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Water, Wind, Earth & Fire: The Christian Practice of Praying with the Elements

Author: Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE, OBLSB
Ave Maria Press
Publication date:
March 1, 2010

Named a Best Spiritual Book of 2010



Organized around “The Canticle of the Creatures” by St. Francis of Assisi, Water, Wind, Earth, and Fire is the first book to consider the ways in which praying with the natural elements can enliven Christian spiritual life. Teacher, artist, and Benedictine oblate Christine Valters Paintner offers concrete suggestions and guided contemplative exercises; for instance, she suggests that readers take time to “watch the sunrise or sunset and breathe in the beauty of the fiery sky. Contemplate what those beginnings and endings have to say in your own life.” Readers benefit from Paintner’s extensive training in theology and Benedictine spirituality, as well as her unique work in bringing the expressive arts to spiritual direction.

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Praise for the Book

"In a warm, personable manner, Paintner, a Benedictine oblate and spiritual director, invites the reader to engage creation as a sacred text by prayerfully exploring theological dimensions of the elements. Drawing on Celtic tradition, Paintner explores religious and cultural symbolism; for example, water’s associations with the direction west, the season autumn, and its physical forms and spiritual dimensions, such as tides, thirst, tears, baptism. Suggestions for reflection and action include the application of lectio divina, a practice of “sacred reading” typically used with scripture, to nature, encouraging the reader “to listen deeply for the stirring of the holy in sacred texts around us.” In each chapter, Paintner offers reflections on her prayer life during the book’s composition, demonstrating how she applied the spiritual practices she suggests (such as lighting a candle when contemplating “Fire”). Quotes from scripture, poets, essayists, and Christian mystics encourage the reader to seek divine revelation and comprehension of God’s love for all creation by “cultivating a contemplative relationship to nature.” Simple and powerful, this book will be a welcome new resource for individuals and groups seeking spiritual connection to creation."
"For too many centuries, too many Christians have been taught that a deep reverence for the beauty of nature is incompatible with sincere faith. Christine Valters Paintner’s Water, Wind, Earth, and Fire thus comes as both a blessing and a gift. Not only is her writing as beautiful as the symbolism she describes, but her wide knowledge of scripture, patristic writing, the mystical life of the saints, and contemporary spiritual poetry makes the reading of this book an inspiring and rejuvenating adventure."
Paula Huston
Author of The Holy Way and Simplifying the Soul
"Christine Valters Paintner invites us—with inspiring words and examples—to dive deep into the elemental universe, and encounter there the Mystery that hides in all things. She writes out of the Christian tradition, but her message is as universal as the elements themselves."
"Amid the current profusion of spirituality-and-nature books, Water, Wind, Earth, and Fire is a rare treasure: a deeply Christian book that also draws us more deeply into contemplation of and relationship with nature. This fine work of spiritual wisdom and guidance offers to both individuals and groups a companion for all seasons. It can soothe at night, enliven in the morning, kindle the human spirit during the day, and at all times serve as a reminder of the abiding presence of the Creator Spirit, which is the spirit of Christ on earth and among us."
"Paintner (Awakening the Creative Spirit), a Benedictine oblate, here gives us a fresh and original treatment of Christian spirituality. The elements she speaks of—water, wind, earth, and fire—are of course not elements as contemporary science understand them, but Paintner’s work is closer to poetry than science, as she reflects on the metaphorical powers of these old-style elements and selects poetry and prayers that engage them. Her chapters include ideas for reflection and prayer, as well as guides for lectio divina with each of the elements. VERDICT: A lovely, brief book reconnecting Christian spirituality with the natural world."
"Water, Wind, Earth & Fire feels universal in its tone and its application — it is a book for all Christians, and indeed, for all people, anyone who might be interested in finding out what mystics like Hildegard of Bingen or John of the Cross or Thomas Merton might have to say to the question of bringing prayer and nature together."
Carl McColman
Author of The Big Book of Christian Mysticism and Answering the Contemplative Call
"...this book is so fresh and so important. Just like me, you can find hundreds of books on prayer. Why choose this slim paperback volume? Because, in 150 pages, Christine Valters Paintner helps to reconnect Christians with our own centuries-old traditions of praying with “the elements”–the connective tissue between our faith and true Creation care."