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Grounded: Finding God in the World – A Spiritual Revolution

Image of Grounded: Finding God in the World-A Spiritual Revolution
Book Number: 
Date Fred Read: 
April 2017
Fred's Rating: 
Diana Butler Bass
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Diana Butler Bass holds a Ph.D. in American religious history from Duke. After 12 years teaching, she became a full-time writer, independent researcher, educator, and consultant. This book, her ninth, was a winner of the RNA (Religious News Association) Book Award, Nautilus Award, and Wilbur Award. (For her books I’ve read, click on her name).

The website for the paperback edition is

Her 26-pp Introduction is not given in full – the Kindle edition ends on page 8 and the paperback edition omits pages 6, 12, 18, 23 and 24. I opted for the paperback edition in this review for two reasons: one is that fewer pages were omitted: the other is that the Kindle edition does not include the 43-pp of ‘Forty Days with Grounded: A Devotional’ This is my first encounter of a book with major changes in the way the book ends (as a comparison of the Contents pages of the two editions clearly reveal). I quote below what I think is most important to give you from the five missing pages of my paperback edition. [For clarity I often include my comments in square brackets.]

The book’s home page has a very good summary (just click on ‘Read more’) to see this 3-pp summary. I also strongly recommend you scroll down to the first customer review (by Terry Heaton) who seems to have ‘taken his words from my mouth’ (actually from my thoughts). Then use the option to ‘Look inside’ (the paperback edition), scroll down to her important Introduction, and read it in Amazon’s online preview. I provide, in page order, quotes of especially valuable highlights from the five missing pages.

Page 5 ends with a partial paragraph. Here’s the completion of the unfinished last sentence from page 5: “and is leading to the rejection of religion by millions of others. Conventional theism is at the heart of fundamentalism and depends on the [vertically] three-tiered universe. But we now live in a theologically flattened world. …” …”Is there another option between fundamentalism and a deceased God? I think so.” The last part of page 6 deals with remarks about Sandy Hook, focused on the question “Where was God at Sandy Hook?” The last sentence at the end of page 6 begins “Some people proclaimed that God was …” to finish this sentence, return to Amazon’s preview and read online pages 7-11.

Page 11 ended with “Sermons declared that God’s holiness was …” Page 12 finishes this sentence with “foreign to us and sin separated us from God.” The author doesn’t buy the old theology of blaming sin for what happened there. Instead, she says “Despite my familiarity with conventional theology, I do have experience of another sort of language for God, for throughout my life something odd kept happening to me. God showed up. The first time God showed up I was very small, three, maybe four.” She then tells a story of getting pulled underwater by a wave at the beach. She “felt suspended, without any real sense of time or space. Then suddenly my father reached into the water and pulled me to the surface, where I both cried and choked. Many years later, my mother told me that I had nearly drowned. And it has been the same ever since. God, the spirit of wonder, or Jesus – it is often hard to label exactly – shows up” in many times and places. [I’ve had two very strong encounters with God. I think of both every day.]

Now go back to read in Amazon’s preview pages 13-17. Here is the last sentence of page 17 that ends on page 18: ”I [Paul Tillich] have constantly the most immediate and very strong feeling that I am no longer alive,’ he confessed. ‘I am experiencing the actual death of this our time.” Tillich experienced the end of the old world, the same ‘death’ Bonhoeffer and Wiesel would write of during the next war; he felt ‘that a certain God had died on the battlefields of Europe ... One could no longer easily preach about the benevolence of God or issue promises of peace from the heights of the mountaintop’.” …”Tillich did not mean that God was literally soil – he stressed that God is not an object – but God, the numinous present at the center of all things, is what grounds us”. [Tillich often said that God was ‘the ground of our being – ground, as in foundation or source.] The last incomplete sentence of page 18 is “Christian’s refer to God’s embodiment as … Finish this sentence online then read in Amazon’s preview pages 19-22.

The beginning of the last sentence of page 22 is “Although I write about religion, like most laypeople I do [from page 23] not spend the majority of my time in a professional religious setting. On page 23 she then describes how much of the time she acts like a layperson, which means sometimes in a pew she gets restless and her mind does not focus on the sermon she was listening to. She goes into much detail of her layperson behavior in church, which she says is true for many laypersons besides herself. I skip these details, but from the bottom of page 23 she begins to speak of her worldview: “… I was moving around in the world and began to realize how beautifully God was everywhere: in nature and in my neighborhood, in considering the stars and by seeking my roots. It took me five decades to figure it out, but I finally understood. The church is not the only sacred space; the world is profoundly sacred as well. And thus I fell into a gap – the theological ravine between a church still proclaiming conventional theism with its three-tiered universe and the spiritual revolution of God-with-us. [This sentence ended on page 24.] People like me? We are not lazy, self-centered, or individualistic church shoppers. We are heartbroken. Heartbroken by the fact that the faith traditions that raised us and that we love seem to be sleeping through the revolution. “ [The rest of page 24 goes into more detail of her somewhat belated awakening to the revolution from the traditional to the deep spirituality inherent to the philosophy of panentheism – a word she doesn’t use in this book.] The remaining pages (25-26) are in the preview.

Panentheistic philosophy is ‘pantheism plus,’ for the letters ‘en’ expands pantheism (God as nature) into God is nature and much more – the transcendental, mystical or spiritual realm. I only learned of this philosophy (as explained by many philosophers and theologians) after the year 2000. But I recognized its meaning during my classes for conformation at age 12 in 1952. Two others and I quickly learned what we needed to know to be confirmed in the Episcopal Church in my home town. Then our minister allowed non-traditional ideas to be discussed. He found us very eager to be part of his open-minded ‘beyond Sunday School’ sessions. He and we three had independently thought about God who was everywhere in the world – in nature and within each of us, as well as in many who had not moved beyond tradition into the wonderful natural world and the awe-inspiring spiritual world. Diana Butler Bass seemed to acquire this worldview by herself, so it seems she was older when she crossed what she called the ‘ravine.’ But she learned from Tillich and others at an earlier age that we three did.

Now I extract some quotes by her from this book on pages 25-26. These pages can be read in the Amazon preview, but I want to emphasize them for they are the key to this book. “Thus, Western religion developed a language of what theologians call the ‘omnis.’ God was omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, all-powerful, in all places, and all-knowing. But the grounded God is a God in relationship with space and time as the love that connects and creates all things, known in and with the world. The ‘omnis’ fail to describe this.” …”This God is not above or beyond, but integral to the whole of creation, entwined with the sacred ecology of the universe. The Spiritual revolution is about two things: God and the world.

“Because this book is about the world, it cites news, trends, data, literature, and pop culture to understand changes in faith and practice. Because it is about God, it also cites great spiritual texts, ancient traditions, and wise teachers to explore the meaning of a life of faith.”

“… This is a report of a sacred revolution as it is occurring and a sustained assertion that this revolution is not nearly as amorphous or disordered as it otherwise might seem. Rather, there is a pattern of God all around us – a deeply spiritual theology that relates to contemporary concerns, provides meaning and hope for the future, and possesses surprisingly rich ties to wisdom from the past." [She doesn't say this, but I infer that she is quite comfortable with the wisdom of science - thus she can be in awe of nature as described by science as well as by seeing it form spiritual or mystical viewpoints, as do I.]

“And this revolution rests upon a simple insight: God is the ground, the grounding, that which grounds us. We experience this when we understand that soil is holy, water gives life, the sky opens the imagination, our roots matter, home is a divine place, and our lives are linked with our neighbors’ and with those around the globe. This world, not heaven, is the sacred stage of our times.”

Her above affirmations are described by means of many autobiographical descriptions of things as basic as Part One: Natural Habitat – a chapter on each of Dirt, Water, and Sky – resulting in a good story of ecology and how vital these three things are for a sustainable environment. I found Part One an easy read, for there was little I hadn’t learned from childhood through high school. But I was lucky, for I had a great teacher in my grandfather, who let me help him with his rose and vegetable garden, and he taught me, when I was just 3-4, how to use simple hand tools. I also had an uncle who taught me the importance of unpolluted soil, water, and air.

Part Two: Human Geography, also quite autobiographical, deals wisely with a chapter each on Roots (all types), Home (all types), Neighborhood (local, tribal, global and universal), and the Commons. In the Commons chapter she has a summary: “Spirituality is about personal experience – the deep realization that dirt is good, water is holy, the sky holds wonder; that we are part of a web of life, our home is in God, and our moral life is entwined with that of our neighbor. But none of this is for the sake of feeling good, individual prosperity, or guaranteeing a blessed afterlife. It is about tracing the threads of the interconnected universe, about finding God in nature and in community – and, in finding God, discovering that we are one. The spiritual revolution is a protest movement against forms of religion that have lost the binding vision of peace, wisdom, and equanimity here on earth. But for a spiritual revolution to make any real difference, it must reclaim the primal sense of religion – the ‘we’ – the power that binds us to another, to God, and to our world. To encounter God here, we must walk out of our buildings and discover the life of the commons.” Then she discusses the commons in its local, tribal, regional and much wider senses.

Her Conclusion – Revelation – is mostly autobiographical, but it does have an important generalization: “Creating the world with God, an active and ever-present partner, is the primary human vocation. In the years since, the idea of co-creation has become widespread in many faith communities, taught in seminaries, proclaimed by preachers, and shared in popular spiritual works. From a faith perspective, the link between awe and action is at the heart of co-creation.”

Her brief Afterword: A Note to the Church provides a good ending: “The spiritual revolution, finding God in the world, is an invitation to new birth, most especially for religion. There is no better place to start than in your synagogue, mosque, temple, or church.

“And that new birth is happening. You can hear it as the earth groans for salvation, as poets and philosophers tell its stories, as scientists search the soil and cosmos for life, as the oppressed, poor, and marginalized push for dignity and economic justice. It is time for the church to wake up. There is nothing worse than sleeping through a revolution.”

The 43-pp of Forty Days with Grounded: A Devotional has its 40 topics proceed in the same order that she used for the chapters. I read two of them each day, early morning and evening, over twenty days. I’m glad my paperback edition included them, but I can’t help wondering why the Kindle edition didn’t include this special feature.

Overall I rate this book at five stars, giving it a star for using simple words without any theological jargon, so anyone can read this well-written book.

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