This will be a series of blogs reflecting on what we have to do to care for the earth. “Let’s keep it around for a while” is a layman’s way of approaching the unfamiliar term of the “sustainability” of the planet.
The weekend after Easter my doggie Shoney and I headed up I-75 along Florida’s west coast towards Bradenton. I was looking forward to participating in my first Pax Christi retreat. I had been a member of the national organization since 1992. It was set among the Spanish moss-laden oaks of the Episcopal Diocese’s Dayspring retreat center east of Bradenton. They had pods of air-conditioned cabins of 4 double rooms – not what you would expect from what looked like a traditional summer camp.
Shoney made himself at home while I walked across the expanse and discovered the Pax Christi rooms. (There were several other groups there as well.)
“Awaken to the Earth as Sacrament Restoring Your Inner Peace” was the retreat theme and the major presentations were led by the vivacious 79 year old Sr. Paula Gonzalez, Ph.d. A Sister of Charity of Cincinnati, she’s given over 1,600 talks on Planetary Awareness, Ecospirituality, Renuable Energy and Sustainablity. Her energy and enthusiasm was a real inspiration for this 69 year old. She wore a T-shirt with an image of the earth with the inscription “Crew Member ~ Spaceship Earth.”
Sister Paula says her interest in ecospirituality began in July 1969 when Apollo 11 landed on the moon and she saw pictures of the earth for the first time. Likewise looking in awe at Earth in the blackness of space was a deeply spiritual experience for the German astronaut Sigmund Jahn who says, “Only when I saw it from space in all its ineffable beauty, did I realize that humankind’s most urgent task is to cherish it a preserve it for future generations.”
Then she asks ~ are we willing to face the fact that today we can see more the “fragility” than the beauty of our planet? Daily we see reports of diminishing supplies of oil and water, toxic pollutants in air and food, disappearing species, withering heat waves, advancing deserts, hurricanes and tsunamis, melting glaciers. When we read the newspapers or watch TV can we learn to become aware that everything is connected, that whatever happens anywhere happens everywhere?
She quotes Klaus Kepler, head of the United Nations Environment Program, “We have entered a new age – an age where all of us will have to sign a new compact with our environment . . . and enter a larger community of all living things. A new sense of communion with planet Earth must enter our minds.”
Then she goes on to say Teilhard de Chardin perhaps gives us the key for how to do this: “For those who know how to see, nothing is profane; everything is sacred.” (I cringe when I see cigarette butts on the ground; I often pick them up and other trash when my doggie takes me for a walk.) Like the astronauts, who saw the earth in a whole new way, we are called to see that everything in God’s creation is holy. What could happen if humans learned to realize that we live “on holy ground?”
In approaching the practical task of striving to achieve “sustainability: it is important to realize, she says, that there can be no technical solution to what is, at most, a spiritual problem. It is imperative to realize that the American Dream (which many other aspire to) is already far beyond the earth’s “ecological capacity.” Considering the entire population today, humanity’s ecological footprint is already about 30% beyond Earth’s capacity.
Which means we have to change our lifestyle if we are to survive. In Pope Benedict’s New Year’s message, he said, “If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation. The issue of environmental degradation challenges us to examine our lifestyle and the prevailing modes of consumption and production. . . We can no longer do without real change of outlook which will result in new lifestyles.” The Pope has placed solar panels on many of the Vatican buildings.
We will explore some of the simple steps you and I can take to help save our planet in the the next blog.
But first, let’s let’s go back to the thought that we’re called to see that all creation is holy. If we don’t start from that premise, then none of this will make sense and we will not be motivated. We are not above creation. We are part of it. The earth is holy ground. We need to cherish it and reverence it.