Témoignages - 16 February 2015

en - Following Jesus Christ

 Following Jesus Christ in the 21st century involves the call to ecological conversion.”1

The lever of action that I would suggest is authentic “conversion to the earth”2, grounded in our charism of education and Assumption spirituality. As educators, we need to find ways to guide our sisters and lay friends into an understanding of not only the material dimensions of this ecological crisis, but also the theological, spiritual and social justice implications. As daughters of St. Marie Eugenie, we have a particular understanding of the transformative power of education and prayer. It will be in contemplating what science is telling us about the nature of our universe, its history and current reality, and opening ourselves to how that affects our relationship to self, to other and to God; that will lead us, through love, to action.
 We have reached a moment of crisis in our evolutionary history. The very life of our planet is threatened and the time to act is now! 
Unlike the earlier days of the environmental movement, we can no longer simply focus on specific issues, such as saving the rainforest. While saving the rainforest is essential to the survival of the planet, today we are called to understand the role of the rainforest within the larger web of life. We have to understand that there are both material and spiritual causes and effects at work. It is complex; as complex as life itself. The level of conversion demanded by the magnitude of the ecological crisis is deep and broad. It involves opening ourselves to the wonder of ALL of creation and to AWE of the Holy Mystery that sustains it. It calls us to rethink our understanding of ourselves, how we came to be, our place in the world we inhabit; to ask again who we are in relationship to each other, to the Earth, and to God.
Science is hinting at an almost unimaginable vastness, reaching beyond our galaxy and stretching between subatomic particles. Cosmic history is measured in billions of years; distances, in light years. We find ourselves new kids on the block, confined to a small piece of the visible universe. Our concept of life can no longer be confined to humans, animals and plants – the earth herself is alive!3 Physics speaks of the yearning for relationship among particles. The human being is unique, but not above or separate from the rest of creation. “We are the universe, conscious of itself.”4 Made in the image of God, we reveal one facet of a limitless Creator. Holy Mystery reveals itself as it will, in all of creation. 
“At the most basic level…the ecological crisis requires us to rethink our idea of God and God’s relation to the world in order to direct our action aright in harmony with divine care.” 5
Our approach must be holistic, as diverse and inclusive as our subject. Much has already been written about the causes, extent and effects of this ecological crisis. Likewise, there is a growing body of work on the relationship of science and theology, integrating recent scientific discoveries into our understanding of God and creation. Following 3.2a in our general chapter documents, we can selectively use these materials to form a basis of study. We must also encourage a range of experiences that can engage our sisters first hand with the splendor of the natural world, where and how they are able. Be it encountering the fragile beauty of Nature or delving into recent discoveries in astrophysics, such experiences can lead to a sense of awe, of wonder, and to what Elizabeth Johnson calls “a religious sense of the loving power that quickens it.”6
Taking the fruits of these experiences to contemplation will in turn lead to deeper and deeper understanding of the sacredness of ALL that surrounds us and our intimate connection to it. From this will spring the desire to protect and preserve not only our own kind, but ALL of Creation. Our life style choices and our projects will then respect, reflect and support a growing understanding “…that the Body of Christ, rather than simply being a group of like-minded human beings, includes all of life.”7
What is crucial is that cultivating and caring for creation are based on the conversion implied in the model of kinship, a conversion in which human beings come to see themselves as interrelated in a community of life with other creatures, a community in which each creature has its own unique value before God.” 8
Within the environmental movement there is a great need for increased and bolder spiritual leadership; for religious voices of all persuasions to enter more fully into the debate. The language, values, traditions and stories of the world’s religions offer a prophetic dimension to the discussion. 
Our religious life has within it the same potential.
 “Contemplation is a way of seeing that leads to communion.” 9
As contemplatives, we have a much needed and especially apt perspective. Our sensibilities are formed by time spent looking deeply and listening intently. In quieting our own thoughts and inner voices, we allow the silence to open within us. In turning that contemplative gaze to creation, we recognize the hand of the Creator. Breathing in the breath of God, a God that close, we find God everywhere and in all things. Expanding that awareness of presence, into recognition of the sacredness of ALL, is the work of prayer. 
It is the Holy Spirit who teaches us to pray. Vivifying, sustaining, embracing, enabling the new; drawing us forward into a new future is the work of the Holy Spirit. Denis Edwards sees the Spirit as “the power of God at work in evolutionary emergence…companioning creation in its groaning…the unspeakable closeness of God in creation.”10 
 “…prophecy converted to the earth sees that making a preferential option for the poor includes other species and the ravaged natural world itself. Healing and redeeming this world, this intrinsically valuable matrix of our origin, growth and fulfillment, has the character of a moral imperative.”11
Just what happens in the garden, how the garden “heals and redeems this world”, is difficult to articulate, but undisputable. Speaking of the Holy Spirit, Jesus likens the Spirit to the wind, which blows where it chooses, and is known by its effect. Writing about the ecological work of North American women religious, Sarah McFarland Taylor found that as the sisters kept coming back to talk of gardening, of composting – she began to see how the language of gardening helps to articulate the sisters’ philosophy and world view:”how practicing sustainability has become a rich medium for contemplation, communion and a daily creation-centered practice.”12 Her research revealed “dynamic correspondences between the spiritual and biophysical landscapes which green sisters seek to harmonize.”13
When I joined the Worcester community in 2009, I met Fr. Aidan Furlong, A.A. We share both a love of gardening and an awareness of the sacredness of the place and of the work. What follows is the fruit of a recent conversation we had, trying to speak to this illusive truth of being in the garden.
Everything is different: different than in the city or on the bus or in the church. There is a deep difference when I am in the garden; especially when I am alone. No machinery, no T.V., no traffic. The garden is silent; yet, it isn’t. Insects, rain, wind enhance but do not break the silence. In the garden, I find solitude; and yet, I am not alone. In the garden I experience the absence of ugliness, and become aware of incredible beauty through encounter – even with what I might not have readily recognized as beautiful. The body, often restless, uncomfortable; in the garden, the body feels wonderful, blood pulsing in the fingers. In touching the sacredness of the soil, I touch a deep peace.
Through time in the garden, I experience the closeness of God. Most of the time, it is something known by its effects. Nevertheless, there are precious moments of awareness, startling in their intensity: light filtering down through a canopy of pole bean leaves or the blaze of orange on a Brazilian Eggplant! All of these encounters inspire awe and wonder, evidencing a life force greater than ourselves. God’s presence “flash(ing) out from the simplest natural phenomena.”14 It is an experience of God’s providence, of God’s gratuitousness. Nothing is earned, all is gift. As with God’s love, there is abundance, always enough. It is simply a matter of distribution. 
In that living Silence, I am in the transcendent presence of God. Fleeing sheer noise that so often surrounds me, I sometimes sit in my plot, on my chair; no words with God. God speaks in the silence.
Not having some contact with the earth is actually depriving oneself – no mud, no rain, no manure – it is becoming less than human. It is depriving oneself of our human roots; of our relationship, of our community with each other, the plants and the animals.15
“In the face of Mystery words are smothered, images fail, and reference points expire. What befits us is silence, reverence, adoration, and contemplation. These are the stances appropriate to Mystery.”16
Catherine Anne Soley, R.A.
September 24, 2014
1. Denis Edwards, "Ecology At The Heart of Faith
2. Elizabeth Johnson, "Women, Earth And Creator Spirit" 4,61
3. Judy Cannato, "Radical Amazement", 32
4. ibid.
5. Elizabeth Johnson, "Women, Earth And Creator Spirit", 40
6. Ibid,63
7. Judy Cannato, "Radical Amazement", 62
8. Denis Edwards, "Ecology At The Heart of Faith"
9. Elizabeth Johnson, "Women, Earth And Creator Spirit", 63
10.Denis Edwards, "Ecology At The Heart of Faith
11.Elizabeth Johnson, "Women, Earth And Creator Spirit"
12.Sarah McFarland Taylor, ibid
14.Elizabeth Johnson, ibid, 63
15.I have transformed our dialogue into a monologue
16.Leonardo Boff, "Cristianity in a Nutshell", 7