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Ecology and Spirituality

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An ecology, which is anthropological ecology and theological anthropology, connects deeply with spirituality and mysticism.  Without opposing a spirituality of creation to spirituality of redemption, we must underline the need of an integrated spirituality of creation that stems from God's creation of everything, and the goodness of all that comes from the hands of God. This goodness was weakened by sin but not destroyed. It is a goodness that Christ the Redeemer restored. Indeed, humanity and also the whole creation are on a painful and hopeful journey to total liberation at the end of time (cf. Rom 8: 18- 23). 


Some points on the relationship between ecology and spirituality (cf S. Spinsanti, Ecología 1983):

1. From the biblical story, and not to falsify its message, we have to integrate the two complementary points, that is, "subdue the earth" (Gen 1:28), and "cultivate it and care for it" (Gen 2:15).

 2. Historically, that double dimension is translated, on one hand, in ''franciscanism'' (Franciscan conservation) and, on the other, in "benedictinism" (Benedictine organization). Thanks to the work of St. Benedict of Nursia and the Benedictines (including also other religious men and women and many others), ''the earth became more habitable for man." In the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (no. 464), we read: “Benedictine and Franciscan spirituality, in particular, has witnessed to this sort of kinship of man with his creaturely environment fostering in him an attitude of respect.”  In his lovely Canticle of Creatures, Francis of Assisi, patron saint of ecologists, prays: May you be praised, O Lord, in all your creatures, especially brother sun, by whom you give us light for the day; he is beautiful, radiating great splendour, and offering us a symbol of you, the Highest... May you be praised, my Lord, for sister earth, our Mother, who bears and feeds us, and produces the variety of fruits and dappled flowers and grasses...Praise and bless the Lord, give thanks and praise him in all humility  (cf. CCC 344). For Francis, all beings, all animals were his brothers and sisters: brother wolf, sister water. It is said that the Poverello of Assisi asked the gardener to leave a bit of land without cultivating it at all so that the grass and wildflowers could also give glory to God.

3. An integral Christian spirituality implies a relationship with God, with oneself, with others and with nature. But let us never forget that Christian spirituality is the following of Christ. Let us not forget either that all Christians ought to be ecologically concerned and responsible.

4. Economic development has its limits, and also consumerism. Moreover, the earth belongs to all, as stewards - not only to the rich and powerful, not only to our generation.

5. The importance of asceticism and the need to revive it today. Asceticism is a necessary element of life, of an ecological spirituality, of all spirituality. Mysticism has also conversed respectfully with nature. We may say that, in general, and realizing their different historical and cultural environments, the mystics have found in the earth the place and the grace to contemplate God.

Contemplating the night, with her sister Celine, St. Therese of Lisieux writes in her enchanting Story of a Soul: "With enraptured gaze we beheld the white moon rising quietly behind the tall trees, the silvery rays it was casting upon sleeping nature, the bright stars twinkling in the deep skies, the light breath of the evening breeze making the snowy clouds float easily along; all this raised our souls to heaven, that beautiful heaven whose 'clean reverse' alone we were able to contemplate" (Manuscript A, Chap. V). On her way back to France from Rome, where she had asked Pope Leo XIII to allow her to enter Carmel, young Therese, remembering the marvellous beauty of God's creation writes "... My heart longed for other marvels. It had contemplated earthly beauties long enough; those of heaven were the object of its desires, and to win them for souls I was willing to become a prisoner" (ibid. Chap. VI).

St. John of the Cross is, perhaps, one of the best examples of a mystical ecology. Walking through the night, the mystic of The Dark Night recommends detachment, the negation of creatures: God is ''todo,'' everything; the creature, every creature, is ''nada,'' nothing! Indeed, if one compares God with the creatures, these are nothing. However, once the union with God is reached on the mountain, then the soul reencounters the creatures and contemplates joyfully their beauty. The poetry of John of the Cross is the poetry of “going back” (“poesía de Vuelta,” as poet Gabriel Celaya says), going back from the union with God to his creatures, and now without any fear to be distracted by creatures, which are now contemplated as “vestidas de la hermosura del Amado” - dressed up by the beauty of the Beloved. 

Who is not moved by the breathtaking beauty of verses from his Spiritual Canticle? In the first part of the Canticle, the soul speaks of her Beloved, Jesus Christ: Pouring out a thousand graces / He passed these groves in haste and having looked at them / with his image alone / clothed them in beauty 

(Mil gracias derramando / pasó por estos sotos con premura / y yéndolos mirando / con sola su figura / vestidos los dejó de su hermosura).   

In the second part of the Spiritual Canticle, the soul encounters the Beloved and tenderly sings: My Beloved is the mountains / and lonely wooded valleys / strange islands / and resounding rivers / the whistling of love-stirring breezes… / the silent music / the sounding solitude / the supper that recreates and enamours 

(Mi Amado las montañas / los valles solitarios nemorosos / las ínsulas extrañas / los ríos sonorosos / el silbo de los aires amorosos…/ la música callada / la soledad sonora / la cena que recrea y enamora) 


As creatures and children of God, we are invited by the Creator of the world and the Lord of life to be his collaborators (co-creators) in caring, cultivating, maintaining and improving God's creation. (Cf. II Cor 6: 1; I Cor 3:9; I Thess 3:2; CCC, no. 307). 

Looking at our surrounding environment, what can we do? We may plant a tree, care for our garden, and treat well our domestic animals. We may become involved in the concrete programs of our community, our parish, our city or town: programs ordered to maintain and renew our environment. We all need, perhaps, to enter into a deeper dialogue with nature. From time to time, it is good and healthy to get out of the city to breathe clean air, to watch the sunset from the bay or the mountain, to enjoy the music of silence of the countryside mixed with the songs of birds, to meditate with the rhythm of the wind or the rain, to relax walking through the woods without a cell phone... In these situations, we can also experience God.  

Words to ponder: “The relation between humans and nature is reciprocal. What we buy, how we travel, what we eat and drink, how much energy and water we consume, what kind of energy we utilize  and in what companies we invest our money, all this determines our ecological behaviour” (Acts General Chapter of the Order of Preacher, Bien Hoa 2019, no, 174)

We need less talk and more action to stop environmental degradation. Our Church, all of us the Body of Christ, must contribute to the ecological education of our people, raising their ecological consciousness, and motivating them to be committed to the building of a harmonious environment, of our common home. 

The apocryphal gospel of St. Thomas puts these words in the lips of Christ: "I am the light which is above all things. I am the universe. The universe came out from me and returned to me. Cut a piece of wood and I am inside it; lift a stone and I am under it" (logion 77). In this context, we remember the monks of famous Mount Athos: they used to place their ears close to the pavement of the Church to listen to the palpitations of Christ, and to affirm his cosmic lordship. (Cf. Bartomeu Bannassar, Moral evangélica, moral social, 1990). 

Albert Schweitzer, a reverent lover of nature and ecological harmony, wrote that, since he was a child he used to add this prayer to the ones taught by his mother (all petitions for human beings): ''Dear God, protect and bless all living things; keep them from evil and let them sleep in peace." (Out of my Life and Thoughts, 1950)

"And man, but a speck of your creation, wants to praise you" (St. Augustine, Confessions). "Let everything that has breath, praise the Lord! Alleluia" (Ps 150:6). ''Father, you are holy indeed, and all creation rightly gives you praise. All life, all holiness comes from you, through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, by the working of the Holy Spirit" (Eucharistic Prayer, III). And Jesus said to the apostles: '''Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to the whole creation" (Mk 16:15). 

By Fr. Fausto Gómez, OP.