Sunday, November 1, 2015

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #15... Changing ourselves and our world

I've been moodling (musing and doodling) a fair bit this week about whether Pope Francis' encyclical is really going to help change the world. I've come to the conclusion that it can't -- unless we remember that we are a big part of God's action in the world, and that if we want the world to change, we have to change ourselves, too.

Image result for universe image
This week's piece of Laudato Si, is about The Mystery of the Universe (paragraphs 76-80, which can be accessed by clicking here). I'm thinking that there are too many mysteries to count when it comes to the universe and God's care for one particular planet and its inhabitants.

Paragraph 76 notes that "Nature is usually seen as a system which can be studied, understood and controlled, whereas creation can only be understood as a gift from the outstretched hand of the Father of all, and as a reality illuminated by the love which calls us together into universal communion." I'd never really thought about that before, but it's true that biologists like to talk about nature, while believers talk about creation.

In paragraph 77, the Pope and his writing team assert that the creation of the universe wasn't a random occurrence or "arbitrary omnipotence," but rather, was the result of God's choice to create out of love, and that everything created exists because of that love. For me, it's impossible to imagine that everything surrounding us in creation is the result of  randomness. It makes more sense that something, Someone, namely our Tender God, enfolds everything with love and holds it in balance so that it continues to exist. And it's becoming rather obvious that humans' upsetting of the balance is the reason that things are starting to fall apart.

Ancient pagan religions saw nature as divine, and I can't help but wonder if that wasn't closer to God's intent than the Judaeo-Christian thought that "demythologized nature" according to paragraph 78. Demythologizing nature might have been fine if human beings had taken responsibility for valuing and protecting it the way God does, but it seems our connection to both God and nature have never been quite strong enough to hold everything in balance the way God does. We are only human, and we have periods of doubting God -- or forgetting that we are not God! More recently, the influence of "the modern myth of unlimited material progress" has led too many of us to Mammon (greed) rather than toward the wise direction, development and limitation of our powers as intelligent creatures created by God.

In paragraph 79 we find that "In this universe... we can discern countless forms of relationship and participation....We are free to apply our intelligence towards things evolving positively, or towards adding new ills, new causes of suffering and real setbacks...." God has given us choice, over and over again. Unfortunately, human beings aren't exactly reliable when it comes to choosing life, and so the Church's work, particularly in this letter to the world, is to remind everyone of our duty to care for nature and protect humanity from self-destruction.

Thanks be to God that He and She is reliable. Paragraph 80 reminds us that God can bring good out of the problems human beings have caused. I love the line from Pope John Paul II's Catechesis: "The Holy Spirit can be said to possess an infinite creativity... which knows how to loosen the knots of human affairs, including the most complex and inscrutable." Actually, I'd invite you to read paragraph 80 in particular for yourself (Laudato Si is worth reading), but without letting moments of positivity lull us into a sense that God is going to fix everything without us lifting even a finger. Unfortunately, there are people on this earth who think that way, and they are part of the problem!

The Holy Spirit's infinite creativity resides in each one of us, and as Saint Teresa of Avila liked to say, we are all the hands and feet and heart of Christ. So now the question is, what are we going to do as part of God's action on this planet? How can we put the Spirit's creativity to work in ourselves, for our world?

There has been a lot of talk lately about creating strategies for dealing with climate change in the lead up to the Paris Climate talks (COP 21) from November 30th to December 11th -- less than a month from now. There is hope that this time, a real plan for significantly reducing global carbon emissions will emerge. With increasingly severe climate disasters all over the world, there is a rising urgency for humans to change our ways, and what is clear is that if we don't figure things out soon, our inaction will determine a pretty miserable future for life on the planet. Syria is giving us a taste of how bad a refugee crisis can be. There will be many times more refugees if our climate issues are not addressed, and soon.

But we can't just expect world leaders to make changes -- we need to change our own lifestyles too. That means giving ourselves an energy audit. If we really want to prevent further climate change, we all need to become more aware of the places in our lives where we are creating needless carbon emissions, and reduce the size of our carbon footprint. Change begins with us.

For example -- how much heat are we using in our homes? At my house, we've gotten used to a certain level of comfort, and we've forgotten that the basement of our home isn't often in full use -- so this weekend we are closing off heating ducts to those empty spaces that don't always need to be warm.

75 years ago, hot water was pretty much considered a luxury, but now it's an expectation that creates a fair bit of waste if we really think about it. My parents talk about the "weekly bath" that was shared in their families. Our present culture likes our daily hot showers -- but maybe we could look at their length and frequency and reduce the amount of greenhouse gases created by our hot water tanks, remembering that there are places in the world where water is so scarce that a hot shower can't even be imagined. Could we get away with showering every second or third day to live in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who don't have the option of a daily shower? And could we shower for less than 5 minutes if it would slow climate change so that our children and grandchildren can worry less about forest fires, floods, droughts and severe weather?

Are we willing to give up idling our cars? Using automatic car starters? Are we willing to use public transportation if the option exists? Are we willing to buy local food instead of exotic items that have to be trucked halfway across the globe? Where else can we cut our energy use?

What are we willing to do? And what would you like to ask our world leaders to do?

If you live here in Canada, there's a wonderful opportunity to let our new Prime Minister know the answer to both questions above. If you click here, the link will take you to a webpage where you can sign a card checking off some steps you are willing to take to reduce your carbon footprint, and you can also ask Prime Minister Trudeau to commit to:
1. Adopting a fair, ambitious and legally-binding international agreement on climate change to ensure that the world's temperature rise does not exceed 2 degrees centigrade.
2. Providing the resources necessary for the most vulnerable communities in the world to adapt to climate change.
3. Transitioning Canada's fossil fuel dependent economy toward one that is based on energy efficiency and renewable energy.
If you don't live in Canada, I'm betting there are other ways to let your country's leaders know about the change you would like to be, and to see. We all need to do our part to help God keep the balance necessary for creation, and if we can get our leaders on board when it comes to changing ourselves and our world, all the better.

A prayer for our earth

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: #16... God's love letter

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