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Listening and accompanying in healing a living Earth

15 August 2014
Mount Rainier in the Washington landscape

Mount Rainier in the Washington landscape

Pedro Walpole, SJ

The groaning experienced over the last three days of the conference Just Sustainability: Hope for the Commons conference is in finding ways to relate with all of life, to more broadly network and communicate and to form new channels of hope and compassion not just with 28 universities, not even with Congress and corporations, but with 9 billion people. We need to do this consciously and through the natural feedback systems of the Earth’s self-organization.

How do we listen and accompany in healing a living Earth? How do we do this with gratitude, integrity and simplicity that we can hand on in the face of our own limitations and the cycle of life?

David Korten shared with us how we as humans organize around a shared story, around communities and societies, and are now challenged to do so in a global world that cares. Our story is filtered from our parents, experiences, friends and society; it only has meaning – it holds water – if reflected upon and tested with others. It is a lifetime and life-giving story. It is sacred.

Our story transforms our life and holds reflection and meaning for others. We need to know where we belong, share an identity that embraces others, cross the academic silos, political and religious boundaries, income levels, and ages and embrace a caring world.

For multiple reasons we are driven to form a collective story with different dimensions of faith and hope, solidarity and justice, mercy and compassion that we share from our homes to a global world that now needs to focus on a living economy for a living earth. We must declare life again – in full wonder – and declare that it is good!

The Earth’s interrelatedness is the best explanation of sustainability, not the economy. And because we are always learning, always being born and dying, because we are spirit and matter, there is true development in such change – and change we must and that is good.

A little of my story is I am a Jesuit inspired by the people I work with. I started with community forest management in which I met Fran and David Korten many decades ago. Now I work in areas of disaster risk reduction and building back better. We have a greater share of typhoons and inadequate infrastructure in Asia Pacific and we know our vulnerability and insecurity.

It has taken 20 years since the Ormoc disaster in central Philippines (where over 6,000 people died in November 1991) to coordinate and develop a protocol of action before a typhoon strikes. In disasters, we also experience much of the human spirit, much of the healing and mercy needed to build back better, and to love life. In sadness and joy, life becomes so simple, so loving.

Water has become a global Jesuit initiative through the Global Ignatian Advocacy Network-Ecology and we are moving for a dialogue of science and values, hopefully in Stockholm, Sweden during the World Water Week. The corporate world must also be engaged.

2014_08_15_Reflection_Photo2We seek for justice in a redistribution of resources, in the service of needs and sustainability – before wants – and this is what should lie at the heart of corporate financial management. But these corporate institutions of limited liabilities and the financial structures that emerged out of the Bretton Woods Conference or the UN Monetary and Financial Conference in post-World War II have no heart, have no life. They are but numerical machines designed ever to accumulate without responsibility for the few absurdly rich.

These institutions need to be stripped of their legal personhood and the economy needs to return to the home and the community, to society, and to a global world in balance. The rights of nature will have to be restored.

We have strived for sustainable development and free markets, but the sustainability that now grows is not that of people but of power and a Gross National Product that does not reflect a distribution amongst the nations’ peoples. Markets need again to be for people, the economy needs to be for people and sustaining all life. The economy cannot live without the Earth on which we live.

There was a glimmer of hope with the promise of the Millennium Development Goals, but no, we as a people did not really develop. More land, more water, and more resources came into corporate hands while small farmers and small fisherfolk became more marginalized, along with the wastelands and the waste. There is a subsistence that is not poverty. The most sustainable are legally deprived of their integrity with the land. They are not productive enough for profitability!

I live amongst the Pulangiyen People of Mindanao who, against all odds, sustain an educational program in their own language and domain, an integrity in their daily living not yet dominated by Monsanto’s genetically engineered maize that creeps up the valley. From this and along with many other local communities, the busy world is reminded of the simple beauty of living and of belonging to the land.

Ignatius of Loyola in his early years of medieval chivalry spoke of “finding God in all things,” from the small flower to the sky above. He carried that to the rooftops of Rome. We find it anew today in this challenge of healing Earth that drives us deeper to a “contemplation in action” always reflecting upon God with us – immanent and transcendent as David Korten reminds us. In this we are called to live out – love out – our lives on this Earth.

Since I arrived in Seattle, I have learned a few fragmented things yet integrally affecting me:

  1. The Duwamish First People living on these lands and those protecting Puget Sound, I acknowledge their legacy and life as living in this place.
  2. Over 600 people died in Yunnan Province in China from a 6.1 earthquake mainly because of the lack of structure in their houses.
  3. To become a doctor is humanitarian and should not cost a quarter of a million dollars, enslaving students and parents to debt for another quarter of their lives.
  4. Mount Polley Mines in British Columbia had a tailings failure, the impact of which is presently immeasurable – mercury, arsenic, not to mention sediments and forest loss, but then I learn that Canadian waterways are open season, and free-for-all fracking has become sheer madness.
  5. It is the choice, lush, and vibrant vegetation that holds this campus of Seattle University together, unifying the university in its beauty, uniting architecture, air quality, human spirit, and the desire of the student to transform the world.
  6. We have heard many painful stories, and the transoceanic canal through Nicaragua is yet another.

And what now must we do out of all volition? Where does the scientific, social and spiritual enquiry of this university and universal community lead us?

The quality of our education is to transform and that is excellence.

  • Leveraging 28 Universities on climate change and their investments by catching up on the Social Responsible Investment (SRI) marketing or better “divest/invest” is a given
  • Sharing educational resources by allowing students cross-learn more broadly, more deeply, in ecology, economics and culture in our universities
  • Engaging with our local communities and the governance structure
  • Committing to an aspect of one chosen global dialogue, or people’s association with the land and keeping others informed, engaging where you can.

2014_08_15_Reflection_Photo3We also need to learn in the Jesuit community, as we engage with others, a deeper commitment to healing a broken world. You are transforming the Jesuit community as you live out the Jesuit mission of service and reconciling with creation. I feel Fr. Jim Hug and myself have just been absorbing, taking in all the great work and energy here. It is beyond our capacity to communicate this, but communication amongst and beyond Jesuit institutions and networks is essential. This is another challenge we face. How do we do this?

Father General Adolfo Nicolas in his letter of 2011 to the whole Society calls for “a more profound respect for creation and decisive measures of protection.” He asks us as Jesuits to “examine our personal lives, community lifestyle, and institutional practices.” He calls us to “restore our relations, to move from written statements to concrete life and mission for the sustainability of the planet.” This “demands of us a change of heart that manifests our gratitude to God for the gift of creation and our readiness to embark on the path of conversion.”

Fr Patxi Álvarez, SJ, Director of the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat, wrote that the “radical change in attitude” towards the environment has not yet emerged or the organized approach needed for the Jesuits to live out this mission (Source: “With Passion for Environmental Justice” in Promotio Iustitiae n. 110, 2012/3). “Ecology as a dimension of our regular life and apostolic action still remains a dream.” It is not part of our culture yet and “there is much confusion over commitment to ecology and its relation to poverty, mission and lifestyle.”

The sense of “not yet” and these three challenges of attitude, dimension, and relation face us all. You give me hope that the Jesuits will act. We need this whole Jesuit family to bring about the change and participate in the broader global community learning and assisting, and at times leading by our service.

Fr Adolfo Nicolas has asked the Jesuits for depth in their mission; you are going deep in the reflection and education, and finding a communication and advocacy that is transformative and hope-generating. Continue this!

I end with this question, this reflection: The greatest gift we have as humans is to heal, for if we act without love we are but meaningless. And so in the spirit of justice for love and for life, have I healed today? Have I been healed? If so, I am blessed and am embraced in the salvation of all creation.

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One Response to Listening and accompanying in healing a living Earth

  1. Joan Lang on 18 August 2014 at 10:58 pm

    Thank you for this most inspiring call to sustainability within our congregations. Our local community is very conscious of actively involved in sustainability, but we are called to a greater involvement of our entire congregation. I think what you say about the Jesuits is the same for us as the larger group–our dedication to the current reality just isn’t there. The water still comes out when you turn on the faucet. We need to all work together and face the fact that “nature has the final say” and we may not like it.

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