Christ and Nature in Images

The last few posts have been filled with content about the reality and relationship between Christ and nature. Here is a very different expression of that reality in images from the city of Rio de Janeiro that was covered in clouds this morning. The statue of Christ the Redeemer has its base engulfed by clouds while the statue soars in the clear sky. Rio will be the city to host the next World Youth Day in 2013.

Africa, Reconciliation and Environment

During the Pope’s trip to Benin in Africa there have been a few statements relevant to the environment. Most of the message of the trip has centered on “hope”, as well as moral and spiritual matters. Pope Benedict XVI insisted throughout his trip, and especially in his Apostolic Exhortation Africae munus, that Africa is a sign of hope for the world: ” A precious treasure is to be found in the soul of Africa, where I perceive a “spiritual ‘lung’ for a humanity that appears to be in a crisis of faith and hope”. But along with hope, “reconciliation” has featured preeminently as a key concept for Pope Benedict XVI, and this has clear connections to the environment in the context of reconciliation theology. Lets focus first on the main environmental themes of the Apostolic Exhortation:

1. Justice and natural resources:  “The plundering of the goods of the earth by a minority to the detriment of entire peoples is unacceptable, because it is immoral. Justice obliges us to “render to each his due”: ius suum unicuique tribuere… If justice is to prevail in all areas of life, private and public, economic and social, it needs to be sustained by subsidiarity and solidarity, and still more, to be inspired by charity.   24

2. Human ecology and the role of women: ” The Church counts on you to create a “human ecology”[97] through your sympathetic love, your friendly and thoughtful demeanour, and finally through mercy, values that you know how to instil in your children, values that the world so badly needs. In this way, by the wealth of your specifically feminine gifts,[98] you will foster the reconciliation of individuals and communities.”59

3. Nature and African culture: “In the African worldview, life is perceived as something that embraces and includes ancestors, the living and those yet to be born, the whole of creation and all beings: those that speak and those that are mute, those that think and those lacking thought. The visible and invisible universe is regarded as a living-space for human beings, but also as a space of communion where past generations invisibly flank present generations, themselves the mothers of future generations. This great openness of heart and spirit in the African tradition predisposes you, dear brothers and sisters, to hear and to receive Christ’s message” 69.  

4. Respect for Creation: ” God has given Africa important natural resources… Some business men and women, governments and financial groups are involved in programmes of exploitation which pollute the environment and cause unprecedented desertification. Serious damage is done to nature, to the forests, to flora and fauna, and countless species risk extinction. All of this threatens the entire ecosystem and consequently the survival of humanity.[125] I call upon the Church in Africa to encourage political leaders to protect such fundamental goods as land and water for the human life of present and future generations[126] and for peace between peoples.” 80. On this theme there was also a specific mention of the role of deacons for protecting nature.

Reconciliation

 The main theme however, concerned reconciliation. Though no specific reference was made to the theology of reconciliation and the 4 ruptures, or the reconciliation of creation, much was said about reconciliation itself. The fundamental principle, that there can be no reconciliation of humans with creation, with others and with themselves unless there is a reconciliation with God was loud and clear. At the end of this post are the key passages of reconciliation from the Exhortation. One key conclusion, that “Evangelization today takes the name of reconciliation” reflects the central role given to reconciliation for the future of Africa.

Climate Change

Much later in November, the Pope made a specific mention about climate change, as a “worrying and complex” (see below) phenomenon, and wishing the UN Convention well in Durban. The African Bishops responded to the Pope’s call in a letter, but seem to rely on the IPCC for scientific and policy information (such as 1.5 C as a temperature increase limit) which could present problems given the loss of credibility and flaws that experts have been pointing out about the UN’s scientific organism – see here. The Pope as usual stays away from the technical issues and calls for awareness and concern:

The Convention of the United Nations Organization on climate change and the Kyoto Protocol will begin tomorrow in Durban, South Africa. I hope that all the members of the international community will agree on a responsible, credible and supportive response to this worrying and complex phenomenon, taking into account the needs of the poorest populations and of the generations to come.

Reconciliation Passages in Africae munus

19. “Reconciliation is a pre-political concept and a pre-political reality, and for this very reason it is of the greatest Continue reading

Lent and Nature Part I: Preamble for Reconciliation

I have spoken before about the relationships between the season of Lent, that precedes Easter, and the environment: last year Pope Benedict XVI spoke of conversion, related to the ecological conversion. This year the reference to the environment is somewhat more explicit. Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, which marked the beginning of lent, and in yesterday’s catechesis the Pope spoke about the significance of this season. The 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert have a great symbolism throughout the old testament, especially in relation to the 40 years of sojourn in the desert for the people of Israel. The “desert” is a key reality and metaphor for what every christian should live in the footsteps of Jesus, and it means both “a time of special closeness to God — the time of first love — as well as a time of temptation –“:

“The 40 years of Israel’s wandering in the desert presents ambivalent attitudes and situations. On the one hand, it is the season of first love with God, and between God and His people, when He speaks to their hearts, pointing out to them the path to follow. God, as it were, had taken up His abode with Israel; He went before them in a cloud and a column of fire; each day, He provided for their nourishment by making manna descend from the heavens and by making water gush forth from the rock. Therefore, the years Israel passed in the desert can be seen as the time of their being especially chosen by God and of their clinging to Him: the time of first love.

On the other hand, the Bible also portrays another image of Israel’s wandering in the desert: It is also the time of the greatest temptation and peril, when Israel murmurs against her God and wishes to return to paganism and to build her own idols, out of the need she feels to worship a God who is closer and more tangible. It is also the time of rebellion against the great and invisible God.” 

But the desert isn’t the only environmental connection to Lent. In his message for Lent , the Pope spoke of the source of evils in the world, of which the environmental crisis is one of them. Quoting Pope Paul VI he said: “Human society is sorely ill. The cause is not so much the depletion of natural resources, nor their monopolistic control by a privileged few; it is rather the weakening of brotherly ties between individuals and nations” (Populorum Progressio, 66). Here the key is identifying the true source of evils, even of environmental ones, which lies in this weakening of brotherliness, selfishness and egoism. The source of the worlds problems is in the imbalances of the heart of man: “The truth is that the imbalances under which the modern world labors are linked with that more basic imbalance which is rooted in the heart of man”. This key insight of Guadium et spes 10 is a sort of preamble for reconciliation via a diagnosis of reality, and for understanding the environmental crisis. If the source of the rupture of man with creation is sin borne in the heart of man, then the solution must be solved in the heart of man: when man meets and reconciles with his Creator in Christ. Lent, Pope Benedict XVI suggests, is prime time to grow in charity in 3 specific areas, according to Hebrews 10, 24: “

Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works.

  1. Concern for others,
  2. Reciprocity
  3. Personal holiness

Part II will develop a second aspect between Lent and Nature: How a reconciled person understands power and authority, the command of God which  allegedly has caused Christians to destroy the environment.

Is it possible to be happy with this life?

 

The question: “Is it possible to be happy with this life?” is a line from a video produced by Gnarly Bay productions. I don’t know much about Gnarly Bay, except that they produce excellent narrative and visual material. The answer to the question seems to be: yes, it is possible, in NATURE  fundamentally, through adventure and with others. Fundamentally I think this video is an interesting counter point for comparison with another approach which asks a similar question and has a slightly different answer: Into the Wild and the life of Chris McCandless.

While both express adventure and nature as possible answers to the question of happiness, Gnarly Bay has an additional aspect that is the key distinction between the two: community. (And a lot less drama too.)  I just wonder if the communitarian aspect reflects somewhat of a cultural change since the 90’s which McCandless to some degree represents.  Is the current college generation searching for happiness in nature, but in community now? Or maybe I should say it this way: Is the current college generation searching? for happiness? in nature?, but in community now? A lot of assumptions and questions, I welcome your input.

Silence and the “eco-system” of communications

There is an excellent opinion article in the New York Times about “The Joy of Quiet”. There Pico Iyer explains how the trend for the future is to seek silence, not communication. We are overloaded already, and will be paying not for cell minutes or extra bandwidth, but rather for places that ban internet, phones and TV’s. Below some of his examples of the new trend for finding silence in our modern world, of which perhaps the best are his friends “Internet Sabbaths” on weekends:

“In barely one generation we’ve moved from exulting in the time-saving devices that have so expanded our lives to trying to get away from them — often in order to make more time. The more ways we have to connect, the more many of us seem desperate to unplug. Like teenagers, we appear to have gone from knowing nothing about the world to knowing too much all but overnight.

Internet rescue camps in South Korea and China try to save kids addicted to the screen.

Writer friends of mine pay good money to get the Freedom software that enables them to disable (for up to eight hours) the very Internet connections that seemed so emancipating not long ago. Even Intel (of all companies) experimented in 2007 with conferring four uninterrupted hours of quiet time every Tuesday morning on 300 engineers and managers. (The average office worker today, researchers have found, enjoys no more than three minutes at a time at his or her desk without interruption.) During this period the workers were not allowed to use the phone or send e-mail, but simply had the chance to clear their heads and to hear themselves think. A majority of Intel’s trial group recommended that the policy be extended to others.”

It is precisely on this theme, of silence, that Pope Benedict XVI developed his speech for the world Communications Day“When Messages and Information Are Plentiful, Silence Becomes Essential”. Silence is an essential component for good communication, especially in a world with so many questions. But the Pope sees silence related intimatelyto speech, and the reciprocal balance between the two. In fact he uses the metaphor of ecology, in fact a human ecology, to illustrate their relationship. For the Pope silence lets us sort through the overflow of information and serves as an exercise for the most important communication of all, the one with God, who also speaks through silence. Below the key passages:

 “It is often in silence, for example, that we observe the most authentic communication taking place between people who are in love: gestures, facial expressions and body language are signs by which they reveal themselves to each other. Joy, anxiety, and suffering can all be communicated in silence – indeed it provides them with a particularly powerful mode of expression. Silence, then, gives rise to even more active communication, requiring sensitivity and a capacity to listen that often makes manifest the true measure and nature of the relationships involved. When messages and information are plentiful, silence becomes essential if we are to distinguish what is important from what is insignificant or secondary. Deeper reflection helps us to discover the links between events that at first sight seem unconnected, to make evaluations, to analyze messages; this makes it possible to share thoughtful and relevant opinions, giving rise to an authentic body of shared knowledge. For this to happen, it is necessary to develop an appropriate environment, a kind of ‘eco-system’ that maintains a just equilibrium between silence, words, images and sounds…

Attention should be paid to the various types of websites, applications and social networks which can help people today to find time for reflection and authentic questioning, as well as making space for silence and occasions for prayer, meditation or sharing of the word of God. In concise phrases, often no longer than a verse from the Bible, profound thoughts can be communicated, as long as those taking part in the conversation do not neglect to cultivate their own inner lives. It is hardly surprising that different religious traditions consider solitude and silence as privileged states which help people to rediscover themselves and that Truth which gives meaning to all things. The God of biblical revelation speaks also without words: “As the Cross of Christ demonstrates, God also speaks by his silence. The silence of God, the experience of the distance of the almighty Father, is a decisive stage in the earthly journey of the Son of God, the incarnate Word …. God’s silence prolongs his earlier words. In these moments of darkness, he speaks through the mystery of his silence” (Verbum Domini, 21). The eloquence of God’s love, lived to the point of the supreme gift, speaks in the silence of the Cross…

If God speaks to us even in silence, we in turn discover in silence the possibility of speaking with God and about God. “We need that silence which becomes contemplation, which introduces us into God’s silence and brings us to the point where the Word, the redeeming Word, is born” (Homily, Eucharistic Celebration with Members of the International Theological Commission, 6 October 2006). In speaking of God’s grandeur, our language will always prove inadequate and must make space for silent contemplation.”