Yesterday, while speaking to over a million people at an outdoor Mass in Ecuador, Pope Francis gave an impassioned sermon urging listeners (as well as the people of the whole world) to respect and preserve the gift of the natural world. He particularly warned against the abuses of greedy, money-grubbing oil companies who have invaded the hitherto untouched Rainforest of Ecuador, cutting away the vegetation, destroying the natural habitat, displacing all the wild life (including the ancient villages of the native peoples) – all in order to construct massive rigs of iron and steel that will pump out the natural resources to supply fuel for the cars that drive on our city streets.
As I see it, the Pope is so right when he calls this a “sin against nature.”
Many think that this Pope’s recent ecological plea for preserving the health of the planet is little more than left-wing, liberal propaganda, something “tree huggers” talk about. Some believe that popes shouldn’t be teaching about such things - this belongs to a world of politicians.
But as I see it, the way we treat the planet is most definitely a spiritual concern- what we do to the planet, we do to one another. In fact what we do to the planet we do to “God”
Yesterday, when I heard Pope Francis talk about the desecration of the Ecuadorian Rainforest, I was immediately taken back to a time a few years back when my wife and I visited Ecuador and spent a week in the Amazon Rainforest. It was one of the most “spiritual “ events of my entire life.
We stayed in an eco-lodge deep in the heart of the “jungle.” To this day I can close my eyes and imagine the sights and sounds of the animals in the wilderness, the exotic vegetation, the fragrances of flowers, herbs and plants with yet undiscovered potential for healing human illness. It was so intoxicating and so excruciatingly beautiful. In fact, this was probably the fist time in my life when I realized that I wasn’t just visiting some natural wonder, I was part of it.
There, in the midst of the Rainforest, I realized that the natural world doesn’t belong to us human beings. It isn’t there in order to serve our needs, not some expendable land that could be cut away and drilled for oil to keep cars running and make corporations even richer. The world of nature doesn’t belong to any of us - we belong to it.
The pope talks a lot about nature nowadays. His impassioned sermons are not only given to help preserve the planet for future generations, but also because living in harmony with a world of nature is the way in which we preserve our very souls - what we do to the world of nature we do to one another, and what we do to nature, we do to “God.”
Author and poet, William Kitteredge, once remarked:
Human beings evolved in nature.
Isolated from the natural world for too long,
human beings start getting nervous, crazy, unmoored,
inhabited by diseases that we cannot name,
driven to thoughtless ambitions and easy cruelties.
Obviously you don’t have to visit the Rainforest of Ecuador or live out in the natural wilderness of the desert to appreciate and value our relationship with the natural world. In these summer months many people take off to spend time “outdoors,” visiting parks or beaches, staying in a cabin on a lake or in a cottage in the forest. Summer seems like a perfect time to “reverence the earth,” to celebrate the holiness of the places where we may be staying, and to vow to preserve, protect and defend this sacred planet.
Wendell Barry once said:
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
What we do to our planet we do to one another - what we do to our planet we do to “God.”
The desecration of sacred places is perhaps the greatest blasphemy any of us can commit.