Original Research - Special Collection: Johan Buitendag Festschrift

An ecospirituality of nature’s beauty: A hopeful conversation in the current climate crisis

Lisanne D. Winslow
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 79, No 2 | a8420 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v79i2.8420 | © 2023 Lisanne D'Andrea Winslow | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 02 January 2023 | Published: 04 July 2023

About the author(s)

Lisanne D. Winslow, Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Northwestern, St Paul, United States of America; and, Department of Systematic and Historical Theology, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa

Abstract

Since our earliest hominid ancestors, humans have found nature beautiful, feeling a sense of the numinous in its presence. However, evolutionary biology has been unsuccessful in providing a satisfactory explanation for this phenomenon in terms of natural selection pressures. Firstly, the article takes a walk down anthropological memory lane, tracing the origins of why humans find nature beautiful, giving rise to religious and non-religious sensations. Secondly, the article explores why traditional natural selection mechanisms do not support a bio-aesthetic model that attempts to reduce beauty to physiological utilitarian value. Thirdly, the article offers an alternative explanation relying on the ecotheology of Jonathan Edwards, framing the love of a communicative God who creates nature’s ‘secondary beauty’ to mirror God’s own ‘primary beauty’. As humans encounter beauty in nature, they are receiving the outpouring of grace to support human thriving by the divine action of the Holy Spirit. Finally, the article offers a Christological ecospirituality drawing on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, who loved nature and its innate wisdom. Through his spiritual practices of prayer and teaching, whether at the seaside, in gardens or on the mountainside, he offers a renewed human love affair with nature and a deep contemplation of its beauty that revives the soul. A recovered love of nature, and our birthright interconnection with all creatures, open a new conversation in the present climate catastrophe that holds hope for the flourishing of humans, all its creatures and our ecological home.

Contribution: This article offers a hopeful conversation in the current climate catastrophe that implores humans to recover their ancient love of, and interdependence with, the beauty of the natural world. This is viewed as communication of God’s grace in a Christology of Nature towards the flourishing of humans, the earth and all its creatures.


Keywords

ecotheology; science and theology; nature aesthetics; aesthetic theology; environment and spirituality; climate crisis; theology of nature.

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 13: Climate action

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