. Among those that stood out for me are the following:
• “The miracle of each moment awaits our sensual wonder. Hosannah! Not in the highest, but right here. Right now. This Horizontal transcendence. Nature embedded in humanity. Humanity embedded in nature. Of, in and as nature.” [page 32];
• “Each of us is a collection of unfinished stories. We are fully linked with our surroundings in time, space, matter/energy, and causality. We do not live in straight lines.” [page 55];
• “…religious naturalism says religion is human. It is about us. … As a religious naturalist I, along with others, claim that the sacred is fully present., hidden in the ordinary details of a life, any life. Expressed in ‘creativity’, and ‘mystery’, ‘awe’ and ‘wonder’.” [page 79];
• “… people who have the courage to be different, and more especially those who carry a hint of danger, are always the source of excitement and interest.” [page 119];
• “If we are only against something, we are doomed to negativity. So too if our actions are only attempts at domesticating dissident voices, making religion and politics safe for one another.” [page 153];
• Writing about the opening verses of the Gospel attributed to John, “… the Hebrew for ‘word’ is ‘dabhar’ which means divine creative energy. The word that gave birth. Event. Those of you who are right brain thinkers will probably have already resonated with this and made a connection. For the Hebrew ‘dabhar’ is about the creative, the imaginative, the heart, the feeling. And this divine energy is more than just a concept.” [page 167];
• “Nature and naturalism are for us today ‘the main game’ for any progressive spirituality. … Whether or not we believe that there is something more, nature is so significant that all our beliefs must be reformulated so as to take nature into account.” [page 207];
• “We are made of the rarest material in the universe: stardust.” [page 247]
The book concludes with a comment on the bread and wine of communion, “… may our celebration be a ritual reminder that, as we share the bread and share the wine, civilisation depends on sharing resources in a just and humane fashion.”
The only additional note is that the seasons are those of the southern hemisphere so those in the northern hemisphere will need to make some adjustments to the preaching cycle.
“Seasons and Self” is a wonderful resource, and not just for the preachers and worship leaders. It is a challenging, thought provoking book for all spiritually progressive thinkers. It could be excellent group study material. Above all it is an exciting, warmly reassuring exploration of a spirituality that is not new but one that is becoming better known among the open, progressive thinkers within and beyond the Church. It is highly recommended.
John Churcher January 2019