Sunday, August 9, 2015

Laudato Si: Sunday reflection #3... Becoming ecology-minded

Cameron Lake, near Waterton, Alberta
Do you remember a time when our earth's beauty bowled you over? When nature left you exultant, and/or speechless?

I suspect that St. Francis, after he became aware of his littleness in creation, spent much of his life in awareness of the incredible world God made and its many creatures (his Canticle of the Sun is just one example of his delight). And I'm guessing that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is cut from the same cloth.

Today I'm moodling about paragraphs 7-12 of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, which can be accessed by clicking here. Pope Francis' latest encyclical letter includes both Patriarch Bartholomew and St. Francis in its introduction.

I hadn't run into Patriarch Bartholomew until reading Laudato Si, but what I read in paragraphs 8 and 9 makes me think he's probably an unheralded wise man who has a lot to tell us. He's the bishop of Constantinople, and as such, is considered the humble leader of the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians. He speaks strongly about humanity's actions against creation: "For human beings... to destroy the biological diversity of God's creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth's waters, its land, its air, and its life -- these are sins."

But being one of those people who likes to take a positive approach to dealing with issues, I prefer it when he uses powerful words to call us to change by replacing "consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an asceticism which "entails learning to give and not simply to give up... a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what I want to what God's world needs. It is liberation from fear, greed, and compulsion."" (paragraph 9)

Bartholomew's words fit with how St. Francis actually lived. I've gone on at length about St. Francis in several of my moodlings (click here to read one of my first posts about him). He's my favourite saint because I think he really understood and lived the way Jesus invites us all to live -- humbly, lovingly, and in harmony with creation. When the present pope was elected and it was announced to the multitudes in St. Peter's Square and over media across the globe that he had chosen the name Francis, I cried tears of joy because anyone who would model himself after Francis of Assisi would be following the direction that Jesus intended us to go before we started using our brains instead of our hearts, distracting ourselves from the love of God and neighbour with arguments over heady doctrines and dogmas.

Looking to St. Francis and Bartholomew for examples is easy. I only wish the encyclical also included wise words from the likes of Thich Nhat Hanh or the Dalai Lama. I can easily imagine them, along with St. Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew, heads together, nodding in agreement over the peaceful and prayerful directions humanity needs to take to save the earth. Who was it who said, "Life is fragile -- handle with prayer"? To that, they would add, handle with justice, with compassion, with respect and love for all creatures...

These are the kinds of people (along with many women who have focused on Creation Spirituality) who really show humanity the way when it comes to living within and loving creation, but they get pretty short shrift in our media these days. Of course, people in Assisi thought Francis was a bit off his rocker because he preached to the birds and the flowers and called inanimate things his brothers and sisters. But he was really the wisest of fools, because rather than taking things for granted as we tend to do in this new millennium, he insisted on treating all of creation as utterly important, not just human beings, and most especially the lowliest of the lowly. (Our media this week spent time on the break-up of Kermit and Miss Piggy. Even in a slow news week, aren't there more important things?)

I'd like to positively paraphrase the last ideas of paragraph 11 because I can imagine St. Francis using words like this, too: If we approach nature and the environment with openness, awe and wonder, if we speak the language of community and beauty in our relationship with the world, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then care will well up spontaneously, and we will never turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled. And that's how the world becomes a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise instead of a problem to be solved.

Of course, simple positive thinking isn't enough to solve all our problems, to make humanity ecology-minded and turn us from our present course of destruction. The positive thinking has to be translated into action. The challenge is to stop acting as masters, consumers and ruthless exploiters of the earth, trying to satisfy our limitless wants through taking everything.

So today... I want to put on my ecological mind. It's time to look around my life a little. Where am I overdoing it with my consumption of the earth's resources? Where am I failing to appreciate creation? Where do I need to care more and exploit less? It could be something as simple as remembering to turn off a light, or compost an apple core. To avoid buying something I don't need. To think less of myself, whose needs are satisfied, and offer my resources to do more for those whose basic needs aren't being met.

The point is to start thinking like St. Francis, who followed closer in Christ's steps than most of us ever will. Let's consider how we are using (or abusing?) our water, air, earth, and the lives of other creatures with whom we share our world.

It's just a small start back towards the speechless wonder we need to cultivate as members of God's creation. And making it a daily habit to be aware of our consumption of resources and to pray for our earth might also help us to restore the balance it has lost on our account. That's what I am committing to today:

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.


(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Next up: #4... The immense and urgent challenge

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