Last week, the city of Ottawa was ravaged by another ice storm. The huge pine tree in my backyard lost many heavy limbs and the yard was full of the pine needles, twigs and branches. We are lucky that the tree survived and did not come down on the house. I am hoping that we do not lose this beautiful giant that has witnessed the growth of our family and given its boughs to many creatures as a home. There is a history in the rings of the trunk of this tree, just as there is to our planet. When did that seed sprout from the ground?
On this Earth Day, I think of the many spiritual writers, prophets and saints who have spoken of our intimate relationship to the natural world. In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis says: “our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us (LS 1).” This vision of Creation as an intimate relationship brings us to a new way of being. We would not disregard a sister, or our mother or a friend. It will take spiritual discernment around the world for all of humanity to understand this alternate way of living with the natural world around us. There are prophetic voices in our Catholic tradition, and in the global family who are calling for this change. These voices are everywhere. Senator Murray Sinclair brought forth the Jane Goodall Act, with the understanding that animals and humans are intimately connected and the humane treatment of animals in captivity is a starting place of improving this relationship. This has been re-introduced by Senator Marty Klyne. Steven Nitah of the Dene First Nations brings his voice and the wisdom of his people to the protection of the wilderness. I think of Rob Stewart, the young Canadian conservationist and film maker who fought tirelessly for the protection of sharks before his death and the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada who have declared themselves a Blue Community working to protect water as a human right and sacred gift. These are examples of the voices in the wilderness sounding the alarm. Their work brings hope and inspiration for all that can be done today.
This challenge is overwhelming, and so we often placate ourselves, feeling good that we put the orange peels in the compost, or recycle all of our cans. Of course, these actions are helpful and necessary, but how do we establish the intimate relationship with the web of creation in our common home? The importance of the Pope’s encyclical, Laudato Si’, is that it speaks about the climate crisis as a relationship with all of creation. He emphasizes our responsibility as Christians to care for the gifts that God has given. The Pope personifies creation in the language of the encyclical. He refers to the earth as “among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor (LS1).”We are called to an “ecological conversion,” as described by St. John Paul II.
In the past month, the Toronto Zoo said farewell to Samson the 25-year-old grizzly bear. Before the animal was put down, they held a ceremony with Indigenous knowledge keepers. I’m sure St. Francis of Assisi was smiling. On this Earth Day, may we continue to heed the calls of the prophets and knowledge keepers around us and embrace a new and respectful relationship with our common home.
Jan Bentham is a retired Religion Coordinator with the Ottawa Catholic School Board. She is a musician, serving in music ministry at St. Ignatius Parish in Ottawa. She currently works at St. Paul’s University with the Catholic Women’s Leadership Program.