Sunday, May 29, 2016

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #40...Kissin' cousins

Part of the fun -- and challenge -- of writing these reflections has been coming up with their titles. Usually, if a title comes to me in a hurry, the writing flows well, but if not... well, let's say those untitled posts have been plain old hard work right down to the Sunday deadline (and they're usually the ones with multiple typos that I have to fix after their initial publication just because I changed directions in my thinking too often and was too tired to see the errors for the mistakes by the end).

So this week's title delights me. Its inspiration comes from the short section entitled "Religions in Dialogue with Science," paragraphs 199-201 of the Pope's encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home. It can be accessed by clicking here and scrolling down.

Pope Francis and his writing team begin by explaining that empirical science, though it has taught us much about God's creation, cannot explain everything about reality. Its language often is unable to encompass the ethical values and principles that come through spiritual experiences, art, music, or poetry, simply because it sticks to facts and shies away from the human emotions and opinions that are needed to attribute value to life. Or at least, that's how I read paragraph 199. How do you see it?

This is where the kissin' cousins idea comes in: both science and faith, I would argue, are required to help us to live well in the world. They are kissing cousins in that science offers the discoveries that can help us to improve the planet's health and the necessary study of ecosystems, while faith keeps before us "the great motivations which make it possible for us to live in harmony, to make sacrifices, and to treat others well" (paragraph 200).

We need to have both cousins living in our hearts if we are to find solutions to our present ecological crises. It's not enough to have faith without science's potential solutions, nor would it work to have scientific ideas without faith's strong push for life and love for all of God's creatures. We need both!

I particularly like parts of paragraph 201:
The majority of people living on our planet profess to be believers. This should spur religions to dialogue among themselves for the sake of protecting nature, defending the poor, and building networks of respect and fraternity [note: community would be a more inclusive word]. Dialogue among the various sciences is likewise needed, since... specialization leads to a certain isolation... [which] prevents us from confronting environmental problems effectively. An open and respectful dialogue is also needed among ecological movements... The gravity of the ecological crisis demands that we all look to the common good, embarking on a path of dialogue which demands patience, self-discipline and generosity, always keeping in mind that "realities are greater than ideas."
That last quotation comes from Pope Francis's first encyclical, Evangelii Gaudium (paragraph 231).

So... if realities are greater than ideas, and science and faith can work closely together to make wise choices about how to decrease humanity's negative impact on nature, there is hope for our planet. Unfortunately, too often human beings choose either science or faith, forgetting that they can believe in God and evolution or whatever undisputed scientific information is on offer. The distrust between the two sides is well-documented, but it's time to put that in the past.

The good news is that there have been many people over the centuries who have been people of both faith and science, who have made important discoveries and contributed to the earth's good. An excellent article about over one hundred faith-filled scientists can be accessed by clicking here. And there are movements afoot where people from different beliefs and backgrounds are working together to create positive change in our world. The Charter for Compassion is one example:

Could something like this be created between the faith and scientific communities? A charter for scientific faith or faith-filled science? I think so -- but as with anything, connections between the two begin within us. Symposiums on Climate Change and other ecological issues are often left to scientists when the presence of believers would bring some ethical balance and wisdom that can be forgotten in the excitement of scientific discovery. Faith discussions about how to protect creation from further exploitation will remain only conversations without the scientists in attendance who can help action proceed. Openness to new ideas is a critical element as we go forward to solve our earth's problems.

So our challenge is to move forward as people of both faith and science -- to participate in ecological discussions and attend conferences and symposiums with an openness to the possibilities the kissin' cousins can create if we allow them to work together. Faith can work with science to bring our world around to wiser actions, to save our planet for future generations.

Let's pray that it comes to pass, and ask the Holy Spirit to show us where our action can help...

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: Change is a-comin'

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