“The future we want” and “reconciliation with creation” were the two key themes of Rio +20 summit and General Congregation 35 respectively. “The future we want” for our well-being is going through a sea-change due to human and natural activities. The humankind has not paid heed to the Lord’s request of “till and take care”. Humankind has turned the lands toxic by indiscriminate use of chemical fertilizers, depleted our ground water resources, pillaged the wombs of mother earth, destroyed the fragile ecological balance and even polluted the space with our debris. The earth is groaning and calls for reconciliation with creation.
God’s Promise for “wholeness” and Human “Brokenness”
“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Genesis 8:2) were God’s first words to Noah after the great floods had receded and God had restored life to the wasted Earth. God promised the faithful, never again to curse the natural world because of man’s actions. The basic cycles and rhythms of nature will remain steady and their steadiness will testify to His faithfulness in creating the world and making covenant with humans, despite our inherent inclination to evil.
In Noah’s time, men were hunter-gatherers, at the best primary agriculturists. Yet, we know how their sins had attracted the wrath of God. Today by comparison, we have turned the lands toxic by indiscriminate use of chemical fertilizers, depleted our ground water resources, pillaged the wombs of mother earth to meet our greed for mineral resources, destroyed the fragile ecological balance with the toxic fumes of our industry and even polluted the space with our debris. If Noah contemporaries were mere sinners, then we are the living dead, condemned to eternity.
All this has come about because we did not pay heed to the Lord when He said, “Till and Take care”, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17). In our hedonistic quest for conspicuous consumption, we have chosen to ignore God, to give back to him, in terms of “environmental dividend”, what He gave us in the first place to enjoy. We have deviated from the path shown by him, have coveted and committed the cardinal sins and have not absolved us of our sins.
Acts of God and the act of playing God
First there were the Acts of God – natural disasters: floods, droughts, pestilence and the like – calamities that cowered mankind to submission. Calamities that belittled man, are leading him to pray before the Almighty, seeking the Arc of redressal. Then, aided by the lamp of science man set out to conquer the elements, to subjugate nature and play God. He thought in his blind haste that he can not only replicate what God has created, but also harness the forces of His benevolence to stretch the horizons.
The disastrous consequences of this desperate gambit are for all to see. The polar caps are melting. The sea levels are rising. Climatic conditions are becoming extreme with the summers becoming harsher, winters colder and the monsoons erratic. Droughts, floods, tsunamis, earthquakes are murmuring in protest, their frequencies becoming increasingly regular. A benevolent God telling his errant child to mend his ways, angry, yet unwilling to meet out the justice that is bound to be harsh.
The Call for Reconciliation- Ignatian Way
Saint Ignatius in the Spiritual Exercises invites all of us to contemplate creation and to see in it the Creator: dwelling in all creatures and labouring for us in each particular reality and in all of history (SP. Ex., nos. 234-236). Jesuit commitment to the defense and protection of the nature and environment was realized already during the General Congregation 34 (GC 34, 1995) preparations. In 1999, under the responsibility of Michael Czerny, the team prepared the document entitled “We live in Broken world” (Promotio Iustitiae, April 1999, no. 70). This document has, for many years, accompanied the reflection and the work of many Jesuits and lay partners involved in ecological and environmental issues. GC 35 highlighted that the Jesuit ministries should be developed “at the frontiers” and answering to a “call for reconciliation”. It decided to incorporate the environmental and ecological challenges at the core of the mission of the Society. The call was to establish right relationships and the apostolic response was to build right relationships with God, with one another and with creation (GC 35: Dec 3, No33-34). The spiritual exercises emphasizes God’s immanence in all the created world, and invites the exercitants to find God in all things. A concept similar in the Chapter 4 of the Isavasya Upanishad, “Isavasyam idam sarvam …” the whole universe is pervaded by the Lord, whatever is moving and not moving in this world. By such renunciation enjoy or protect.
The Future We Want: Rio+20 Initiatives
Over 2,000 participants, representing business as well as investors, governments, local authorities, civil society and UN entities attended the UN forum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 2012 was the biggest of its kind forum till date. Issues of the day were discussed, lectures delivered, roadmaps charted. But will it lead us on to ecological deliverance? The answer is not far to seek.
“Seek First the Kingdom”
People are more likely to cry out to God when they are in need than when they have plenty. Too often, the wealthy become complacent and self-satisfied and ascribe their riches to their own efforts instead of acknowledging that every good gift comes from God. The easier our lives become, the more enjoyment we derive from our wealth, the greater the temptation to store up treasures on earth, instead of in heaven. If we focus on earthly things like material wealth and possessions, then we fail to give God the glory and worship He deserves. We are to serve God, not waste our time trying to become rich (Proverbs 23:4). Our heart’s desire should be to store up riches in heaven and not worry about what we will eat or drink or wear. “But seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:25-34).
Need Vs Greed
The rich of the world: people, nations have become philistines in their worship of Mammon. Their actions are forcing them away from the path of righteousness, their actions often creating irreparable damage to Earth – consequences of which have to be suffered by all, especially the weak and the poor.
Jesus said it is very hard for rich people to enter the Kingdom of God. When a rich young ruler asked Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life, Jesus told him to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor. “When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Matthew 19:16-22; Luke 10:17-31). By instructing him to give up his money, Jesus pointed out the young man’s main problem: greed. The man could not follow Christ because he was following money. His love of this world interfered with his love for God.
Global Climate Change and Climate Refugees
Today, as we talk of a “future we want” we are faced with a similar predicament: we cannot hope to accomplish the greater goal of an ecologically balanced, sustainable future world order by reversing the trends of global warming and climate change, with greed in our hearts.
Take the glaring example of the climate induced refugees of Bangladesh. On the one hand, as a direct fallout of the industrial revolution, the sea levels are rising threatening to inundate vast tracks of coastal land, turning millions of poor, God forsaken people into climate refugees. On the other hand, the “civilized”, “advanced” and “prosperous” world is yet even to coin a term for these people, leave alone take concrete steps to address their plight and apply balms on their plight. It is no coincidence that the countries that are the worst polluters, countries that contribute the most to the menace of climate change are also the ones with the most stringent immigration laws. Where is the compassion “He” taught us? If we do not strive for a “just” world order, we stand the risk of facing the wrath of Nature, for, as things are today, the poor and the children of future world order stand to suffer the most from our follies.
This ecological and environmental crisis that stares us in the eye today is not something that is location specific or confined within man-made boundaries. It is a disaster that is on the slow burner of global and epic proportions. And it will be “equal” to all in meeting out its judgment.
Science may well tell us how to put a cap on global green house gas emissions and how to optimally use the earth’s finite resources but till such time we put a cap on our lust for more and our greed and attachment to earthly things, we can scarcely achieve the lofty talk.
We have to admit that we have miserably failed as custodians, like in the parable of talents and ask God to show us the way forward. He has given us this earth; let Him show how best we can nurture it for His children of tomorrow!
From Chaos to Cosmos
As a Jesuit and a child of God, I am hopeful yet. In the words of Holy Father we must be “hoping against hope! (Romans 4:18). Today too, amid so much darkness, we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others. To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope”. Yes, we have created chaos. Yes, I am sure God will take this chaos and create His cosmos out of it. But for Him to do so, we have to prove our honest intentions. We have to embrace a sustainable lifestyle. We have to revert back to the path of tantum quantum and live a simple yet meaningful existence. We have to cleanse our souls of greed and destroy the urges of conspicuous consumption and instant gratification – the twin scourges that have given rise to the two menaces that threaten all His creations – global warming and climate change.
The answers are deeply ingrained in our Jesuit traditions – in our deep rooted understanding of the ecology and the need to lead a life that is in harmony with the world at large, with a compassionate heart and a vision to endure. The wellbeing of life is assured by the qualitative and quantitative elements of the environment. When the Creator, at the end of creating the Earth and different form of life, expressed his awe and wonder at His creation “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good (Gen1:31).” He wished “let all be well”. The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it (Gen 2:15). Come let us, by our examples, spread the light of awareness and bring them, those are sinning, back from condemnation so that the Earth may see a new dawn. Let us pay heed to the invitation of our Holy Father “let us be “protectors” of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment”. We need to move from self-centeredness human-centeredness life-centeredness ecosystem-centeredness Earth centeredness.
(The Author, Xavier Savarimuthu, SJ, is the Head, Department of Environmental Studies,
St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata, India. This article was originally published in Volume Nº 111, 2013/2 of the Promotio Iustitiae by the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat)