The study investigates the African notion of be-ing1, termed 'vital force'. The enchanted (spiritually imbued) African understanding of reality lends the concept to appropriation as a pneumatic appropriation. That vital force is fundamentally understood as the principle of (all of) life in African thought. The ensuing nuances of be-ing affirm the ontological interrelatedness and interdependence that underpin community of life. The understanding that all creatures are ontologically interrelated and interdependent in the web of life through a common denominator that is mediated by the vital force, sums up the basis of African ontological thought. Such a view potentially engenders positive attitudes towards nature.
The emphasis on life (vitality), its interconnectedness and interrelatedness are fundamental aspects of the African way of thinking. Relationality is therefore at the heart of African ontology. The concept of vital force, which signifies the Creator as giver and source of life (Tempels, 1959:31) could plausibly be theologically appropriated to represent the power of God, which pervades all of life. Thus postulated, vital force as a concept of nature and spirit, challenges Christianity's anthropocentric view of creation, which is contributory to the ecological crisis (Sindima, 1990) the world faces today.
By way of theoretical triangulation, this study takes into account Welker's notion of 'force field' and the cosmic Spirit in Christian tradition. Welker has theologically appropriated Faraday's idea of a magnetic force field, which he presents metaphorically, construing 'spirit as field, the presence of God in creation'. In the same way, Pannenberg speaks of 'a field of God's spiritual presence in his creation' (Pannenberg, 1991:47, 49). Moltmann speaks of 'the life-giving Spirit in the faith of the heart and in the sociality of love (which) leads itself beyond the limits of the church to the rediscovery of the same Spirit in nature, in plants, in animals, and in the ecosystems of the earth' (Moltmann, 1992:9-10). According to Welker (1994:340), '[I]n the Spirit and through the Spirit, the creation is also present and effective in God's life', understood as a cosmic spirit that pervades all reality. Ruach is the biblical Hebrew term for s(S)pirit. Its translations into Greek and Latin as pneuma and spiritus, respectively, set the stage for the subsequent Cartesian dualistic distinction between spirit and matter, a dualism that has endured and shaped an entire generation. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit (pneumatology) offers resources for a theological response to the ecocrisis the world faces. This study attempts an appropriation of the African concept of vital force to articulate an ecological pneumatology viewed through the prism of African cultural wisdom and thought that transcends a dualistic understanding of reality. Filtered through that prism, the notion of vital force, arguably, reinforces the biblical/theological understanding of the cosmic Spirit of God that is advanced as the foundation for the argument for the eco-pneumatology proposed by this study.
This concept is presented within the methodological approach of triangulation employing the strategy of convergent validity consisting of, (1) the African concept of vital force; (2) the Christian understanding of cosmic Spirit who indwells all of life and (3) the appropriated scientific notion of force field. The study attempts to make a contribution, from the standpoint of African vitalism, to ongoing discourse on Christian responses to the ecological crisis in order to understand reality.
The development of a well-rounded eco-pneumatological basis for appropriating the resources from pneumatological frameworks remains an area that requires further exploration. What this study has attempted is to put forward a tentative model without particular contours of interdisciplinary explorations that the postmodern world has made available. The dynamic interaction of the methodology applied echoes the dynamic interaction within nature itself, which affirms the transversal nature of interpretations of reality, and which need to be brought into a mutually accountable interaction without totalising views yet one that transcends foundationalist views of understanding reality.
In that regard, this study acknowledges that theological reflection happens within particularities of one's embeddedness in a particular cultural context. For me, this study therefore is an attempt to understand reality as a responsible participant in the collective human search for truth, from my specific location as an African Christian, living in an era when the ecological crisis is one of the greatest threats we face. In the course of the study, it will be proposed that our collective experiences and experiential understanding shape our epistemic values and ethics and the ways we think about God and God's action in the world.