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Ecology Reflections from Fr. John Surette, SJ

John Surette, SJ

“Earth and its human community will go into the future as one sacred community or they will both suffer grave consequences on the way.” (cultural historian, Thomas Berry)

“Show me respect!” How often are these words uttered by young people. The root meaning of the word “respect” is “to look again.” Respect is not a prominent virtue in modern Western society where we think that seeing once is enough and so we move on in search of what is new and different to see. We need to look again and again at God’s Universe and sense its beauty and terror as well as the diversity, mystery, and interconnectedness of its Earth.

We need to become part of “the return of contemplatives to the land.” What if we learned to hear the wind among the trees, ever murmuring and ever sighing? What if we allowed the rivers to flow not just past us but through us? Can we look with respect into the eyes of animals and other humans and be overwhelmed by the mystery, beauty, and wisdom that is there? Is it possible for us to focus our contemplation on the whole Universe and the numinous presence that it reveals? All of these things are possible for us and we can respond by saying “awesome” and “excellent” and “I believe” and “I love.”

We need to love Earth. Is this kind of intimacy possible for us? Can we love that which we do not know? Certainly we can respect nature, feel deeply regarding its diminishment, but can we love Earth?

We tend to think of ourselves and experience ourselves as somehow apart from everything else. This is an illusion because the quantum patterns of energy that flow through all of life and non-life on Earth flow through us too. We are totally dependent for our existence and well-being upon Earth. We are rock, water, sunlight, and microbes that, after thousands of millions of years, have learned to sing and dance, write poetry and pray. We are the Universe arrived at self-awareness. When we speak of Earth we are speaking of ourselves.

Cosmology speaks to us about relationship. The Universe is a single energy event, a continuous emergent process in which everything is present to everything else. In the Universe, to be is to be related. Galaxies, planets, oceans, plants, humans, all come out of a common beginning and all enjoy a present existence within a communion that continues to this day and will continue into the future. Our human yearnings for relationship are expressions of a deep dimension in the Universe.

Ecology also speaks of relationship. We humans are totally embedded in Earth, totally dependent – even with all our technologies – upon all the other life-forms and the overall health of the bio-systems within which we live our lives. In fact, to the extent we separate ourselves from the inter-connectedness of the natural world, to that extent we are acting violently and not as interdependent participants in one Earth community. When we seek to nurture the inter-connections we are activating a deep dimension of Earth.

Our scientists speak to us using terms such as interrelatedness, interdependence, mutuality, and connectedness. They stop short of using the word “love.” It seems, however, that any Christian response to the growing ecological crisis must be centered upon love. In the Christian tradition love does not mean some kind of warm, gushy feeling, but it does mean a serious communion with or mutuality, or interrelationship with the other. 

Only if we learn to be intimate with and to love Earth will we stop diminishing and destroying the only home we have!

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