Why Are We Ecologists? by Pablo Martinez de Anguita

The last two posts addressed the problem of “nature deficit disorder” and how participation in outdoor education and nature activities can facilitate an interest and appreciation for God’s creation. A next step from that appreciation is to develop a stewards contemplation for action often called being an “ecologist”.  Here is where our faith can provide the meaning and impetus for understanding the mystery of creation and why we have a role in it.

An infinite attraction

Fighting to preserve an ecosystem is hard. Cold, rain, little pay, isolation….Nevertheless, most of the ecologists continue to be attached to the beauty they find in preserving nature. Many of us seem to be attached to this “life” and in somehow have the intuition that there is a deep meaning in the things we do, a meaning that is not just provided by the utility of things or by nature as a provider of goods and services. There is something else, an attraction for beauty and order that we are not able to explain but to admire and wonder…

Broadening our reason to understand the reasonableness of our conservation efforts as correspondent with our deepest “I” can help us all not only to continue building a more sustainable world, a world of solidarity, but to better understand our human dignity.  Albert Einstein once said that there were only two ways to live our lives. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. The Catholic Church can help us to make more understandable the fact that the second hypothesis is more reasonable than the first, and to suggest that this hypothesis leads us to live our lives open to accepting with familiarity the surprises hidden for us in the natural world as our way to the Mystery.

The religious sense is nothing more than man’s original nature, by which he fully expresses himself by asking “ultimate” questions, searching for the final meaning of existence in all of its hidden facets and implications. Ecological thinking tends to recognize the existence of this religious sense. As the Californian poet Robinson  Jeffers expresses, “our privilege and happiness are based on loving God for its beauty… and contribute (although very lightly) to the beauty of things by making our life and our surrounding more beautiful according to what is in our hand”, but as he continues, this ecological thinking expresses a desire that does not find a concrete answer: “we are not important for him, rather the contrary, He is important for us…” our love cannot “demand or hope any love back”.

The contribution of the Catholic Church and Christianity in general, paraphrasing Jeffers, is that “this All worthy of the deepest type of love” entered into the life of men as a man so we could know better, “so our eyes could see, our heart could feel and our hands could touch”. The newness of Christianity consists in the fact that this Mystery sometimes intuited but never revealed completely, comes into the life of men as a man, expressing the final ideal of existence, an ideal that fully responds to the human desire of fulfillment”.

Christianity is the announcement of the Christ event, of God who has come into the world as man. The mystery is no longer the “unknowable”. In the Christian sense, “mystery” is the source of being, God, in as much as He makes himself available to experience through a human reality. This concrete mode can no longer be eliminated, and remains crucial for everyone and forever.

But for us, humans concerned with our environment in the 21st century, how does Christ become involved in our efforts and what do they have to do with Him? The nature of Christian hypothesis[i] is such that its truth can be seen to “correspond” with our hearts only within the risk of a relationship –or discipleship. Following our hearts as opened in the presence of the Mystery of Love embodied in the Lord, we are liberated into the truth. “I am with you always; yet to the end of time” (Matt 28:20). “If Jesus came, he is, he exists, he remains in time with his unique, unrepeatable claim, and he transforms time and space, all time and all space”. All our work, all our efforts towards keeping the beauty and integrity we have found in the creation, can be saved, preserved from being lost. They can correspond to our deep human desires, the desire of our hearts to preserve the beauty of a creation that lives in the mystery of His resurrection.

John Paul II called all of creation a “cosmic church, whose apse is the heavens and whose aisles are the regions of the world.” We do not have to search for Christ in the Beauty of Creation: He is there, for He created it, entered into it, and upholds it. Like the beauty of a stained glass window, the creation is beautiful because of the light of Christ; in the words of theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, “The reality of creation as a whole has become a monstrance of God’s real presence.”

Some ecological thinkers have arrived at the point where they realize the existence of this ultimate Mystery as the consistency of life and therefore its importance for our ecological task: “Our privilege and happiness are based on loving God for its beauty, without demanding or hoping for any love back” once wrote Robinson Jeffers. 

Christ as come to this world to announce that we indeed are so important for this God that is revealing himself through the things we encounter and recognize as true. The Beauty of nature is a path for holiness, and therefore conservation can be a blessed and sometimes nearly mystical activity. His Presence in the Natural world is our Present. From the Catholic faith, we can affirm that Christ has come to this world to open, show and confirm our correspondence between the Mystery and us; as Father Giussani would say, he came to this world to assure that “none of our hopes or desires for beauty of our human heart will be lost”. This revelation give us a huge sense of gratitude that allow as me to continue our job as ecologists, knowing that behind my attraction for natural beauty of the world, there is more than simply a thermodynamic or self-preservation reason. It is the Mystery calling us. Beauty is His language, once that each one of us can understand just by following our hearts. I think we can say we are ecologist because we have been wondered by that Presence.

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