8 SHORT THOUGHTS on 'CREATION'
Opening Reflection: By Damian Howard SJ
Living as a creature means knowing you are dependent on a Creator. Which is not obvious if you have been taught all along that you are your own creator. We used to talk about someone being a “self-made millionaire”; these days we are told we can be entirely self-made, reinventing ourselves from scratch. But creatures don’t decide who they are, what they look like or what kinds of character they have. Creatures are what they are. Some of us spend a good deal of our lives coming to terms with ourselves. But the endpoint of every creaturely life is gratitude, a deep sense that everything has been gift.
Living as a creature means rejoicing in your thorough-going embeddedness in the vast network that is creation. Take a look at your hands. Think of the billions of years it took to make them possible. Every atom in them was once contained in a star like our sun. As it burned away, it generated the elements needed to form a living body, before it burned out, collapsing into dust. Think of the DNA which organises all of that matter inside you, how it connects you to every living being on the planet. Think of the culture, the language and identity you owe to previous generations, and to the human communities which have brought you into being. To know yourself a creature is to love being part of the history of an amazing planet, to have a place to call home in the cosmos.
Living as a creature means knowing that you bear the mark of the invisible Creator. ‘Before’ creation there was nothing; there is only the Creator Who can have shaped all that there is. Faith knows that the Creator’s fingerprints are to be found on every creature, though it can take a lifetime of contemplation to see them for yourself. Christians have before their eyes Jesus Christ, the image of the unseen God Who reveals the inalienable dignity that flows from being a creature made in the image of the Creator.
Dependence. Connection. Dignity. There are the pillars of creaturely living. There is nothing more countercultural than being a happy creature.
“IF NATURE SURVIVES, ADIVASIS WILL SURVIVE AND IF ADIVASIS SURVIVE, NATURE WILL SURVIVE.”
by Xavier Jeyaraj SJ
– Dayamani Barla, an indigenous woman environment activist in India
Any indigenous person / community anywhere in the world might say the same. ‘Jubilee for the Earth: New Rhythms and new hope’ is the theme for this year’s season of creation. It invites us to renew our relationship with the Creator and the creation through 3 Cs: Celebration, Conversion and Commitment.
Celebration: The mere thought of celebrating life and creation takes me back to my celebrations of Pachamama day with the indigenous in Bolivia and the Karam festival with adivasis in Central India. In both these places, they celebrate their inseparable relationship with nature and with God. Their life is intimately connected to land, water and forest. An indigenous elder in Ecuador says, “The big trees are my grandparents. They speak to me. I feel very sad when I think about what will happen in a long time. The world is changing. Our goal is to protect this area and our culture so it will be alive for many years.”
Conversion: The pandemic has amply revealed that we have pushed the planet to its limit and she cannot take it anymore. Our never-ending desire for ‘more’ and exploitation of creation and unethical production and consumption have exhausted the planet. Our land, water, forest and oceans are distressingly struggling to be renewed. I contemplate myself standing before the earth and the entire creation, just like the prodigal son in front of his Father. I confess, “Mother Earth, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your child.” As a repentant child, may we be ready to become a servant, who will replenish and re-create the broken earth and its creation.
Commitment: This will happen only if we do the first two at individual, institutional and structural levels. Today, the earth is legitimately seeking Sabbath from every form of abuse and destruction. How can we, our families and communities follow the 3 R’s of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle? Like St. Ignatius, can we ask ourselves, “What have I done for creation? What am I doing for creation? And what ought I to do for creation?” (SE § 53)
We join Pope Francis in saying the prayer for creation (LS § 246)
Xavier Jeyaraj SJ is the Director of the Jesuit Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat in Rome. Originally from the Calcutta Province, India, he has spent much of his life dedicated to working for the poor. He led Udayani Social Action Forum, a social centre in Calcutta before working as secretary of social action in the South Asian Conference.
“FROM GAZING AT THE SKY AND STARS,”
Br Guy Consolmagno SJ
In his autobiography, St. Ignatius of Loyola said that he received the greatest consolation “from gazing at the sky and stars,” which he did “often and for quite a long time.”
Anyone with eyes can see the stars for themselves and feel immersed in their greatness. When we look at them often we begin to recognize their patterns, like old friends. By learning the traditional names of stars and constellations we are connected to our human heritage: Babylonian and Greek and Islamic, Indian and Chinese, African and Indigenous. Thus we honour and learn from our ancestors, who gazed at the same stars we do.
The eyes of science add depth to that immersion. Now we can place them in time and space, beyond the image of an overhead dome of bright dots to the reality of other suns shining on us from immense distances. Our telescopes reveal new beauties: galaxies and nebulae, moons and rings, always there but hidden from our sight until we used our God-given ingenuity to discern them. Indeed, we can appreciate these things even when we cannot see them personally ourselves.
And this is how we experience God. Moving out into the dark we notice a presence. With experience we learn to recognize that presence, again and again. From those gone before us we discover how God’s presence has shaped our history. And with study we discern ever more deeply just how immense God is: a love older than the oldest star, wider than the furthest galaxy.
No wonder Ignatius found God in his night-time gaze.
Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ is the Director of the Vatican Observatory and President of the Vatican Observatory Foundation. A native of Detroit Michigan, he is a popular international speaker and has authored numerous books, including Brother Astronomer: Adventures of a Vatican Scientist and God’s Mechanics: How Scientists and Engineers Make Sense of Religion.
GOING WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE
By Professor Celia Deane-Drummond
‘Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom
And spread its wings towards the south?
Does the eagle soar at your command
And build its nest on high?
It dwells on a cliff and stays there at night,
A rocky crag is its stronghold.’
Job 39: 26-28 (NIV)
These questions are those that God put to Job in a great hymn to creation at a time when Job had lost everything. The season of creation invites us all to take a step back from our frenetic or otherwise broken lives to contemplate the natural world in all its raw beauty and wildness. Gaining a greater sense of the life of all creatures helps us in turn to acknowledge our own creatureliness. It also opens our eyes to God’s living spirit at work in all that exists. While we may not see eagles too often, kites are now returning in numbers to the countryside in the United Kingdom. Other stories of recovery abound. Such small changes show that, given a chance, it is quite possible for ecological habitats to recover and renew. In the book of Job, God acknowledges creatures as valuable for their own sake, and not just as instruments for human usefulness. It is time for us to do the same, to feel humbled in the face of the amazing creaturely abundance that is still persistent in our midst, in spite of our misuse, if we choose to look. Such contemplation can provide a source of healing for our woundedness as we begin to recognise that all creation is held by God’s providence.
The global spread of COVID-19 is a reminder not just of the power embedded in this miniscule aspect of creation, but also the need to give due respect to those aspects of the natural world that cannot be fully controlled by human agency. We are not immortal in the face of these powers, yet our actions and lives are entangled with those of other creatures whether we recognise it or not.
The season of creation asks us in a special way not to forget the cry of the earth, bound up as it is in a common cry of those who are poor, who know, often far more clearly than those living in affluent societies, what it means to recognise, acknowledge and affirm our interdependence with all that exists.
THE WATCHMAKER AND THE BOG
By Dr Theodora Hawksley
I have never been persuaded by the argument from design. One of the classic ‘proofs’ for the existence of God, it argues from the complexity of the natural world to the existence of a designer, God. Its most well-known proponent is probably William Paley. If I stumble on a rock and am asked where it came from, he argues, I might say something like, “I don’t know. Maybe it’s always been there.” Were I to stumble upon a watch on the ground, however, I would not stop at such a response. Rather, the discovery would prompt me to suppose a maker somewhere: this is an object of such complexity and evident design that it directs me to such a conclusion. As the watch, he says, so nature, “with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater or more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation.” It always seemed to me to liken God’s creative work too much to human artifice, as though God were simply at the extreme end of a continuum, with skilled human watchmakers at the other end. ‘Designer’ seemed a flat and limiting way to describe God’s relationship to creation.
I was surprised, then, that asked for an image of God in a retreat, I reached for a natural one. Specifically, I chose the image of a forest I run in when I’m up north. The route begins on a wide forest track, which soon narrows to a stony scramble between pines, before opening out onto a clearing. The clearing is a bog: fallen trees covered in lichen, pools of brown water, and everywhere underfoot, pink and green starry mosses. And through the bog runs the remains of what was once a fence: crumbling concrete posts leaning at various angles, and some occasional tangles of rusty wire. The image was twofold: on one hand, the abundance of life in the bog, with the uncountable diversity of its insects, mosses, lichens and plants; on the other hand, the irrelevance of the crumbling human construction meandering across it, and the certainty that one day the bog would reclaim even its last traces.
When God communicates, God communicates Godself: not merely the fact that God exists, but who God is, what God is like, and the gift of who God is, just as a ray of sunlight implies a source, and simultaneously illuminates and warms what it touches. And what is God like? God is like what God gives: a creation of such detail, complexity and richness that it can’t be grasped, that we run over the top of, hanging onto the crumbling fence of our own formulas. Creation does not speak to me of a watchmaker-designer, who completes creation like a mechanical instrument, winds it up and lets it go, to operate in the pre-fixed patterns dictated by its design. Rather, creation speaks to me of a generosity that gives real agency to creation, which will end up with sufferings as well as successes. As Aquinas puts it, “It is as if the shipbuilder were able to give to timbers that by which they would move themselves to take the form of a ship,” except that God gives to creation that by which it shapes itself into a myriad forms, all of which reflect the abundance and energy of God’s own indefatigable life.
The Dominican Meister Eckhart describes the life of the Trinity as a ‘bullitio’, a sort of boiling – a constant, lively movement. The act of creation he describes as an ‘ebullitio’, a boiling over of God’s life into the creation of a world also seething with life and energy. For Eckhart, God is not a distant watchmaker-designer, but one whose life constantly boils over into life.
WE MUST BE GOOD STEWARDS
By Richard Leonard SJ
It is hard to imagine an issue that divides our communities so sharply as the call to care for our environment. The destruction of creation that has already seen dramatic changes to climate, species, air and soil quality and rising oceans. For believers care of the earth can never be seen as new, trendy or left-wing. The Bible is filled with images, calls and challenges to live in harmony with the created order. Rain, snow, seeds, sowers, fertile soil, and a labouring creation giving birth to the fruits of the Spirit, are just some of the rich grounds upon which we reflect on the importance of our earth’s ecology.
Pope Francis has said the care of our common home is THE right to life issue. By doing so he is not diminishing other right to life issues but making the unexceptionable point that if we don’t have a healthy planet to live upon then none of us are going to be able to live. In his letter on the environment, Laudato Si, he gave voice to our obligations not to murder creation, and that we have grave moral obligations to care for creation and to treat it as the gift it is. “… If the simple fact of being human moves people to care for the environment of which they are a part, Christians in their turn realize that their responsibility within creation, and their duty towards nature and the Creator, are an essential part of their faith.” (#64)
Rather than see his teaching as exotic we can see that our care for the earth is one way we can all refrain from killing creation and so committing murder on peoples and places unknown and unseen, so that the earth is developed in such a way that there will be a productive earth for future generations to inherit.
This care for the environment is an important part of our Christian commitment for justice, part of the seamless garment in our ethic of life. If this means we must limit our consumption, change our priorities in regard to energy and trade and show the third world the way in developing eco-friendly industries, then all the better for us.
Most of us know that we cannot keep going as we are, with ever increasing unsustainable demands on our planet. There is no point any of us crying over the demise of our environment in the future, if we are doing nothing to help it now. Every small thing we do – from being conscious of the issues, to recycling and using our cars less – is not unimportant. Some of us are in positions to do a lot more than these things as well and we should take our Christian responsibilities in this regard very seriously.
We cannot be irresponsible about the world’s finite resources in the hope that we will find solutions in the future. Avarice is not one of the seven deadly sins for nothing. If not for the dignity of and right to life, then for self-interest for the future of our family and friends we must be stewards not wreckers of all God’s good gifts.
Fr Richard Leonard SJ is the Director of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting. He is an honorary Fellow of the Catholic University of Australia and visiting Professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Fr Leonard has served on juries at numerous film festivals, including Cannes and Venice. He is a widely published author; whose books include What does it all mean? and Where the Hell is God?
“WHEN THE ELEPHANTS FIGHT”
By James Martin SJ
When I worked in Kenya with refugees in the early 1990s, there was a Kiswahili saying I heard often, “Wapiganapo tembo nyasi huumia,” which means, “When the elephants fight, the grass suffers.”
Usually this is a way of saying that when big powers (nations, states, leaders) fight or go to war, it is the poor who suffer the most. Or perhaps those “on the ground.” This should be obvious to anyone who has ever opened a newspaper or seen a story online about the victims of war, or about refugees and migrants.
But the saying also applies to what happens to the poor when political leaders fight over climate change, which is: they suffer. The poor always suffer the effects of climate change in a disproportionate way.
Why? Simply, put they usually have nowhere to go. They cannot escape its effects. If you are a poor person whose family has for decades lived in a flood-prone area, along a coastline or riverbank, you cannot say, “Well, it’s time to move to another place.” If your livelihood as someone who fishes is taken away because certain species have been decimated by the effects of climate change, you cannot say, “Well, time to start preparing for another kind of job.” If you are underemployed and your home and your belongings are destroyed by a “once-in-a-century storm” (a hurricane, a cyclone, a tornado) of the kind that are happening yearly and even monthly, you cannot say, “Well, time to start over.” You may have nothing left at all.
Why is it so hard for policy makers to see this? As Pope Francis points out in “Laudato Si,” many of them simply do not know poor people, and so the poor remain invisible to them, their concerns meaningless. One of our goals, then, through voting, advocacy, storytelling and protests, should be to get the elephants to care.
“OUR COMMON HOME”
By Dr Ciara Murphy
We are living through a climate and biodiversity emergency; how we talk about it matters. Framing of the climate and environmental discourse by media outlets shape the wider public’s opinions, while the absence of consistent coverage signals a lack of importance and reduces the general awareness of the crisis.
The ecological emergency we are currently living though effects, in one form or another, every aspect of our lives. Yet, there is a dearth of integral ecological reporting in mainstream media which investigates and highlights these interconnections. The consequences of climate breakdown and the biodiversity crisis stretch from food production to extreme weather and compelled migration, however linkages between these issues are mainly ignored. The food we eat, where we live, how we heat our homes, and how we travel contribute to the current ecological crisis. But these issues are consistently framed as a question of individual choice obscuring the more nuanced discussion of infrastructure- availability and the interplay between individual change with community and system change.
The islands of Britain and Ireland have, in particular, endured decades of insufficient media coverage of the climate and biodiversity crisis. Where there is media coverage of this emergency, it is predominately framed in tabloid, ideological terms, emphasising the personalities or parties involved, rather than the extent of the challenge or the opportunities that climate and environmental action presents. It is much more common to see these challenges presented as bald economic costs, as against opportunities for profound societal transformation.
It isn’t enough to increase the coverage of the ecological crisis, but we must also change how we report it. A proactive media discussion which focuses on the benefits of solutions instead of cost or the perceived consequences of action, could change the general perception from an obligation that will reduce our standard of living to a positive change in our lives Pope Francis has rightly called us to integral ecology. That requires a far more fertile media ecology.