Like most Americans, I am the child of immigrant parents who emigrated from the twin cities of Stranorlar and Ballybofey, County Donegal, Ireland shortly after they married. Though they lived the remainder of their lives here in America and eventually became American citizens, their hearts remained very much attached to the land of their birth. Their ten children grew up singing Irish songs, especially “The Hills of Donegal”. We could just picture the lush green hills, valleys and mountains of this beautiful land they described for us. They had come from and been steeped in a profound connection with the earth. This, of course, generated in me, their youngest child, the desire to visit the cities and towns my parents so fondly described. Finally, the opportunity arrived in my early twenties to visit the land of my ancestors with my mother as our ambassador and guide. What an experience it was!! I truly felt as though I had arrived home, which indeed I had, to my cosmic roots without my knowing it.
John O’Donohue, the great priest, poet, philosopher and writer once said, “When we walk on the earth with reverence, beauty will decide to trust us”. These words struck a chord in me which have since helped me rethink my own attitude toward the way I live and walk on this earth. I began to read and attend workshops and retreats to help me develop a deeper reverence and sense of relatedness to this one and only planet we have to live on and from. People like Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme, Mary Evelyn Tucker, Matthew Fox, Michael Morwood, Diarmuid O’Murchu whom I met briefly through conventions, workshops and readings helped to pique my interest in cosmology, even if I didn’t always completely understand their depth of knowledge.
It was my honor to be part of a group sponsored by the diocese of Camden to go to New Orleans to help in some small way the victims of Hurricane Katrina. That was a wakeup call for many of us when we saw firsthand what havoc a force of nature in full flight can unleash on the poor and most vulnerable among us despite our best engineered preparedness. And so, upon our return to Sacred Heart Parish, we joined others who were taking initial steps toward actualizing the work of transformation in whatever way we could. This led me to become a Board member for the Center for Environmental Transformation (CfET).
Those of you who have been following these monthly newsletters are already aware of some of the great work being done at the Center. In May, Bill Harden recounted the experiences of the group from LaSalle University who came to make a retreat with us at the Center.
For me, one of the most important and rewarding components of CfET outreach is the inclusion of the younger children in our elementary schools in Camden who are taught the basics of sustainability. Through the efforts of our Urban Farmer and his co-workers, Camden school children are taught both in their classrooms and on site the fundamentals of seed to feed farming. By this I mean that the children are actually coming to experience composting and soil preparation and what that involves; then follows the actual planting of seed, observing germination, development, growth and harvesting of edible and nutritious plants from seed to table- ready. There is nothing quite like observing the wide-eyed dancing enthusiasm of a child when they first observe a sprouting seed that they have nursed to life. They have learned the life giving capacities and synergy of earth, water and sun; what a discovery! In a very subtle way, children who otherwise would be victims of commercial fast-foods become aware of the value and superior taste of food grown from heirloom seeds as opposed to unhealthy GMO junk foisted on us by some of today’s giant corporations. More and more urban gardens and development of vacant lots to produce food are becoming an everyday part of the American scene. What an achievement for us involved with CfET to provide the engine of opportunity which puts this whole dimension of education within the reach of children growing up in such an industrially abused and environmentally neglected area of our world. Worth the effort? Of course, it is!
My concern now is that we adults leave this world a better place for all of our children. Our role in climate change can no longer be intelligently disputed. It’s here; the scientific community has certainly produced enough evidence. Nature itself has notified us time and again that we have been “messing with” the earth’s very basic laws to our own detriment. It’s time to put political preferences to sleep and embark on a voyage of conservation and restoration. Could we look forward to the wisdom of a pope whose foundational education is a scientific one? Perhaps we might do well to read with an open mind this goodly man’s timely and moral reflections on what science is telling us and nature is confirming regarding the state of our environment and our collective responsibility to it and to those with whom we share it. His “Encyclical on the Environment” came out in June and is well worth our study and prayerful consideration. In preparation for this encyclical, Pope Francis gathered together for consultation some of the brightest scientific minds of our time. Walter Grazer, a consultant on religion and environment, surfaced the observation that many Catholics wonder why the church is getting into this issue, and he said that it would be helpful for them to know that our ecological concern flows from our theology. He offers this little insight, “Catholic theology sees the Trinity as relational and social, all of creation and life reflects this relational and social notion- so, all creatures are intimately linked and share kinship”.
Edwin Chen of the Natural Resources Defense Council said that the encyclical “will elevate the church’s powerful voice on the moral imperative of advancing justice, defending human dignity and protecting the poor and the most vulnerable among us. It is our duty to do all we can to secure a peaceful and safe planet for this and all future generations”. “We expect his message will resonate in every corner of the world”, Chen further said.
If together we can implement the vision of the encyclical maybe, just maybe as John O’Donohue suggested, “Beauty will decide to trust us”.
May I leave you with this little excerpt written by Denise Levertov
“But we have only just begun
To love the earth.
We have only just begun
To imagine the fullness of life.
How could we tire of hope?
– So much is in bud.
…How it might be to live
As siblings with beast and flower,
Not as oppressors.”