A reflection from Sarah Barreto, as the Season of Creation moves towards its close.
Readings Genesis 2:18-24 Psalm 127 (128) Hebrews 2:9-11 Mark 10:2-16
Our readings this coming weekend helped me reflect on how long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways through the prophets …
Frequently, children and the future frame our debates around climate change. Certainly, the lectionary passages for this weekend appeal to this image today and the words of Jesus in our Gospel reading “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs” remind us that we should take care to reach out to everyone.
These passages appeal to an image of the past, too. Genealogies and ancestral lines appear throughout the biblical canon. Biblical genealogies and ancestral lines focus on an understanding of faith and the world as a human history transmitted through the generations. Moreover, of course, the generations are measured in human life spans.
Climate change and climate justice invite us to consider genealogies and ancestral lines in an understanding wider than ‘human history’. Geological ages shape our biblical genealogies and our ancestral faith. Climate change and climate justice also for some profoundly challenge the ‘prophetic religions’ human-centred story of salvation.
The South African theologian Ernst Conradie invites us to shift from an anthropological theology to a cosmological theology when addressing climate change. Without a theology which contemplates the cosmos and the human place within the cosmos, Conradie argues, it is all too easy for theology to blindly assume the medieval hierarchy of God – humans – natural world where each ‘acts’ upon the other. God acts on humans. Humans act in the natural world in a descending order of importance. Conradie prefers to advocate for an interdependent understanding of our cosmos. Geology is not subordinate to human history, and the story of salvation is not ‘save our planet to save ourselves (or even our children’s children)’.1
Catholicism in many countries is deeply impacted by narratives of conquest. The conquering of the Americas, the conquering of souls for Christ, the conquering of the flesh by the spirit, and so on. Conradie’s proposal, and the wider challenge from climate change and climate justice, is for Christianity to change its narrative to one of co-operation: co-operation with the cosmos, co-operation with other religions, and co-operation with other genealogies and ancestors. In Homage to the American Indians, the Nicaraguan poet, priest and politician, Ernesto Cardenal, wrote about listening to the ancestral voices of the trees, the stones, and the waters.2
The debate and action about climate change is about the future; it is also about right now but linked to our past. We are invited to discover the many and varied ways that God spoke to our cosmological ancestors and is trying to speak to us now.
Chief Seattle (more correctly known as Seathl) was a Susquamish chief who lived on the islands of the Puget Sound. As a young warrior, Chief Seattle was known for his courage, daring and leadership. He gained control of six of the local tribes and continued the friendly relations with the local ‘white men’ that had been established by his father. His now famous speech was believed to have been given in December 1854. There are several versions of his letter and a powerful YouTube video about the oration he gave, but I wanted to share this section with you here.
“When the last red man has vanished with this wilderness, and his memory is only the shadow of a cloud moving across the prairie, will these shores and forests still be here? Will there be any of the spirit of my people left? We love this earth as a newborn loves its mother’s heartbeat. So, if we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it. Care for it, as we have cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you receive it. Preserve the land for all children, and love it, as God loves us. As we are part of the land, you too are part of the land. This earth is precious to us. It is also precious to you. One thing we know – there is only one God. No man, be he Red man or White man, can be apart. We ARE all brothers after all. “
What do you think is considered precious or most valued in your school or parish? How do people explain it? Do you invest time in listening to and accompanying children and young adults to find out what it is that matters most to them about their world?
If I were to come to your school or parish tomorrow, what would the children say about caring for or feeling part of the land?
As we are part of the land, you too are part of the land. This earth is precious to us. It is also precious to you. What would a walk around your school or parish tell me about your commitment to Laudato Si’ and its teachings? I wonder if the trees, the stones and the waters transmit the faith through geological ages as Cardenal suggests?
How do you help young people find their gift for social transformation in your school or parish? What would their oration be? What would yours?
Earth God, we are of the Earth. We honour the Earth as a place of living beings. We praise the Earth for its beauty and biodiversity. We recognise a shared responsibility to care for, restore and replenish the Earth. Speak to us through the Earth, now and forever.
(Based on The Letter of the Earth, Rio 1992)
I live beside the beach, so we are lucky to have a collection of shells. On holding each shell to our ear, we hear a different sound or voice.
Find a place to sit in your own environment. What noises do you hear? Which of those noises do you associate with climate change and which with climate justice? Is there any action that you can take to change the sounds of your environment?
May our reflection and prayer ignite in us all the passion to act.
27th September 2021 Sarah Barreto Diocesan Schools Commissioner
- An Ecological Christian Anthropology: At Home on Earth? Ernst M Conradie, Routledge, 2017
- Homage to the American Indians, Ernesto Cardenal, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973
- Adapted from a reflection by Graham McGeoch in Living Faithfully in the Time of Creation Kathy Galloway & Katharine M Preston, Wild Goose Publications, 2021