“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control.” Epictetus, Greek philosopher.
“We can do this,” says Katharine Hayhoe, climate scientist and chief scientist for the Nature Conservancy in addition to teaching at the Texas Tech University. We can make simple choices to transform ourselves into caring citizens of the Earth and we can begin by conversation. Her book, Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World, argues for ordinary people to acquaint themselves more with a spiritual basis for wanting to understand climate change and then to talk about the good this study can do. Hayhoe is an evangelical Christian whose faith features highly in her work. She says that when it comes to understanding climate issues, start by understanding who you are. What kind of faith underpins your thinking? Where do you live and in what country are you a citizen? What do you care about and why? Then start to learn more about the environment you live in. Study the data and ask yourself how these affect the questions above.
As I was reading Hayhoe’s book, I was also reading Pope Francis’s encyclical (letter to the faithful), Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home. “Laudato si’, mi Signore,” is translated as “Praise be to you, my Lord.” Praise be to you because you were made incarnate in this world; you came in human flesh so you must love this world and cherish the seeds and birds and animals and fish and bread and wine and all of nature teeming in your stories and parables. Praise to you, Lord, says Pope Francis, because you honored the earth by coming into it and blessing it with your presence. Now we must live the challenge of honoring this same earth because it is teetering on destruction “requiring a new and universal solidarity.” To Francis, the “world is a joyful mystery,” to be lived through a sacred trust.
Laudato Si’ has five objectives: a review of the present crisis, a discussion of our Judaeo-Christian principles inspiring our commitment to the environment in a coherent spirituality context, a discussion of the deepest causes of this crises, proposals for dialogues among individuals and policy makers, and finally, guidelines for education found in the Christian spiritual experience. Each chapter concludes with thoughtful questions for dialogue. The encyclical is meant to be discussed in groups and to result in an action one can do no matter how simple it might seem. You will not find this letter to be controlled by doctrine or theological arguments that can distract the reader who is not accustomed to such.
I highly recommend Hayhoe’s book and the Pope’s letter for their spiritual grounding and their encouragement in simple language. Both writers hold that personal transformation is needed to make society more human and to develop a, “reconciliation with creation, a conversion of heart.” Hayhoe says that, “Failing to care about climate change is a failure to love. What is more Christian than to be good stewards of the planet and love our global neighbor as ourselves.” And Francis, in a similar vein of thought says, “For all our limitations, gestures of generosity, solidarity and care cannot but well up within us, since we were made for love.”
You are probably starting your gardens this time of year. Or, you are placing flower seeds strategically for color around your home. Consider what you can plant to invite butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, and a host of welcome insects that need the nutrients of the soil as much as the plant needs them. Take time to sit in front of what you plant and then pray. Elevate the life in front of you and place it in God’s hands. Let that same life elevate you to the realm of God’s love in this wonderful universe throbbing with life. Of such moments, Emily Dickinson said it best:
Oh, sacrament of summer days, Oh, last communion in a haze, Permit a child to join. Thy sacred emblems to partake, Thy consecrated bread to break, Taste thine immortal wine. (Last two verses of LXXVIII)
The result of prayer can be:
1. Resolve to do something within your power to help heal the earth. Make a list of what you do and add to it over time.
2. Read articles and books to inform yourself.
3. Discuss what you observe and learn with others.
4. Bring to prayer all the needs of people impoverished by climate change.
5. Most of all, pray that you discover yourself, the deeper person within who can love the world as a sacrament.