With the gift of years, I have worked to make sense of my experience and discern how it has culminated in how I live my life. I hope to continue to be attentive to the promptings of the spirit and to imagine what is still possible for me to do. I remain confident that it is by responding to the lure of the future that engagement in tomorrow is revealed.
When I studied chemistry as an undergraduate, I thought the periodic table was where all life began. Later, I saw that the first chapter of galactic history can be studied through the lens of physics, whereas the next chapter can be studied as biological, marking the emergence of life. The culminating chapter marks the emergence of humanity and culture, which we study as anthropology and sociology.
For decades, I worked to express and understand the religious quest for justice, which attempts to ensure that the basic necessities of life are available to those who are less privileged. My work was based on the notions of social justice I encountered in my years of study and practice of the writing of community organizer Saul Alinsky. With hindsight, this approach seems limited by its focus on the have-nots becoming the haves. Although admirable in itself, this approach creates at best only a temporary improvement.
As a result, I felt the need to explore the deeper roots of the injustice that deprives people of life’s basic necessities. It became clear to me that the problem is a crisis of life on this planet. We are in a struggle to create a viable relationship between humanity and the Earth. In this ultimate struggle for survival, we need a theological reflection on the human-Earth relationship that includes not just cultural history but an exploration of the origin and unfolding dynamics of life itself.
Medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas wrote that “divine goodness” cannot be adequately represented by one creature alone. The divine produced many and diverse creatures; thus, that which wanted to be one in the representation of divine goodness might be supplied by another. Goodness is simple and uniform in God, but in creation it is manifold and divided. The whole universe together participates in divine goodness more perfectly and represents it better than could any single creature.
As a child I grew up in a church that focused more on redemption than creation. The term crucifixion Catholic would be accurate. Our worldview was dualistic at its core. It was a static dogma that separated mind from matter, and humanity from environment. The call to resacralize the Earth was absent from our life purpose.
The challenge before us now is to embrace the two revelatory sources available to us. The first is the revealed word in the sacred text. The second is the natural world, which can be seen as the primary source of divine revelation.
Such a theological vision empowers us to see our vocational destiny as the call to resacralize the Earth. When we internalize this call, we join the great chorus of creation; we focus on the sacredness of the natural world. With this in mind, we can fully and gratefully take up the privileged task to “reinvent what it means to be human.”
In this regard Brian Swimme writes, “To speak of the cosmic dawn of the universe… is to treat questions that every culture throughout history has confronted.” We can now move into the future with what Brian calls “stories that serve to mediate ultimate reality to the larger culture.”
In these early years of the new millennium, we are able to embrace the prophetic and creative vision of Pope Francis’s “integral ecology.” We move forward to both heal and celebrate the work of justice, seeing it as work that is both social and environmental in nature.
(originally published July 17, 2016)