The Blue Sapphire of the Mind

Douglas E. Christie “The Blue Sapphire of the Mind: Notes for a Contemplative Ecology” [Oxford University Press, 2013]
Blue Sapphire
Douglas E. Christie is Professor of Theological Studies, Loyola Marymount University, and the author of “The Word in the Desert: Scripture and the Quest for Holiness in Early Christian Monasticism” – see



“”There are no unsacred places,” the poet Wendell Berry has written. “There are only sacred places and desecrated places.”

What might it mean to behold the world with such depth and feeling that it is no longer possible to imagine it as something separate from ourselves, or to live without regard for its well-being? To understand the work of seeing things as an utterly involving moral and spiritual act? Such questions have long occupied the center of contemplative spiritual traditions. In “The Blue Sapphire of the Mind”, Douglas E. Christie proposes a distinctively contemplative approach to ecological thought and practice that can help restore our sense of the earth as a sacred place. Drawing on the insights of the early Christian monastics as well as the ecological writings of Henry David Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, Annie Dillard, and many others, Christie argues that, at the most basic level, it is the quality of our attention to the natural world that must change if we are to learn how to live in a sustainable relationship with other living organisms and with one another. He notes that in this uniquely challenging historical moment, there is a deep and pervasive hunger for a less fragmented and more integrated way of apprehending and inhabiting the living world–and for a way of responding to the ecological crisis that expresses our deepest moral and spiritual values. Christie explores how the wisdom of ancient and modern contemplative traditions can inspire both an honest reckoning with the destructive patterns of thought and behavior that have contributed so much to our current crisis, and a greater sense of care and responsibility for all living beings. These traditions can help us cultivate the simple, spacious awareness of the enduring beauty and wholeness of the natural world that will be necessary if we are to live with greater purpose and meaning, and with less harm, to our planet.”
“The fourth-century writer Evagrius of Pontus likens the experience of contemplation to dwelling in a kind of place. “When the mind has put off the old self and shall put on the one born of grace,” says Evagrius, “then it will see its own state in the time of prayer resembling sapphire of the color of heaven. This state is called by scripture, the place of God.” This book believes that the ancient tradition of Christian contemplative thought and practice represented by Evagrius has a genuine contribution to make to the world of ecological thought and practice. At the same time, he says, the sense of “the whole” emerging from contemporary ecological discourse has the potential to deepen and expand the classic understanding of contemplative life and practice. One of the striking features of the present historical moment is a deep and pervasive hunger for a less fragmented way of apprehending the world. Attending to these two traditions of thought and practice together, this book argues, can help us recover such an integrated vision of the world. Additionally, there is a growing recognition in the culture at large, and in faith communities in particular, of the need for a response to the ecological crisis that expresses our deepest moral and spiritual values. Drawing on the insights of the early Christian monastics as well as the ecological writings of such figures as Henry David Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, Annie Dillard, and many others, this book forges a distinctively contemplative vision of ecological spirituality that could, the book contends, serve to ground the work of ecological restoration.”

“Douglas Christie has written a book that is at once beautiful and scholarly, both lyrical in its prose and impressive in its erudition. He joins together a deep knowledge of the ancient Christian monastic tradition and a wide-ranging command of modern/contemporary literature on ecology, nature, and the human place in creation to create a powerful argument that we will not escape our current ecological crisis without confronting our need for spiritual transformation. According to Christie, ancient contemplative practices and habits of mind, far from being simply curiosities from a far away time and place, could well serve as the key to a new way of engaging the world around us—and doing so in a way that moves toward the healing of our fragmented and damaged world.
The book opens with two introductory chapters, and the remaining seven chapters are organized thematically, according to key terms and issues drawn from the ancient Christian contemplative tradition. The first chapter, “Immersion in the Larger Whole: Toward a Contemplative Ecology,” sets up question and method; the second, “Contact, or the Blue Sapphire of the Mind,” provides a rich description of the goal toward which both ancient contemplatives and contemporary spiritual/ecological thinkers seem to be reaching: that of union with the whole. That union, in the words of fourth-century monk Evagrius of Pontus, is characterized by “light the color of sapphire,” and is “the place of God” (32). Each of the succeeding chapters is named in both English and Greek, drawing together ancient concerns and their modern expression.”
blue sapphire andrea
“”When the mind has put off the old self and shall put on the one born of grace, then it will see its own state in the time of prayer resembling sapphire or the colour of heaven: this state scripture calls the place of God that was seen by the elders on Mount Sinai.” Painting commissioned from Andrea McLean – see – for Nicholas Colloff:

“There is urgent business afoot. How should we live, when so many signals about the future are turning out to be alarm calls? Across the planet, we are converging on ways of living that do not bring expected increases in well-being, yet do result in using up too much of nature. The planet cannot resource this fast convergence, and large-scale systems failure is possible. Material culture has sadly failed both the affluent and the poorest, although the former do not seem to know it. The options are simple: deny it all, or think differently about who we are and how we wish to live.
In this remarkable book, Douglas Christie, a theologian and academic, sets out to explore the concept of contemplative ecology. This has five components: the delicacy of spiritual practice bound to particular places; an understanding of both interior and exterior life; a route for how healing work may chart possibilities for both people and places; a commitment to social and political transformation; and most importantly, a focus on paying attention.
Contemplative ecology is an effort to find the language and practice that grounds responses to an increasingly degraded natural world in more than utilitarian terms. Christie has many insights on the need for both a greening of religion and a spiritual ecology, by which spiritual thought and practice is enriched by situations in the natural world, and ecological understanding is given added depth by including traditions of spiritual thought and practice….
A simple question rests at the centre of a need for substantially different consumption patterns: how can we be persuaded to retain possessions for longer, and look after places better? Attention that leads to attachment could help, and cathexis – the process of charging an object, activity or place with emotional energy – produces meaning. And possessions and places with meaning tend not to be substituted, and therefore are more likely to be kept and protected for a long time. This in turn leads to greater well-being.
Christie suggests a kind of bricolage, the combination of both text and experience, the library and the field, for the project of deepening attention. But paying attention needs great courage. The interior territory can be a dangerous place, where we might come upon inner demons and embedded practices. Our tendency is to think of nature as “out there” rather than also “in here”. Deepening our own feelings for the world might increase our capacity to live responsibly.
Christie weaves the personal and analytical into a book organised into chapters on immersion in the land, the gift of tears, place and home, the art of attention, the song of the world, reciprocity and intimacy, the emptied mind, and what paradise might look like. The writing is sparse and deep, clear and beckoning…
Basso wrote of the Western Apache, for whom stories about places create the language for the land to work on our minds, “we are, in a sense, the place-worlds we imagine”. Some solutions to the world’s problems can be found in this book.”
Jules Pretty at


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