The Blue Sapphire of the Mind, by Douglas E. Christie

Philosophy begins in wonder, claimed Plato long ago. In The Blue Sapphire of the Mind, Douglas E. Christie identifies this posture as a good place to start for those who seek to dwell on Earth faithfully and responsibly. Humility, awe and wonder: these attributes mark a path that promises to lead us beyond the ancient call to “fill the earth and subdue it” and into a deeper reverence for its beauty, according to Christie. It is a way that invites us to relate to Earth with care and curiosity, that beckons us to live by means of “an attitude of radical openness to the life of the other, to the world as a whole.”

The ambiguity of the word wonder reminds us that such a disposition can and probably should have a quizzical and even critical edge. How, for example, are we to face unexpected tragedies, the unavoidable ravages of disease, the unpredictable presence of death in our lives? What account can we possibly give to the spoiling of the land for reckless gain, with the threat to species inhabiting such imperiled ecosystems? How are we to manage the persistent and apparently ineradicable conflict between development and conservation? For those who recognize the unavoidability of such questions, Christie’s book will come as a welcome guide, a gathering of spiritual “markings”—to recall the title of Dag Hammarskjöld’s classic volume—that will lead us into a “contemplative ecology.”

This volume belongs to a growing literature devoted to cultivating an “ecological spirituality.” Within this tradition, Christie’s intent is not simply to point toward the outward forms of change required of us. Nor is his aim to carve out an environmental ethic, as important as this is in its own right. Rather, Christie focuses on discerning the inner side, the spiritual depths, of our presence as creatures inhabiting the earth. He hopes that the work of “reorienting contemplative practice . . . toward the local and the particular can help us retrieve a sense of the preciousness of the living world, its utter necessity.” And he calls us to indwell our world as a spiritual practice, one that joins us to a chorus of others—artists and poets, naturalists and scientists, theologians and ethicists—whose wisdom can steer us forward in the midst of environmental perils and ecological uncertainties.