Sunday, November 8, 2015

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #16... God's love letter

Image result for the peaceable kingdom
The Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks
This week the dog and I had the pleasure of a few walks through neighbourhoods along the river. It was nippy but otherwise nice even though the trees have lost their leaves and the November skies were rather grey some days. I found myself moodling about this amazing world God has given us to inhabit, this love letter that we too often trample in the dust rather than wrap up in a special ribbon and keep carefully.

I'm particularly bothered by the litter I find as I walk. The excessive noise and speed of motorbikes and sports cars, the blue smoke exhaust of some vehicles. The oversized homes with garages so full of stuff that no car can ever park there (which begs the question, should our vehicles or excess stuff have better homes than the homeless people living in the ravines of Edmonton this fall?)

Sorry, this is not the way I intended to start this reflection, but these are the things that I noticed on my walks, which connect with today's paragraphs (81-85) from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Homewhich can be accessed by clicking here.

Today's paragraphs actually focus on the relationship between us and the One who created everything. Paragraph 81 looks at the fact that every human being on earth has developed or is developing into a unique creature with our own ways of being: "The sheer novelty involved in the emergence of a personal being within a material universe presupposes a direct action of God and a particular call to life and to relationship" not only with God, who addresses herself and himself to me, but also with creation. Each one of us is a subject who can never be reduced to the status of an object by virtue of those relationships.

And if we human beings, unique in our development, are not objects, how dare we view other living beings as objects? I know, it's tempting to think of all cows as merely cows, and all cougars as the same, but they too follow their own unique patterns and our lumping them into categories has done them -- and us -- no favours. Especially when we think of all cows as feedlot stock, and all cougars as threatening mountain predators. Or pick any other creature in creation and imagine it as an individual, from spider to sperm whale.

"When nature is viewed solely as a source of profit and gain, this has serious consequences for society." I'm so glad that the human idea that "might is right" is noted by Pope Francis and his encyclical team in paragraph 82. It's a fallacy that has led to immense inequality, injustice and violence against the majority of humanity and many other species since resources are exploited by the wealthiest, the most powerful, or the first on the scene. Of course, "Completely at odds with this model are the ideals of harmony, justice, community and peace as proposed by Jesus," who told us not to use power over one another, but to serve one another.

Whenever the "peaceable kingdom" reading from Isaiah 11 comes around in Advent -- you know, the one where the wolf lives with the lamb and the leopard with the goat and a little child shall lead them -- I wonder how it could be possible in our present day that the weak and the strong could serve one another and create heaven on earth. I believe God would have liked to see that from the start, but for the fact that he and she has given us free will and an intellect that seems to us to have put us in charge of everything else, and too many of us chose to use not to increase our sense of community, but to put ourselves above others. Why are we like this?

The main gist of paragraph 83 doesn't surprise me: "All creatures are moving forward with us and through us to a common point of arrival, which is God" -- and we are called to lead all creatures back to their Creator, say the human encyclical writers. Of course, I want to argue with this assertion. Yes, all of creation is called back to God, but we human beings with our big egos are not only leading all creatures back to God -- we are also being led by them, if we allow it. I'm thinking that the ducks in the river at the bottom of the hill are as much a sign of God's action in creation as I am. Their community is just as important as mine, and their gentle way of being together inspires me as I pause and think about where I can be with my loved ones in a gentler way...

I'm not expressing myself very well this morning, but paragraph 84 gives me the opportunity to try again. What I'm trying to say is that each creature has a role to play in the harmony of creation and "Our insistence that each human being is an image of God should not make us overlook the fact that each creature has its own purpose." But where I beg to differ, Pope Francis is in my assertion that each creature is as much an image of God as I am! God is not contained only in human beings -- "The entire universe speaks of God's love" and life. We human beings are putting God into a very small box when we forget that all creatures are part of God's image, just as we are. Unfortunately, our intellects generally aren't wide enough to understand that everything that exists is part of God's oneness and goodness, though Saint Francis sang his Canticle of the Creatures from which this encyclical takes its name to try to wake us up to that idea once again.

Paragraph 85 notes that in creation, God has written a precious book, but going back to the beginning of this reflection, I prefer to think of it as a love letter. This idea of God as a lover writing a love letter first hit me as I was working on a novel in which one character says to another,
How many lovers have you had who could woo you with a gorgeous winter sunset like the one we had this evening? How many lovers could create a planet like the one I live on, and give it to me as a free gift? How many lovers could place entire diamond galaxies out in space just for us to marvel at with our dinky little telescopes? And how many lovers could create human love to show us the overarching love behind everything that is?
The Canadian bishops say, "From panoramic vistas to the tiniest living form, nature is a constant source of wonder and awe. It is also a continuing revelation of the divine." Everything God made holds a lesson for us -- "for the believer, to contemplate creation is to hear a message, to listen to a paradoxical and silent voice." And what is that message?

That we are loved.

In seeing the world's sacredness, created out of God's love, we also find our sacredness, and an encouragement to love creation as God loves it.

In the week ahead, look for God's love letter in your life. Notice where creation is not being properly attended to. But more importantly, if you are able, note down all the places where you see the Creator's action and goodness in your life and in creation. It's our awareness of the latter that inspires us to care more for our world.

I'm going to post my Love Letter List on Friday, and if you want to share yours too, either on the blog or in a personal message, I'd love that!

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: #17... It's not just about us

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