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Water, Wind, Earth & Fire: The Christian Practice of Praying with the Elements Paperback – March 1, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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. (Mar.)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Sorin Books (March 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933495227
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933495224
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #170,244 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Christine Valters Paintner is the online Abbess at, a virtual monastery without walls offering a variety of classes in contemplative practice and creative expression and the author of eight books on spirituality, contemplative practice, and creative expression.

She is a Benedictine Oblate, writer, artist, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, teacher, and pilgrimage guide. Her fields of expertise include Christian spiritual practices, monastic spirituality, and the expressive arts. Christine earned her PhD in Christian Spirituality from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and her professional status as Registered Expressive Arts Consultant and Educator (REACE) from the International Expressive Arts Therapy Association (

Christine lives in Galway, Ireland with her husband John. Together they lead pilgrimages on the wild edges of this sacred landscape together.

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45 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Carl McColman on March 23, 2010
Format: Paperback
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that St. Francis of Assisi's "Canticle of the Creatures" (also known as the "Canticle of the Sun") is a powerful and poetic evocation of God's presence in the elements of nature. But few Christians, in my experience, seem to draw the connection that if the elements are indeed agents of God's blessings and means by which we can offer blessing and worship back to God, then it might make sense to think in terms of "air prayer," "water prayer," and so forth. This is the simple yet powerful premise of this lovely new book from Christine Valter Paintner, a Benedictine Oblate and the founder of the Abbey of the Arts website which explores the connection between spirituality and creativity.

Some readers may wonder if this is a crypto-Wiccan book, and indeed anyone interested in creative cross-fertilization between Neopaganism and Christian spirituality will find much to explore in this book. But let's be clear: the four elements (air, fire, water and earth) are universal energies, since they are grounded not only in the nature of the earth, but indeed in our very bodies (think of it: your skeleton and flesh are earth, your blood is water, your lungs and breath bring you air, and the very heat your body generates is the fire within you). Historically speaking, knowledge of the four elements and exploration of their spiritual meaning can be traced back to Greece, where Plato speaks of the elements, following the earlier Sicilian philosopher Empedocles. In other words, our earliest knowledge of the elements is not occult or magical, but rather philosophical and scientific, in scope.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By David Crumm on April 20, 2010
Format: Paperback
As a journalist, I see thousands of new books on religion and spirituality flowing from publishers every year and a huge portion of those books relate to prayer, which is the most widespread religious expression in the world. Prayer is a practice, or rather a wide array of practices, extending to us from the roots of human civilization thousands of years ago.

Often, we forget the richness of our own traditions, even the specific Christian tradition that most Americans share. Often, helpful guides can emerge to reconnect us with themes and creative ideas that can wake up our prayer life--and can connect us with parts of the world we often overlook. Right now, millions of Americans are waking up to their deep connection with the natural world. For a long time, American evangelical movements were so focused on the "next" world that this one was almost an afterthought.

Where does our faith connect with "Creation care"? That's a two-word phrase now popular among religious environmental activists. For thousands of years, this wasn't even a question. Religion and environment always intertwined. Remember that the roots of our spiritual traditions lie in ancient lands where life depended on the weather, the fertility of fields--and the overall balance of non-human life on Earth. In the past 500 years, in particular, the Western Christian world seems to have lost track of this connection.

That's why 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.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Maria Rodgers O'Rourke on January 11, 2011
Format: Paperback
Water, Wind, Earth, and Fire: The Christian Practice of Praying with the Elements is filled with mystical moments. Author Christine Valters Paintner explores the essential role nature plays in our spiritual lives. Through events from Jesus' ministry, quotes from scripture, Christian mystics, artists and Native American spirituality, she shows how the elements are relevant today to the spiritual life.

This charming and breezy book invites the pray-er to incorporate each of these elements into his or her spiritual life. These four elements aid the mystic in the journey to deeper experiences of God. They each reflect a dimension of God, and yet are the simple stuff of our earthly existence.

In addition to Paintner's insights and experiences, Ralph Waldo Emerson, St. Francis of Assisi, Chet Raymond, Hildegard of Bingen, and other mystics, poets and writers share their wisdom. Each brings their own voice to the wonders of God expressed through creation.

Water, wind, earth and fire present themselves to us in many different forms. Whether solid, liquid, gas or some combination influenced by temperature or light, each offer a poignant theological lesson. Each invites us to surrender to God's magnificent power and to know at the core of our being that we are uniquely created and loved by Him.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Story Circle Book Reviews on March 3, 2011
Format: Paperback
In her book Water, Wind, Earth and Fire, author and contemplative artist Christine Valters Paintner explores the four natural elements named in the title and traditionally associated with ancient philosophies and nature-based religions. Paintner examines each element in turn as a metaphor for the myriad ways spiritual seekers can learn to connect with the divine matrix and unfathomable mysteries which fill the earth we walk upon.

Hence, this book is primarily about learning to see. Within its pages we are offered new ways of looking at the world. Instead of seeing only the superficial and obvious, Paintner teaches us to look lovingly into the depths of a shimmering world which is constantly shifting and changing. The rhythms and cycles of nature are a recurring theme throughout this book. Indeed, a major component of the contemplative work in which Paintner engages incorporates a deep resonance and response to these ever-changing rhythms--the cycles of our days and nights, weeks and months, seasons, and even our very breaths. In this way, the author shares her understanding of a world filled with the rising and falling of a never-ending, eternal dance of love and loss, pain and pleasure, desire and absence--both poles pointing to the dynamic tensions which underlie our daily existence, including that between our inner spiritual journey and the outer landscapes we inhabit.

She teaches us to read the natural world as a sacred text which, if we learn to discern its subtle movements, may reveal itself to us as the source of Divine Mystery. While her interpretive lens is primarily Christian based, its roots lie deeper than any single tradition.
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