Sunday, February 14, 2016

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #27... An integral way of thinking

The last few weeks of these reflections have been a pretty tough slog, I'll admit. I laugh at myself because I hated writing essays as a student -- and here, what have I done but set myself the challenge of an essay a week on some darn difficult topics! But it's all worth it if it spreads the ideas of Laudato Si even just a little bit further. Thanks to all of you for reading along with me as I go -- knowing that you are participating in this project keeps me motivated.

I'm actually looking forward to reflecting on the rest of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, because the second half of the encyclical is going beyond the problems toward solutions. Not that they will be easy solutions. The reason Pope Francis's letter to the world is something of a hard sell is that, if we are to make it work, it is the wealthy 8% of the world's population who will have to overhaul our lives with an eye to what the planet requires for the survival of life. We are the ones who will have to rethink our jet-setting vacations, recreational vehicles and oversized homes. And it comes down to the wire -- will we change willingly, or will the increasingly dangerous climate conditions force change upon us?

It also comes down to being willing to sacrifice for the common good, and to reducing our ecological footprints so we can live more sustainably andLaudato Si. This week we are reflecting on paragraphs 137 to 142, which can be accessed by clicking here and scrolling down.

Before I get into the Pope's discussion of an integral ecology, I'd like to share a little piece I came across from Australia's Rolling Stone Magazine (Issue 771, February 2016). David Suzuki, our Canadian environmental scientist and global climate change crusader, had this to say:

We are enmeshed...
"I'm an atheist, but the Pope's environmental Encyclical [June 2015's 'Laudato Si'] was such a mind-boggling event: I'd kiss his hands, his feet and any other place he'd want me to kiss him, just for publishing that amazing document! He's done something that we don't tend to do: we tend to go, 'Oh, this is an issue of hunger and poverty, that's Oxfam; this is an issue of social justice, that's Amnesty International; this is an issue of environment, that's the Suzuki Foundation' – we act as though these are separate issues. And the Pope doesn't separate them: he says, 'We've spent all our time focused on two relationships: our human relationship with God, and our relationship with each other. But there is a third relationship, and that's our relationship with the rest of Creation.' Thank you, Francis. It's an astounding thing to come out of the Catholic freakin' Church!"
- See more at:
Suzuki is right -- the beauty of the Pope's letter to the world is that it underlines, over and over again, the importance of realizing that everything we do impacts life on this planet in some way, and that there are no "separate issues." We are enmeshed in creation, in our world's many issues, in each other's lives.

Paragraph 137 begins with the refrain that everything is closely interrelated (we hear it twice more in these 6 paragraphs!), followed with the reminder that we need to take into account "every aspect of the global crisis" using an integral ecology. In other words, we must look at what is happening to the environment through the lenses of science, culture, politics, technology, faith, health, resource use, equality and solidarity, climate change, economics, everything.

Facing up to the challenge of employing an integral ecology requires "reflection and debate about the conditions required for the life and survival of society" (paragraph 138), not to mention the rest of creation. "Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it" (paragraph 139). And the crises we face are both social and environmental, demanding "an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature." If we can do those three things, our ecology becomes pretty wholistic or integral.

Paragraph 140 notes that researchers have an important role in determining the environmental impacts of human activity, and that they must have the academic freedom to help us to understand the balance of the ecosystems that make up our planet because otherwise, we can't begin to live sustainably. We humans are pretty good at seeing the things that directly impact us, but wear blinders when it comes to the importance of other creatures essential to the world's survival, not to mention our own. Case in point? The past and present use of DDT and other pesticides -- that we now know are found in our own bodies, though they were only supposed to suppress certain "pests."

Pope Francis is trying to make us realize that the economy's "predictable reactions and... standardization with the aim of simplifying procedures and reducing costs" can no longer be the driving force in our earth's development (paragraph 141). The quality life for all creatures and the human institutions that protect justice, peace and freedom for all of creation need to be given higher priority than the many financial and political forces that have overseen our planet and allowed it to fall into ruin.

One major problem, according to paragraph 142, is that lack of respect for the law has become more and more common at all levels. The pope and friends cite the continuing destruction of forests in countries that have clear forest protection legislation, and the importing of drugs to affluent societies from poor regions that suffer because of the drug trade. If we follow world news at all, we can probably name dozens of other examples of international, national, and local laws that are being ignored all the time, or situations where industry or politics find and exploit loopholes in various social and environmental regulations.

It makes me happy that more and more, activists are discovering and speaking up about the places where laws are ignored to the detriment of our planet -- and that average citizens are getting involved through social media campaigns. But what really needs to happen is that we all need to develop an integral way of thinking at all levels, all the time.

Today is the first Sunday of Lent in the Christian world, and perhaps our challenge for these days leading to Easter can be to see our lives with integral ecology in mind. Almost every choice we make as human beings, whether we realize it or not, has an impact on our planet. For example, my choices this morning have included what to eat for breakfast (what do my food choices cost my planet?) how to prepare it (how is my energy use impacting the environment?), what I will wear (how has it been produced, and who or what is affected by that?) and how I will get to church (what are my fossil fuel emissions?) Seeing how we are enmeshed in the bigger picture takes effort and practice, but it can help us to live more sustainably.

This Lent, we can ask ourselves: How am I enmeshed in God's creation? How can I live more sustainably? How do I fit into an integral ecology?

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)

Up next: #28... Grassroots Cultural Ecology

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