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It wasn’t prayer that drew Emily Schosid to an internship at the Lama Foundation, a spiritual retreat center in northern New Mexico. An Ivy-League graduate student, Schosid was eager to share her fresh expertise in the latest environmental theories and innovations with an appreciative, though technologically-challenged, audience. No one, she wrote later, was “more ready to spread the gospel of academic sustainability than me.”
Yet months in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains taught Schosid unexpected lessons in caring for people and the Earth, which she eloquently shares with readers of a new anthology, Coming of Age at the End of Nature: A Generation Faces Living on a Changed Planet. Published this month by Trinity University Press, the collection presents Schosid’s work along with twenty-one other essays by young adults—members of the Millennial generation—who grew up in a time of melting ice caps, bleaching coral reefs, acidifying oceans, and shrinking biodiversity around the world. As co-editor, with Susan A. Cohen, of Coming of Age, I rejoiced in the privilege of getting to know our gifted contributors, and in learning about their hopes and fears, dreams, struggles, and faith as they navigate toward an uncertain future.
As we think of Rio, we see Christ the Redeemer standing tall over one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, Guanabara Bay --“ the bosom of the sea.” Encompassing the largest bay water volume in the world, it has nurtured marine species of all kinds, tucuxi (Guiana) dolphins, crabs, fish, and seabirds. With its sparkling beaches and blue waters, it evokes a Biblical paradise. “And God said that it was good.”
Yet when Olympic sailors tested themselves in preliminary regattas, they ran an obstacle course of floating plastic bags, submerged sofas and mattresses, and trash of all kinds, even the carcasses of dead horses, dogs, and sometimes people too. 2012 Bronze Medalist Allan Norregaard from Denmark complained: “I have sailed around the world for 20 years, and this is the most polluted place I’ve ever been.”
Yesterday I went to the new Star Wars movie, and of course, cheered that the forces of darkness and oppression can be fought with bravery, love, perseverance, and an opening of oneself to the Force. Most of the time, our actions of hope, courage, and prayer, though, are not so dramatic. And they are not defeated through war but through getting out of war and preventing wars. They can be a candle lit though there is the threat of oil running out; a young couple expecting a child walking to a town far away because of a repressive government, soon to flee and become homeless refugees; a dance under the stars and sharing of a meager feast and a coat when it seems that cold and darkness and starvation of winter will prevail; conversations over tables about a changing atmosphere that no one can hold in their hands, yet agreeing to try to change our ways as a world and as nations.
Life is messy. Human growth and progress never move in a straight lines, from point A to B, no matter how logical it may seem to do so, just as trees rarely grow exactly straight, and coral reefs emerge over eons in varied bulbous colorful shapes.
As we are on the brink of the climate change talks in Paris, some growl in despair that they shall just let us down again, that nothing real will be accomplished. But those are not the voices of faith or hope or even reality. We are in a new place, poised differently than we have been in the past. The voices of faith are starting to stand up with the voices of science to guide the world to new possibilities, new visions of who we can be.
On September 25, two momentous things happened -- Pope Francis addressed the United Nations about caring for our natural world and the most vulnerable citizens of it, and the United Nations passed the 17 Sustainable Goals for their 2015+ strategic plans. Goal 14 is a Sustainable Ocean Goal. Now to many that may not seem surprising, but to me, it is a miracle of the most beautiful and subtle kind, a gradual opening of minds and hearts toward the good.
In February 2014, I went to the United Nations to advocate in the name of shared faith among many religions for a sustainable goal for the oceans. I was an observer, but at small committees and in between sessions, I talked to representatives from many nations, and they were skeptical that a sustainable ocean goal was needed. They believed that the current "Law of the Sea" could take care of things. But in the succeeding months, the declining state of the oceans had made clear that it was insufficient and much more was needed.
Along with Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change, the climate initiatives of the Green Muslims, the Green Zionist Alliance, and many other religious communities and individuals, it's hard to ignore the growing contributions of people of faith in ocean conservation and innumerable other environmental concerns.
But few realize that faith has informed and inspired conservation leaders since the beginnings of the movement. August 11 is the 150th birthday anniversary of one such early leader: Gifford Pinchot. The first Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, Pinchot pioneered the science of forestry in America and presided over the protection of 2.3 million acres of national forests, parks, and monuments during the Theodore Roosevelt administration. As Pennsylvania's governor during the Great Depression, he developed back-to-work conservation programs that Franklin Roosevelt used as models for the federal Civilian Conservation Corps.
Laudato Si -- Praised Be: An Encyclical Filled With Lyric Love, Confession, and Calls to Action to Save Our Common Home, the Poor, and Our Joy
“Laudato Si, mi Signore” – “Praise to you, my Lord.” In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace. “Praise to you, my Lord, though our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.
The sister now cries out to use because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our responsible use and abuse of the good with which God has endowed her….
Thus begins Pope Francis’ encyclical, just over a hundred pages long, but one sure to cause a firestorm of reaction because its talk about climate change – not in a political context but in one of love and faith. And it calls all Catholics, Christians, and fellow humans of all faiths, or none, to immediate and resolute actions on fossil fuel and other pollution that harm God’s earth and hits the poor the hardest.
“Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month, the people of Israel
were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth,
and with earth on their heads.”
As I was thinking about Pope Francis’s upcoming encyclical, I played Bible roulette, letting God lead me to the passage I should pray with. This is the one my Bible opened to, one I never remember reading before. And it shocked me.
“. . . . fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads. . . . ”
I just came home from a high school holiday concert, where choir members lined the aisles as well as the stage, giving us surround sound. The music rose to the heavens and filled all our hearts. What struck me particularly was the view of the students in the aisles singing with their faces half lit by the stage lights. Alternately intent and joyous, their profiles seemed beatific, embodiments of hope. These, our children, captured in moments of utter focus and experience, giving their best and receiving it back in thundering applause in a continuous feedback loop. We were all filled.
It struck me as metaphor for ecology -- the connectiveness of our experience in that theater. Had people gotten up or let their cell phones go off or started talking or tossed trash on the floor, our typical boorish behaviors, the experience would have been lost. The connections suddenly disrupted. Or if some of the singers started getting out of line or mocking their roles or walking out. But everyone was focused on the common experience, with many different functions being fulfilled with joy and wonder. And Love. There was a feeling of the Love beyond us all pouring in and through us and to each other like the wave of music and applause.
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