Sunday, March 10, 2019

Laudato Si Sunday reflection: Our response to God this Lent

This week's reflection is brought to you by
Deuteronomy 26:4-10.

What response can we make to you,
O God?

We are descendants
of wandering Arameans,
always seeking to fill the God-shaped holes
in our souls.

We enslave ourselves
to possessions that we don't need,
money that we don't have,
and dreams of fame and fortune
that will only cause us grief,
forgetting that you have already made us
all that we need to be --
your children.

You have given us this world,
"a land flowing with milk and honey,"
a land with more abundance
than we can even acknowledge,
but too often,
all we see is scarcity.

Broaden our vision,
O God.
Help us to see the world as you do.

Show us how to offer to you
and to those in need
the first fruits
of all that you have made
when we already have enough!

Help us to see and respond
to the needs of all creation.


* * * * * * *

If you haven't given much thought to the importance and value of our planet's biodiversity, and even if you have, I'd suggest a quick read-through of paragraphs 32-42 of the Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Homewhich can be accessed by clicking here. I'm covering all ten paragraphs on biodiversity at once -- otherwise we hear all the problems and nothing of a solution.

Paragraph 32 begins by pointing out that the plundering of the earth's resources for the sake of the economy, commerce, and production means that we are losing species that could be important for our future on this earth.

The first line of paragraph 33 says, "It is not enough... to think of different species merely as potential "resources" to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves." Every little bit of creation reveals to us an "other" aspect of God, and in our lack of care for all creatures, we are losing what we can learn from them not only about God, but about our world and ourselves. And of course, our lives are not just about us. We often talk about human rights, but not enough of us focus on the fact that all creatures have a right to exist, even if they're living in a mosquito-infested swampy area that we'd like to drain and turn into a suburb. I often wonder if, in God's eyes, our human projects are as important as the creatures we displace...

We humans probably have been making too many adjustments and interventions when it comes to planetary ecosystems -- everything from creating synthetic fertilizers and pesticides (those agrotoxins mentioned in paragraph 34) to building highways, subdivisions and hydroelectric dams (paragraph 35) to cutting down the great rainforests (paragraph 38) to replacing highly biodiverse virgin land with monocultures (paragraph 39) to overfishing our oceans (paragraph 40) to creating the fossil fuel emissions that are raising the temperatures all over the globe and damaging our coral reefs (paragraph 41).

But I have to back up and quote the entirety of paragraph 36 just because it's so well put:
Caring for ecosystems demands far-sightedness, since no one looking for quick and easy profit is truly interested in their preservation. But the cost of the damage caused by such selfish lack of concern is much greater than the economic benefits to be obtained. Where certain species are destroyed or seriously harmed, the values involved are incalculable. We can be silent witnesses to terrible injustices if we think that we can obtain significant benefits by making the rest of humanity, present and future, pay the extremely high costs of environmental degradation.
Since last spring, I've noticed that certain trees in the part of our neighbourhood that is under construction (because of a new light rail transit line) are fenced off and have little signs that list their monetary value -- for example, an elm about a block from here bears a "price tag" of $6, 432. I thought that was pretty low, actually. How often do we think about the way trees add value to our lives? To the lives of other creatures? To entire ecosystems?

Just as there's no calculating the worth of a human being, there's no real way of determining the monetary value of our forests, our oceans and all of creation, or the value of our projects vs. the value of nature. And we all know that the value of money is arbitrary at best, because of the way the global economy bounces. The things our human projects create are of value to us for a limited time, but how much of nature are we losing as we go?
"... a sober look at our world shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly. We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves." (paragraph 34)
That summarizes the problem. The solution is found in paragraph 42, and if Laudato Si was a song, this is the first time we hear its chorus:
"Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another (paragraph 42)."
So how do we go about cherishing all creatures?

This Lent, I offer you a challenge, a start toward a practical and mystical appreciation of creation: every day, go outside and find a quiet place where nature can be observed. Let your mind become aware that, as you were created in the secret darkness of your mother, so all the living things around you had their own secret beginnings because God willed you into existence at this same time, for a sacred reason unknown to you. Rest in that awareness for a few moments, and then say a few gentle words to the life around you about how you want it to flourish. And don't forget to thank God for the creation in which we are all immersed. Gratitude is probably our best response.

I think Christ is doing some of that in the video below...