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Water, Wind, Earth, & Fire

Water, Wind, Earth & Fire: The Christian Practice of Praying With the Elements
by Christine Valters Paintner
Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2010
160 pages
Reviewed by Bobbie Bonk

Spiritual director Christine Valters Paintner describes sitting on an Oregon coastal shore piled with sand and stones, watching the setting sun while gulls glide on a Pacific Ocean breeze. She writes, “Here in this place, wind, water, earth, and fire all meet in a glorious window onto the Divine extravagance” (138). Encountering the four elements in one place is exactly what Water, Wind, Earth, and Fire does, inviting the reader to become a pray-er who enjoys Paintner’s collection of scripture, poetry, wisdom, and prayer. This is a book to take outdoors, where the reader can become fully embodied while planting one’s feet firmly on the earth. The invitation is to taste water and to immerse oneself in it, to feel caressed by the wind, to lift one’s face to the sun’s warmth and light. Paintner teaches people to discover God’s glory and to experience Sabbath rest while praising the Creator for the wonderful gifts God offers again and again.

Paintner connects the elements of fire, earth, water, and wind to an annual season. The cyclical transformation of the earth becomes an invitation for the soul’s conversion. Paintner calls attention to new sensory perception through the words of both contemporary mystics and those of long ago whose truth seems eternal and can only be expressed through metaphor. Contemplating the universe brings new awareness, deeper consciousness, and a greater respect for what God gives us to tend and care for. As Saint Francis would have us discover, the world becomes brother and sister to us. 

Water, Wind, Earth, and Fire: The Christian Practice of Praying with the Elements is not a book to move through quickly but instead is one to savor, much like a person who seeks spiritual development grows closer to God by reading the universe and praying with it. The text calls forth a desire to linger with the “earth community” and its “mystery” (7), to learn from them what God would speak to the individual. With each of the elements, Paintner provides a lectio divina, suggesting a way to read, reflect, respond, and rest with God’s word spoken in creation. Though Paintner’s perspective is primarily Christian, she honors the Hebrew Scriptures along with other spiritual traditions when she unfolds the story of each element. Reflection questions are provided to deepen conceptual understanding and suggest creative prayer practices to open the heart to possibility. She says, “This book is designed to be an accompaniment and guide for ongoing prayer and times of retreat” (7).

Spiritual directors or spiritual directees who either love creation or are challenged by it can use this book to allow God to open a heart space in them. And for those times when God may seem to be distant, Water, Wind, Earth, and Fire offers a way to find God in the pregnant, tangible realities that surround us.

Bobbie Bonk is a pastoral associate at a Roman Catholic church in Fort Collins, Colorado, USA. She facilitates retreats; offers spiritual direction; works with Women’s Voices, Women’s Wisdom; and volunteers with inmates at the Larimer County Detention Center. By participating in workshops for adult survivors of childhood abuse led by Mary’s Hope, she enhanced her spiritual direction training from The Center for Spirituality at Work in Denver.

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