Pedro Walpole SJ
Meeting the Christian Life Community family during their 16th General Assembly in Beirut, Lebanon was an energetic gathering with a long schedule of meetings, reflections, and fellowship. It made a great difference in having the gathering in Beirut and hearing from the local community and the community of neighbouring Syria.
The community had substantial inputs on globalization, the modern family, reconciliation with Creation as the three main areas of focus, and with the level of reflection and commitment shared, these have become the signs of the times. It is perhaps best summed up as a community with a deep and diverse context for spiritual conversation, conscious of its witness to serve others.
In reflecting on the need for healing our relations with creation, neighbor, and God, people understood the importance of accepting to change small things. They recognized that their children teach them basic values, for example in considering the impact of wasting water. This way of learning values and in advocating by doing expresses a new common wisdom.
What was refreshing for many were the discussions on environmental degradation and poverty. They were not depressing conversations but occasions of hope and involvement. The environmental issues are not simply a matter of winning but of daily suffering for many, living through and forming new responses, and winning hearts. It is not about loading on responsibilities but more of being happy to take on inconveniences of thinking and acting more simply as we form new attitudes about what we simply need and can create more local access.
Father General Adolfo Nicolás talked about depth and simplicity and how we have to find a new language to communicate so that people experience a deeper meaning of life and the compassion of God. This is a very valuable entry point from which to share the importance of how we are to engage in what is generally-termed environmental work or advocacy.
I proceeded from this basic simplicity and from an advocacy from the heart. There is no point in doing all of these things if these are not what we love to do. If we don’t have the love, then forget it, as we have too many things to do. Thus, it is not because we have to, but because we want to.
Do we actually have the faith by which we experience God and creation? Do we feel our part in all of these? If not, then forget it. Do we have time to be grateful? There is nothing in the environmental movement that gives assurance that we are getting out of this problem.
This is why we need an understanding of Christ in creation, the Incarnation, Jesus growing as a fetus, and an awe that is interior only to the woman. The science and understanding of growth reveals to us today the intricate details of how a fetus develops. Just imagining with an image of a one-month old fetus the growth of new life, and again at two months the image of a fully functioning cardiovascular system. We cannot take the awe out of the science; the sheer mystery and beauty is not just a matter of fact but swells us with emotion and being. If this is not stunning enough, these images of the growth of the human fetus are the visualizations of how Jesus also came into this world! This is how we came into the world; this is how Jesus came into the world! These scientific facts have religious power and deepen the wonder of how God chose to go through birth and death as a human.
We also see Jesus walk across the land with his mission on a daily basis, healing, spending time with his father. We also see him totally fail, suffer, and die. He was a failure to the Romans and to the Jews, but there were people who could see beyond the failure and that Jesus was not talking about a worldly empire. We felt in Jesus the fullness of eternal life, not the illusion of the human mind. This is the cosmic Christ and we are drawn to him, all of creation that grows.
We have a faith that is not dampened by an ecological disaster or a political impasse and we are overcome not with the same fear, anxiety, or anger but by a sustained witness, honesty, and truth, and a sustained effort to celebrate life for what it is now.
This is not about winning, but the simplicity in caring to do, with consistency, the little things. The value may not be immediate, but we see where we can have an impact. Waste segregation for example is not an instant solution for garbage. The impact of everything we do is understood and is not just a shift of attitude that does not realize consequences. The idea in addressing consumerism is not to close down or to stop, but to redirect what we choose to buy, participating in the market and finding out how we can be productive and local.
The Christian Life Community world assembly highlighted the importance of spiritual conversation, not simply spiritual exercises or individual retreats. There is a broader social community capacity to begin talking about basic concerns in our life in a language of faith that knows how to deal with failure, human limitations.
It also allows people a perspective that is compassionate, practical, local, simple. This capacity to communicate in everyday language what is of deep importance is what is most important. Father Nicolás told us at one point that Ignatius was inquisitioned eight times in all, but was never cornered because his conversations were spiritual and practical. People were not easy with his freedom yet they could not convict him, they can only silence him. There was nothing wrong with what he was doing, but they were afraid of his freedom and his ability to turn a context around and reveal God’s presence.
The approach of sustainability and peace is continuous with social healing, extending to how people live on the land and with all life, where enriched relations are sought through spiritual awareness, human integrity, and care for creation. We draw on diverse peoples, resources, beliefs, situations and learnings. There are many who are already working with deep integrity and right relations in this sphere. However, all of us Jesuit people are asked to first establish credibility in our own lifestyles and institutes as a basis for more effectively engaging in greater ecological responsibility with others.
To enter into a commitment of “Reconciling with Creation” is to experience metanoia. To be reconciled is to be transformed personally, and in relating with our neighbour and creation. Together in this world, with God we affirm the gift and unity of life caring for all in an everlasting way.
Let me go back to the beginning again. “God saw all that He had made and saw that it was very good.” (Genesis 1.31a.) Yes, the garden as God gifted us is deeply pleasing to the Divine. Theologically, our understanding of God has grown starting with the Book of Genesis right through to the Gospels and at the same time, until the Reformation, the Book of Nature in all that surrounds us. Now it is the Book of Science teaching us method and the wonders of the world. Science challenges us right up to the most recent discoveries of atomic composition and the expanding universe of fourteen billion years. We are also challenged by the human systemic interventions and climate change, cultural and ecosystems loss.
We can explore the process of our response, and our basic formation in environmental concern, in four stages. First is (a) by establishing a deeper attitude beyond likes and dislikes through a creation and a wisdom perspective. Then (b) we obtain a focused set of information by which we can acknowledge the context and complexity of concerns. This leads to (c) a review of people’s experiences, impacts, options and connecting with the socio-political and Ignatian implications of this concern, allowing the integration of a common voice for the Christian Life Community while recognizing how strategies at multiple levels are already in action. We continue to (d) see where we are called to engage and how to involve ourselves.
“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon,” Psalm 92:12
Some of the text are excerpts from the presentation Creation, Poverty and the Evolutionary Frontier of Ignatian Ecological Commitment: Lightening the Carbon and Poverty Footprints of our Generation during the 16th World Assembly of Christian Life Community in Beirut, Lebanon, July 2013.