"Loving the Earth"
- At the Desert Retreat House -
Today Pope Francis issued his long-awaited “letter” to the entire world community in which he celebrated the intimate relationship human beings have with the world of nature and warned that, if we abuse that relationship we do so at our own peril. The future of humanity depends upon the health and wellbeing of the planet which we human beings are slowly killing and gradually poisoning.
While I think that what the pope had to say about the environment is extremely wise and incredibly important for the entire world to hear, there are a few other things Pope Francis said today that really struck me as being extremely significant – perhaps even indicating a “sea change” in the way in which we might look at the world.
Christians have always talked about the relationship between loving God and loving other people. In fact this is a core fundamental precept of the entire Judeo-Christian tradition: “You shall love the Lord your God with all you heart and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
But in his teaching today, the Pope took this a step further. He said that you can’t love God unless you love others AND unless you love Mother Earth.
This teaching is, to me, a significant departure from the traditional ”Western” way of viewing the world as composed of separate and distinct parts, everything fitting into neat little categories. God on high apart from human beings down here on the earth, an earth that exists as a backdrop for humans, to be “used” as a resource for human life.
Instead the Pope today said that everything that “is” belongs together. The abiding force of God, the people of the nations, a world of nature - all “one body,” an interrelated, interconnected, inseparable system. What you do to any part you do to the whole.
As I see it, this is a big change from traditional Western Christian teaching-especially significant when this is what the Pope, himself, is teaching.
There was another thing that really struck me when I read that papal encyclical today. It had a very “Buddhist” feel to it. In fact, I had just read a piece about the environment written by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh which was remarkably similar to the Pope’s letter to the world.
In his essay, Falling in Love with the Earth, Master Hanh observes:
We need to realize that the earth is not just our environment.
The Earth is not something outside of us.
Breathing with mindfulness and contemplating your body,
you realize that you are the Earth.
You realize that your consciousness is also the consciousness of the Earth.
Look around you- what you see is not your environment, it is you!
When you realize the Earth is so much more than your environment,
you’ll be moved to treat her in the same way as you would yourself.
The future of the planet depends on this insight.
When I read what this Zen Master had to say, I didn’t find it all that different from what a pope said today about the relationship between “Loving God, loving people and loving the earth,” but then again why should it be so different? If we are all on a path to the truth, shouldn’t those paths resemble one another?
In their book about a new “Interspirituality” for the 21st century, Rory McEntee and Adam Bucko make this astute observation:
In this century, our different religious traditions must be viewed as a
common inheritance for all humanity,
each with its own integrity,
yet also belonging to a universal heritage of human wisdom.
Today I rejoice in the wisdom of a pope and I honor the profound teaching of a Zen Master. The future of this planet may indeed depend upon what they have to say to the world.