Jose Ramon Villarin SJ
This list of 10 simple steps we can take to cultivate and care for this garden in which God has placed us are by no means exhaustive and are only meant to stimulate us to create our own lists, borne from our own experience and desires. Let the lists be shared. And let them deepen what we are about, what we are to do in cultivating and caring for our common home, reflecting on the call of Pope Francis for integral ecology in Laudato Si’.
1. Say grace before and after meals
Pope Francis himself suggested this simple ritual. “That moment of blessing, however brief, reminds us of our dependence on God for life; it strengthens our feeling of gratitude for the gifts of creation; it acknowledges those who by their labours provide us with these goods; and it reaffirms our solidarity with those in greatest need.” (Laudato Si’ 227) Let us then learn to say thank you. And extend this even to mark the start and end of each day. Cultivate a sense of gift rather than entitlement. Pray for those who are hungry.
2. Climb a mountain or dive the sea
And when you’re there, don’t forget to gaze at the stars. The point is to immerse yourself in wonder and get an idea of scale and size. Somehow smallness does evoke a sense of radical dependence and contingency, of things difficult to control. From contingency, we return to a sense of gift and gratuitousness again. Until you find that mountain to climb, you could also go walk with a friend, catch up or reconnect with someone. Better to walk than take a car since a moving car gathers no grace or beauty, the kind you just might catch by the wayside, while walking.
3. Unplug and savor the silence
Let go of the wires and even the wireless. Go to a park or any place you can find inner quiet. Visit the grave of someone dear to you. Go to a chapel and learn to pray again. When alone and quiet, try your best not to wallow or mope. Don’t yield to a lot of rewinding and regretting. Just relish and rest and breathe.
4. Repair something broken
It can be a coffee mug or your bicycle or something of value to you. Learn the Japanese ancient art of kintsugi (kintsukuroi) or “golden joinery,” a method that restores damaged pottery with a special lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum. It flows from the philosophy of wabi-sabi, which values the whole history of an object, including its dents and faults and imperfections. Resist the temptation to just buy something to replace what you are repairing.
5. Get to know a poor person
You meet them everywhere. You can go to a hospital or waste dump or any place that is peripheral to wealth and power. Poor people become more marginal when they are shunted to the physical and social margins. Know more than their name. Share something with them, yes, but learn to receive from them as well. Go learn the meaning of the words: “blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.”(Lk 6:20) There are many causes of social and environmental poverty. Selfishness is the biggest of them all.
6. Try fasting
Try this one not just to lose the calories. You might wish to fast on shopping as well or on any of those subtle compulsions of modern life. Feel the hunger; try to understand the drive, the pressure and where it is coming from. If fasting is hard for you, try gluttony. And experience the empty.
7. Go read a book to children
This one is about intergenerational equity. The point is to reconnect with children and see time as an integral continuum. There are many children and children’s books out there. Try the 1942 picture book, The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown. As mentioned above, a child has a way of awakening us not only to the future or the things that matter, but also to the things that need to be made whole.
8. Care for some space that belongs to everyone
No, you don’t have to guard the whole forest or become a street sweeper. Just join groups that protect and beautify some space that belongs to everyone, such as a piece of a park or a piece of public art. It would be better if it were some shared space that matters to the poor or children or old people.
9. If you’re Catholic, receive communion
For all your sophistication and education, you might wish to ponder the molecular structure of that piece of carbohydrate. Just remember that even Professor Higgs of boson fame (or the so-called God particle) does not really know what the matter is about matter. The point of the wafer is to recover our sense of sacrament, our sense of the sacred in matter. The hope is that we will be fed by our host and brought nearer to wholeness (and holiness).
10. Make a box for your valuables
These need not be big boxes, a tin box used for candy will do. Place your most treasured in this box. Money or mementoes you keep. Remembrances not just of what you have gotten but also of what you have given. Since persons are too big to put in that box, a picture of them will do. The point is to keep on knowing what you treasure, what you wish to bring with you to eternity.
When the strongest typhoon ever to make landfall hit our shores in November 2013, massive amounts of relief aid were mobilized from all over the world. Among the smallest donors was a little boy from Japan. On 15 November 2013, six-year-old Shoicho Kodoh of Japan broke his piggy bank and gave all his savings to the Filipino victims of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). If children from far away can see what needs to be broken, we may not be so far from hope and redemption; we can be trusted to cultivate and keep this wonderful gift of a garden.
Jose Ramon “Jett” Villarin, SJ is a scientist and climate justice scholar who currently serves as president of the Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines. He is currently the chairperson of the Manila Observatory, a scientific research institute, and is part of the advisory board for the Philippine government’s Climate Change Commission, among other responsibilities as scientist and administrator.
He developed this list as the end section of each talk he delivered in three US universities (University of San Francisco, Santa Clara University, and Seattle University) last April 2016 that discussed Laudato Si’ and its implications for the world today. His talk at Santa Clara University “The Pope, the Poor, and the Planet: Overcoming Insularity in an Integral Ecology” can be viewed here. At Seattle University Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture, Fr Jett was keynote speaker on Tilling the Earth, Caring for the Poor: Musings on Stewardship and Sustainability where the list of 10 simple steps was also shared.