This is not so much a review of the book but more an invitation, perhaps even a request, that Friends read Universe as Revelation by Jo Farrow and Alex Wildwood.
I will come back to why they wrote the book shortly, but I will begin with why I ask you to read it.
At AYM 2015 in Melbourne, we accepted the change to the handbook so that an “Earthcare” Testimony would be included in the list of testimonies. We did not define, explore nor discern the meaning of this word, expecting perhaps that we all knew what it meant, but simply asked that it be added to our list of Testimonies.
At this point, I stood and ask that Friends read Universe as Revelation – I felt the need to do so because we haven’t yet explored, defined nor discerned what we mean by “Earthcare”. For me, the time then is now; let us sit, share, listen and find out what this testimony is for each of us as individuals and for us a community. I sense this will take some time and considerable patience (two important elements that have been lacking in our need to record this testimony in our handbook so quickly).
Now, let’s see why Jo Farrow and Alex Wildwood wrote this book. In the introduction, Jo and Alex write:
“As a religious community our responses to the threats we face…will necessarily arise from, and be informed by, how we understand and live out our Quaker faith.” And that “This book is founded on the belief that unity also needs to arise from telling a new story about ourselves, finding new ways of imagining and relating to the Source of our existence . . .” (p. 13)
Jo and Alex conclude the introduction with the hope that:
“If what we have written here can contribute in any way to a rekindling of Quaker faith in the context of the threats we face, to a spiritual understanding of how human beings can become a more sustainable presence on the Earth, this volume will have served its purpose.” (p. 20)
Throughout the book we are introduced to Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, Matthew Fox and Miriam Therese MacGillis, as well as the voices of Joanna Macy, David Abram and Susannah Brindle, whose voice many Friends will recognise.
The book is an invitation to go deeper and explore what each of these voices has to say and more importantly, what our hearts have to say in response.
They speak of the New Story, of a cosmology that can open us to knowing our place in the Earth and the Universe. This is a telling of the story of the Universe that is not at odds with our traditional beliefs but one which provides a way to transition to a richer and more life-giving worldview. For me, it invites us to begin the task of ‘Thinking like a planet” just as Aldo Leopold first made a deeper connection in his ‘Thinking like a mountain” essay (Leopold, 1987).
Jo Farrow and Alex Wildwood acknowledge that they each come from quite different spiritual backgrounds and that the threads of the book are sometimes repeated in their alternating chapters, but this brings richness to the book. We hear them each explore the same questions; each respond in their own way and yet are clearly in conversation with each other. It is a model of a dialogue between Friends of different faith backgrounds, seeking to move toward a more life-giving place of shared experience.
The bibliography is also a treasure trove. I would invite you to start at the beginning and read your way through, from the writing of David Abram (1996), who first used the phrase “the more than human” which many would have heard so often echoed by Susannah Brindle among others, to the poetry and power of Brian Swimme’s telling of the new cosmology (1985). On the way you would read the deep and challenging writings of Thomas Berry (1988) and many others, Quaker, Christian, Buddhist and more. The commonality is that they are all humans opening to being earth.
I am sure that some, perhaps many, Friends will be challenged by the language of the title, let alone some of the content, but I urge them (or you, if this is your challenge) to still read the book. If for no other reason than that it will help give you some insight into the beliefs and worldview that some Friends have: a view of life, of being human, of the spirit, of the earth, that is grounded in being earth, of belonging to the earth. Then perhaps you can invite me (and others of my ilk) to read and listen to your view. Then we can begin to explore and share so that this testimony that now sits in our handbook becomes a living thing at the heart of our Meetings and our lives.
My apologies to those who prefer a proper book review.
Abram, D. (1996). The spell of the sensuous : perception and language in a more-than-human world (1st ed.). New York: Pantheon Books.
Berry, T. (1988). The dream of the earth. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.
Farrow, J., & Wildwood, A. (2013). Universe as revelation : an ecomystical theology for Friends. London: Pronoun Press.
Leopold, A. (1987). A Sand County almanac, and sketches here and there. New York: Oxford University Press.
Swimme, B. (1985). The universe is a green dragon : a cosmic creation story. Santa Fe, N.M.: Bear.
Universe as Revelation: An ecomystical theology for Friends by Jo Farrow and Alex Wildwood. 2013, Pronoun Press, ISBN: 9780955618376.
Gerry Fahey, Victoria Regional Meeting